HELSINKI, Finland — Finland’s government announced on Sunday that it would apply for membership in NATO, a move that would end 200 years of strategic neutrality and pave the way for one of the most significant expansions of the Western military alliance in years.
The decision was announced on Sunday by the Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy, a committee chaired by the president, Sauli Niinisto, which makes major foreign-policy decisions.
The announcement was widely expected, and followed a joint statement on Thursday by Mr. Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin that urged Parliament to vote to join the alliance “without delay.” The Finnish public has tilted overwhelmingly in favor of membership in the nearly three months since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
But Mr. Niinisto, who is mostly responsible for foreign policy, and Ms. Marin have insisted on having a full parliamentary debate and vote on the issue. On Saturday, Ms. Marin’s governing Social Democratic Party supported the application. The parliamentary debate will begin on Monday and the vote, which is considered a formality, could come later that day or on Tuesday.
“This is a historic day, a new era begins,” Mr. Niinisto said. “I want to draw attention to the functioning of democracy.”
Russia shares a border with Finland and has viewed its accession to NATO as a threat. In an apparent effort to reassure Moscow, Mr. Niinisto said: “Security is not a zero-sum game. When Finland’s security increases, it is not away from anybody.”
Finland’s Nordic neighbor, Sweden, may also move closer to joining NATO on Sunday, when its governing Social Democratic Party is expected to announce that, after intensive internal debate, it has shifted its traditional position against joining NATO and would vote to do so in Parliament.
On Tuesday, Mr. Niinisto is scheduled to begin a two-day state visit to Sweden. There is a widespread assumption that the two countries will submit their applications “hand in hand,” which may occur during that visit, assuming that both parliaments vote to go ahead.
NATO has said that it expects to approve both applications quickly, because it already works closely with Sweden and Finland. Then the governments of all 30 current members must ratify the applications.