May 10, 2014

Non-NATO Nordic Countries Marching Forward, Shoulder to Shoulder: Another Boost to Swedish-Finnish Defense Cooperation

Soldiers from the Defence Forces of Ireland run near a Blackhawk helicopter at Hagshult Airbase, part of the Forward Operation Base of the NBG (Nordic Battlegroup), about 240km North-East of Malmo, Sweden on November 6, 2014.The Nordic Battlegroup is one of European Union battlegroups. From 1 of January 2015 the NGB will be ready for a deployment on behalf of the EU. The Exercise joint action ends a year of preparation and training for the seven countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Ireland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and more than 2,400 members of the Nordic Battlegroup. AFP PHOTO / JONATHAN NACKSTRAND
Soldiers from the Defence Forces of Ireland run near a Blackhawk helicopter at Hagshult Airbase, part of the Forward Operation Base of the NBG (Nordic Battlegroup), about 240km North-East of Malmo, Sweden on November 6, 2014.The Nordic Battlegroup is one of European Union battlegroups. From 1 of January 2015 the NGB will be ready for a deployment on behalf of the EU. The Exercise joint action ends a year of preparation and training for the seven countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Ireland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and more than 2,400 members of the Nordic Battlegroup. AFP PHOTO / JONATHAN NACKSTRAND

On 6 May 2014, Defense Ministers Karin Enström of Sweden and Carl Haglund of Finland held a press conference with broad smiles on their faces. They had a good reason to be satisfied, as they had just signed an action plan on behalf of their respective governments for deepening defense cooperation between Sweden and Finland.

On 6 May 2014, Defense Ministers Karin Enström of Sweden and Carl Haglund of Finland held a press conference with broad smiles on their faces. They had a good reason to be satisfied, as they had just signed an action plan on behalf of their respective governments for deepening defense cooperation between Sweden and Finland.

The defense forces of these two non-NATO Nordic countries had just been charged with preparing a series of feasibility studies outlining the possibilities of closer cooperation in a world of shrinking defense outlays and ever more sophisticated and expensive weapons systems. “This is not about creating a defense alliance,” said Minister Enström. “It is about further cooperation aiming at more efficiency and closer dialogue on challenges common to both of us.”
The list of possible areas of cooperation, as outlined by the ministers, is truly impressive. It covers all three services; it challenges all existing national logistics and management solutions; and it takes a critical look at the way the defense forces in each of these countries are now organized.
For example, the action plan opens up the possibility of establishing common military units for air and sea, including common procurement of materiel for the Swedish and Finnish air forces and navies. Furthermore, the above-mentioned feasibility studies will evaluate the need for common units to be deployed abroad in crisis management operations. Also, the use by Swedish forces of Finnish air and naval bases, and vice versa, will be studied, and the creation of common air and sea command, control, and surveillance capabilities will be assessed.
On land, the possibilities of deepening bilateral cooperation in military education and training will be explored. Exercises, especially those conducted in the frozen conditions of Nordic winters, will be increased, and more common training for the mechanized units will be arranged. Feasibility studies will also explore the possibilities of contributing units from all military services to international exercises, whether conducted under the auspices of the UN, the EU, or NATO.
Furthermore, civil-servant exchanges between the two Ministries of Defense will be considered, along with the creation of secure “hot lines” and video-conference facilities.
The defense forces will have until October this year to produce the first draft of the report, with the final version due in January 2015.
This all is extremely positive news. Sweden and Finland have a combined population of over 14 million, with annual defense outlays of about 10.5 billion USD (7.6 billion euros). Their naval forces are relatively small but highly capable, with Sweden operating five submarines specifically designed for the shallow waters of the Baltic Sea. Their air forces are in sterling condition: the Swedish JAS Gripen and Finnish F-18 Hornet fleets have a combined strength of more than 160 modern first-line fighters, equipped with Sidewinders, AMRAAMs and JASSMs that provide them with credible air-to-air and air-to-surface striking power.
After the rather thoughtless Swedish draw-down of its land forces (now being slowly and painstakingly reversed, albeit at a very high cost), the Swedish defense capabilities on land are quite limited. But this is amply compensated by the Finnish reserve force of 350,000 soldiers (soon to be lowered to 240,000) that can be fully mobilized with the largest field artillery force in Western Europe.
With this order of battle, supported by some of the best cyber defense capabilities available in the world today, the combined capabilities of the defense forces of Sweden and Finland are nothing to scoff at.
Politically, the idea of cooperation between the Swedish and Finnish militaries is in both countries what motherhood and apple pie are for the Americans: who could be against it?
There is one pitfall that should be avoided, though. There are segments of society in both countries that will be eager to embrace enhanced Swedish-Finnish military cooperation as an alternative to NATO membership. That it is not. While at its best it is conducive to improving both countries’ military capabilities, it will not bring these countries one inch closer to the protective umbrella of collective defense. Neither will it produce military capabilities that could substitute for the protection the Alliance would provide.
There is one other pitfall that one should be aware of. There will be national parliamentary elections in both countries within the next few months, and one hopes that the results of the feasibility studies outlined by Ministers Enström and Haglund will be carried out and put into effect no matter what government coalitions emerge after the elections. Studies left to gather dust in ministry filing cabinets will obviously do nothing to increase either Swedish or Finnish national security.
There is yet another pitfall. Ominously, both ministers at their common press conference took great pains at emphasizing that these studies and prospective follow-up cooperative measures will be for peace-time only. Not only does this defy much of the logic of conducting such studies in the first place, but also robs them of their effectiveness.
Why shouldn’t such closely-related countries like Sweden and Finland draw up serious crisis-time contingency plans together, and moreover, why shouldn’t they make every effort to ensure that these very plans also become part of defense of the community of values and interests to which these two countries so clearly belong?

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