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Washington state celebrates Nordic nations Finland and Sweden joining NATO


(The Center Square) – Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs heralded the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during a Wednesday morning reception at the state Capitol honoring the countries of Finland and Sweden.

Finland officially joined the Western defensive military alliance in April, bringing the number of member states to 31. Sweden is now set to join neighboring Finland as a new NATO member after Turkey’s president withdrew a series of objections.

“I just want to thank you all for coming and joining me in celebrating the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to include two new members with strong Washington connections,” Hobbs said from the state reception room at the Legislative Building in Olympia.

Hobbs continued, “We’re here today to recognize our partners, Sweden and Finland. And their decision to join NATO was brave, wise and it was a response to Russia’s shocking invasion of Ukraine. In time of unprovoked aggression, we must build strong alliances.”

On Feb. 24, 2022, Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine from the north, east and south in what Russian President Vladimir Putin called a “special military operation” ostensibly meant to protect ethnic Russians, as well as prevent Ukraine from joining NATO.

The invasion instead drove non-aligned Finland and Sweden to abandon their neutrality and seek entry into NATO.

“And I know the value of NATO first hand, having served on the ground in Kosovo, and also being part of a NATO exchange program where I got to be an operations officer for an Estonian infantry battalion,” Hobbs said. “I was in the field for two weeks.”

During his active duty U.S. Army career, Hobbs deployed to Kosovo and Iraq to participate in the security of elections during those tours, including distributing nomination ballot boxes in Iraq.

His time in the Army also saw him serve at the National Security Agency and graduate from the Department of Defense Information School, where he studied and analyzed cyberattacks and information warfare.

Hobbs is a lieutenant colonel in the Washington National Guard.

“The reason I am doing this is to show our allies and adversaries that support for NATO does not stop at our nation’s capital, but permeates to the grassroots level here in Washington state,” he said. “Washingtonians owe their freedom, their security and economic prosperity to military alliances like NATO.”

The Evergreen State has deep cultural and business ties to Scandinavia going back to the late 19th century when immigrants from the region came in large numbers to work in the fishing, shipbuilding, timber, mining and agriculture industries.

“Finland will be an extremely reliable ally that strengthens regional stability,” said Matti Suokko, honorary consul of Finland for Washington, Montana and Idaho.

Sweden’s honorary consul was unable to attend the reception due to illness.

In an indirect reference to Putin’s public proclamations that NATO expansion threatens Russian security, Suokko stated, “And this membership of Finland in NATO is not targeted against anyone.”

He assured, “Finland, like Sweden, is a very predictable Nordic country that seeks very peaceful resolution of conflicts and disputes.”

Nevertheless, Finland’s joining NATO marks a major shift in the security landscape of northeastern Europe that adds 830 miles to the alliance’s frontier with Russia.

According to Suokko, Finland has 280,000 military personnel, with an additional 800,000 in reserve.

Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, adjutant general of the Washington National Guard, noted the similarities between Washington and the two Nordic nations.

“Washington, Sweden and Finland have much in common,” he observed. “For starters, we all love coffee. I think that’s a well-known fact. We are all surrounded by natural beauty that we cherish and respect. We have themes of forestry in common. We excel in engineering and technology. And we all love freedom.”

It’s only natural, he concluded, that the three nations come together as friends and allies to deter aggression around the world and defend each other.

“And welcome to the partnership of NATO and all of us in the National Guard and the entire United States military,” Daugherty said. “We look forward to working with you as allies and partners.”

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