June 7, 2014

Swedish-Finnish Defense Cooperation: How To Make It Count

The Russian attack on Ukraine has changed the paradigm of security debate in Northern Europe. Gone is the wishful thinking of a friendly Russia wanting to integrate in peaceful co-operation with its neighbors. Instead, the support for an ever closer NATO integration is growing in the High North. There might be a historical opportunity for a change of security alignment for the traditionally neutral Sweden and Finland.

07.06.2014, Pauli Järvenpää (ICDS), Mats Johansson (Chairman, Stockholm Free World Forum and Member of Parliament, Foreign Affairs Committee)
The article was published on 4 June on the op-ed page of Helsingin Sanomat
The Russian attack on Ukraine has changed the paradigm of security debate in Northern Europe. Gone is the wishful thinking of a friendly Russia wanting to integrate in peaceful co-operation with its neighbors. Instead, the support for an ever closer NATO integration is growing in the High North. There might be a historical opportunity for a change of security alignment for the traditionally neutral 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 list of possible areas of cooperation, as outlined by the ministers, is truly impressive. 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.  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. Furthermore, studies will evaluate the need for common units to be deployed abroad in crisis management operations from all three services.
The defense forces of Sweden and Finland 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.
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 for reasons having to do with efficiency and frugality, not with disarmament) 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.
On 15 May, a majority of the Swedish Defense Review Board, an official parliamentary group with all eight parties represented, agreed on an increase of future defense spending, including new weapons systems, including more submarines and fighters. Also, in October an official Swedish evaluation of all present military partnerships, including NATO, will be published.
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? Besides, both Sweden and Finland are already in such a close relationship with NATO, just witness the recent announcements that both countries are about to sign Host Nation Support (HNS) agreements with the Alliance.
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. 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 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.
In our mind, it should be quite the contrary. We argue that it is high time for such closely-related countries like Sweden and Finland to draw up crisis-time contingency plans together. While the military plans are being dovetailed, there should be a serious effort to streamline these two countries policies vis-à-vis NATO. Therefore, we propose that a high-level Joint Swedish-Finnish Commission be established, with the purpose of producing a common view of the way ahead towards NATO membership.
That would give a clear signal to the outside world of a common will to prepare for a joint membership of Sweden and Finland to NATO.

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