The U.S. Senate on Wednesday officially approved efforts by Sweden and Finland to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in a rebuke to Russia amid its war on Ukraine.
The resolution passed 95-1 with Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., as the only dissenting vote and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., voting “present.” The Senate needed two-thirds of the body to vote in favor of ratification, and it will now head to President Biden to submit to NATO.
Sweden and Norway’s efforts to join NATO come as the West quickly united earlier this year in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The two Scandinavian countries joining NATO — with Finland sharing more than 800 miles of border with Russia — will be the most significant expansion of NATO since at least 2004.
NATO officials formally approved the two nations’ efforts to join the alliance last month. They are currently in the final stage of the process of joining NATO, which requires legislatures in all of its member nations to approve of the new additions.
According to NATO’s website, more than 20 member countries have already approved Sweden and Finland joining NATO. After the U.S.’ approval, just over a half dozen countries remain.
Adding Sweden and Finald to NATO has broad bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress, which has been eager to rebuke Russia and since the beginning of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal war on Ukraine. Congress approved multiple military aid packages to Ukraine in recent months.
But Hawley’s opposition has irked his fellow lawmakers, even in his own party.
“The vote this afternoon will be as decisive… as it is bipartisan,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday on the floor. “There’s just no question that admitting these robust democratic countries with modern economies and capable, interoperable militaries will only strengthen the most successful military alliance in human history.”
“If any senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote no, I wish him good luck,” McConnell added in Senate floor remarks. “This is a slam dunk for national security that deserves unanimous bipartisan support.”
Hawley, meanwhile, argued in a Wednesday op-ed that increasing U.S. defense obligations in Europe will take away from efforts to blunt China in Asia.
“Finland and Sweden want to join the Atlantic Alliance to head off further Russian aggression in Europe. That is entirely understandable given their location and security needs. But America’s greatest foreign adversary doesn’t loom over Europe,” Hawley wrote.
“U.S. resources are not unlimited. Already we spend the better part of a trillion dollars a year on defense. And our manpower is already stretched thin across the globe,” he continued. “The United States must prioritize the defense resources we have for the China effort, while there is still time. Until our European allies make the necessary commitments to their own national defense, we must not put more American lives at risk in Europe while allowing China’s power to grow unchecked.”
McConnell disagreed with that characterization. He argued that Sweden and Finland joining NATO would “improve burden sharing across the alliance.”
“Even closer cooperation with these partners will help us counter Russia and China,” McConnell added.
Fox News’ Kelly Laco contributed to this report.