January 23, 2014

Enhanced Swedish-Finnish Defense Cooperation?

(L-R) Finland's Defence Minister Carl Haglund, Sweden's Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist, Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom and Finland's Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja pose for a picture as they arrive for a dinner at the government headquarters in Rosenbad, Stockholm November 10, 2014. REUTERS/Pontus Lundahl/TT News Agency (SWEDEN - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. SWEDEN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SWEDEN. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
(L-R) Finland's Defence Minister Carl Haglund, Sweden's Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist, Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom and Finland's Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja pose for a picture as they arrive for a dinner at the government headquarters in Rosenbad, Stockholm November 10, 2014. REUTERS/Pontus Lundahl/TT News Agency (SWEDEN - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. SWEDEN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SWEDEN. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

When President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt met at the Sälen security conference on 12-14 January, they told the media they agreed on two things in particular: one, NATO membership for neither Finland nor Sweden was topical at the moment and, two, both of them supported enhanced defense cooperation between these two Nordic countries.

When President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt met at the Sälen security conference on 12-14 January, they told the media they agreed on two things in particular: one, NATO membership for neither Finland nor Sweden was topical at the moment and, two, both of them supported enhanced defense cooperation between these two Nordic countries.

Just the following week, in a joint article in Svenska Dagbladet, a Swedish daily, the Swedish and Finnish Defense Ministers Karin Enström and Carl Haglund hammered on the same theme: since the two countries are in many ways so close and share the same values, defense cooperation comes natural to them.
Now that defense cooperation is blessed by the highest political leadership in both countries, what new initiatives to further that cooperation can be expected?
First, it should be understood that since the degree of cooperation on defense issues between Sweden and Finland is already extraordinarily high, there is hardly any easy ‘low-hanging fruit’ left to be found. In other words, even if strong high-level political backing for defense cooperation now exists, it is not going to be a simple task to find completely new areas where cooperation has not been tried before or where no cooperative programs are currently in place.
Second, it should be recognized that while there are a myriad of bilateral programs , most of the cooperation between Sweden and Finland takes place in the framework of NORDEFCO, the pan-Nordic structure for defense cooperation. Since 2009, the Nordic countries have used this framework to streamline their strategic developments, create future capabilities, plan the common use of their human resources and educational facilities, arrange common training and exercises, and prepare themselves to take part together in international operations.
Sweden and Finland have done all this and more in the NORDEFCO context. Thus, their ground forces are now cooperating in the Nordic EU Battle Group, with Sweden as the lead nation and with participation from Finland and Norway (as well as two non-Nordic nations Estonia and Ireland). For the next battle group, the Nordic Battle Group 2015, these countries will be joined by Latvia and Lithuania. Sweden and Finland have also shared the same Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan, while coordinating their strategic transport and other logistics needs in and out of that country.
On the seas, cooperation is also wide and deep. The Swedish and Finnish navies share the same common recognized maritime picture, and throughout sailing seasons they are engaged in realistic exercises where, for example, Swedish submarines are pitted against Finnish maritime detection capabilities. Most of the main weapons systems used by these two navies are either identical or interoperable.
In the air, the national Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish air wings in Kallax, Bodø and Rovaniemi conduct cross-border exercises more often than once a week on average. All this common training has formed a base of experience enabling the Swedish and Finnish air forces to take part in a Norwegian-led and NATO-sponsored air policing exercise conducted over and around Iceland starting in early February.
Third, this all is not to say that it would no longer be possible to find worth-while new areas of defense cooperation between Sweden and Finland. It is to simply point out that no matter how high the political interest for cooperation might be, there are no longer that many uncharted areas of cooperation left. There are also those who wonder whether the most fruitful venue to enhance defense cooperation between Sweden and Finland would be in the NATO context.
Besides, one should also be keenly aware of the fact that the record of cooperation has at best been mixed. There are excellent examples of cooperation producing common capabilities, combined and joint training and exercises, and opportunities to combine efforts in international operations. However, there are also spectacular failures such as the Nordic Standard Helicopter Project in 1998-2001, or the bilateral project between Sweden and Finland in which they sought to design and produce a 120 mm twin-barreled mortar turret called AMOS (Advanced Mortar System); an effort that ended up in a disappointing failure and caused bad blood between the two countries.
Enhanced defense cooperation between Sweden and Finland thus offers no panacea. No matter how close the partners, there are still political hesitations and sensitivities beyond practical military limitations that put brakes on closer defense cooperation. It might well be that nations prefer to stand alone, since they are reluctant to commit themselves fearing that the shared capabilities would not be there for their use when push comes to shove.
Nevertheless, if these parochial concerns and the obvious political constraints could be pushed aside, one area of beneficial cooperation still remains: If the Swedish and Finnish Chiefs of Defense and their staffs could sit together and start drafting common defense plans, produce such plans, and implement these plans, that would hugely raise the credibility of Swedish and Finnish national defenses. It would also add to stability and security in the whole Baltic Sea region.
But this was hardly something that President Niinistö and Prime Minister Reinfeldt had in their minds when they spoke in support of enhanced defense cooperation in Sälen.

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