- Josh Hawley’s opposition to adding Finland and Sweden to NATO is facing criticism from Republicans.
- Hawley argued in an op-ed article that enlarging NATO would limit the US’s ability to counter China.
- Ted Cruz said Hawley was “mistaken,” and Marco Rubio wrote an article contradicting Hawley’s points.
Sen. Josh Hawley’s opposition to adding Finland and Sweden to NATO amid historic tensions with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine is leading even fellow Republicans to criticize his position.
In a recent op-ed article that echoed former President Donald Trump’s “America First” approach to foreign policy, Hawley contended that enlarging NATO would spread the US too thin in terms of its security commitments in Europe. The Missouri Republican said the US should instead prioritize challenging China.
“We must do less in Europe (and elsewhere) in order to prioritize China and Asia,” Hawley wrote. “Russia is still a threat, but the Chinese Communist Party is a far greater one.”
But Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told Politico that Hawley was “mistaken.”
“We don’t beat China by retreating from the rest of the world,” Cruz said. “We beat China by standing with our allies against our enemies.”
Similarly, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida wrote an op-ed article that served as a rebuttal to Hawley’s stance on the matter. Rubio’s article was titled “A stronger NATO allows America to focus on the threat of Communist China.”
“A strong and unified NATO is a powerful asset in the contest with Beijing,” Rubio wrote. “When Finland and Sweden join the alliance’s ranks and the free peoples of Europe become stronger than ever, more US resources will be available to focus on countering Communist China. If we do not rise to the challenge, it will be too late, and Americans will be held hostage by a totalitarian regime half a world away.”
The Senate on Wednesday approved a resolution to ratify NATO membership for Finland and Sweden in a vote of 95-1-1. Hawley was the lone “no” vote, and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky voted “present.”
Indeed, there’s strong support on both sides of the aisle for adding the Nordic countries to the alliance as the West continues to back Ukraine against Russia. Finland and Sweden have historically been neutral, or militarily nonaligned countries, and their move to join NATO stands as one of the most significant consequences of Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine.
In May, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Finland and Sweden would be “important additions to NATO.”
“I think the United States ought to be first in line to ratify the treaty for both these countries to join,” he said.
McConnell on Wednesday reiterated his support for enlarging NATO by adding Finland and Sweden, taking a veiled swipe at Hawley in the process. “If any senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote no, I wish them good luck,” the Kentucky Republican said. “This is a slam dunk for national security that deserves unanimous bipartisan support.”
GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas on Wednesday also appeared to offer indirect criticism of Hawley as senators debated the resolution on Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO.
“It would be strange indeed for any senator who voted to allow Montenegro or North Macedonia into NATO to turn around and deny membership to Finland and Sweden,” Cotton said. “I would love to hear the defense of such a curious vote.” Hawley in 2019 voted to allow North Macedonia into NATO, which seemed to be what Cotton was alluding to in his remarks.
The schism between Hawley, who has been floated as a contender for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, and his fellow Republicans on the matter may be indicative of Trump’s ongoing influence in the Republican Party.
Trump was openly critical of NATO during his time in the White House, often going after fellow members on the issue of defense spending. Hawley also zeroed in on defense spending in his op-ed article, writing: “It’s time for our European allies to do more. In particular, they must take primary responsibility for the conventional defense of Europe by investing more in their own militaries.”
Rubio countered this point in his op-ed article, writing: “Finland and Sweden are strong, stable countries with a long history of security cooperation with NATO allies. They are committed to national defense and would more than live up to their NATO obligations. Finland already spends more than the required 2% of gross domestic product on its military, and Sweden is on a fast track to do the same. Both nations require military service of their citizens.”
Hawley has repeatedly been an outlier among Republicans in terms of his stance on how the US should approach Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine.
He was among a small group of Republicans who voted against a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine in May, for instance, and also sparked controversy in February for suggesting the US should withdraw its support for Ukraine joining NATO. The White House accused Hawley of “parroting the talking points of Russian propagandist leaders.” Russia firmly opposes the addition of Ukraine to NATO and has blamed the alliance, in part, for its unprovoked invasion of the former Soviet republic.
Hawley’s office didn’t offer a comment when contacted by Insider.