January 25, 2010

The Stoltenberg Report: New Life for Nordic Cooperation?

Sub-regional cooperation in Europe – that is cooperation between groups of neighbours in limited parts of the main Euro-Atlantic space – has been called the Cinderella among European organizations. It attracts little publicity or academic analysis and it does not seem to be any politician’s top priority. Nevertheless, it has made useful contributions to stability and reform at certain stages in post-Cold War history, notably in the early 1990s when the Council of the Baltic Sea States and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council were created among others. There are some signs that it is gaining prominence again at the end of the 21st century’s first decade.

Sub-regional cooperation in Europe – that is cooperation between groups of neighbours in limited parts of the main Euro-Atlantic space – has been called the Cinderella among European organizations. It attracts little publicity or academic analysis and it does not seem to be any politician’s top priority. Nevertheless, it has made useful contributions to stability and reform at certain stages in post-Cold War history, notably in the early 1990s when the Council of the Baltic Sea States and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council were created among others. There are some signs that it is gaining prominence again at the end of the 21st century’s first decade.


Stoltenberg’s suggestions for Nordic cooperation on foreign and security policy issues



Short description

Grade for past cooper-ation


Nordic stabilisation task force

A Nordic stabilisation task force should be established to intervene in situations abroad that require not only military input, but the re-building of state and political processes. The mixed civil-military force should have a military component, a humanitarian component, a state-building component (including police officers, judges, prison officers and election observers) and a development assistance component.



Nordic cooperation on surveillance of Icelandic airspace

The Nordic countries should take on part of the responsibility for air surveillance and air patrolling over Iceland. Initially, other Nordic countries could deploy personnel to the Keflavik base and participate in the regular Northern Viking exercises by Iceland’s Allies. Later, they could take on responsibility for some of the air patrols organised by NATO within the framework of Partnership for Peace (PfP).



Nordic maritime monitoring system

A Nordic system should be established for monitoring and early warning in the Nordic Seas. The system should in principle be civilian and be designed for tasks such as monitoring marine pollution and civilian traffic, for which existing military surveillance may not be best suited. The system could have two pillars, ‘BalticWatch’ for the Baltic Sea and ‘BarentsWatch’ for the North Atlantic and high northern waters.



Maritime response force

Once a Nordic maritime monitoring system is in place, a Nordic maritime response force should be established, using assets from national coast guards and rescue services. It should patrol regularly in the Nordic Seas, with major responsibility for search and rescue.




Satellite surveillance and communica-tions system

By 2020, a Nordic polar orbital satellite system should be established and linked with the Nordic maritime monitoring system. It could provide real-time images of the situation at sea to help in maritime monitoring and crisis management.



Nordic cooperation on Arctic issues

The Nordic countries (which all are members of the Arctic Council) should develop practical cooperation on Arctic issues, e.g. in the fields of environment, climate change, maritime safety and search and rescue services.



Nordic resource network to protect against cyber attacks

A Nordic resource network should be established to defend the Nordic countries against cyber attacks. It should facilitate exchange of experiences, coordinate national prevention and protection efforts and guide national capacity-building. In the longer term, the resource network could develop systems for joint identification of actual cyber threats.



Disaster response unit

A Nordic disaster response unit should be established for dealing with large-scale disasters and accidents in the Nordic countries and abroad. The unit would coordinate Nordic efforts as needed, developing a roster of available equipment and personnel and a network among relevant public and private organisations. It would set up Nordic groups/teams to meet specific needs, for example, in the field of advanced search and rescue.



War crimes investigation unit

A joint investigation unit should be established to coordinate the Nordic countries’ investigation of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by persons residing in the Nordic countries.



Cooperation between foreign services

The establishment of joint Nordic diplomatic missions should be considered in important countries where no Nordic state is represented yet. Foreign ministries should cooperate in training.



Military cooperation in specific fields

The Nordic countries should strengthen their defence cooperation in the fields of medical services, education, procurement activities and exercise ranges. Some of these issues are also discussed in the report presented by the Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish Chiefs of Defence.



Amphibious unit

A Nordic amphibious unit should be established, based on existing units and current cooperation between Sweden and Finland. The unit could be employed in international operations. In the longer term, the unit should develop its own Arctic expertise.



Nordic declaration of solidarity

The Nordic governments should issue a mutual declaration of solidarity, clarifying how they would respond if any Nordic state were subjected to external attack or undue pressure.


At first sight, the report is a logical and original response to Nordic states’ new challenges and opportunities. It reflects the special character of the Nordic region not just by placing the stress on the new Arctic agenda, but by focussing on dimensions like maritime safety and disaster response, rather than on recently fashionable issues like terrorism that actually have only a little role to play in Northern life. It reflects Nordic ‘values’ in emphasizing the security value of civilian contributions as well as in the items linked to human rights concerns and altruistic missions abroad. It smoothly side-steps the issue of different institutional membership by pointing out that regional cooperation is legitimized by wider partnership and association schemes of both NATO and the EU.
The report also strikes an appropriate note for a period of economic strain and uncertainty. So far, increasing pressure on defence resources has been met by the four armed Nordic states in different ways, none of which can be extended indefinitely. Stoltenberg puts it plainly: “Looking 15-20 years down the road, none of the Nordic countries will be able to maintain their armed forces at their current size and quality without closer Nordic cooperation.”2  He argues that that by investing in pan-Nordic capabilities, the Nordic countries could reduce the need for investments at the national level and also cut running costs. A common front would give the Nordic countries a better negotiating position when procuring new equipment and technology from others.
Mere logic and profitability, however, have never managed in the past to break down the traditional Nordic reticence about shared security strategies. If fully implemented, the report would mean a step change not just in the level and range of Nordic cooperation, but also in the active and assertive nature of the Nordic countries’ posture vis-í -vis the larger processes of European integration and security. It would be a bid for the region to take its future more fully in its own hands than at any time since the late 1940s, when the idea of a formal Nordic defence pact was raised and rejected. Proposal 13 for a Nordic solidarity clause may be a deliberate allusion to those lost opportunities, although couched in such terms that fit better in the 21st century environment.3
The question of political acceptability of the report is thus very much open. While no state has clearly committed itself, it is now possible to see some factors pushing for a more positive response in overall terms and some factors that may cause at least some nations to be reticent.
The positive factors are the following:
a) The structure of the report: it forms a deliberately laid-out chain of linked but separable proposals (Stoltenberg himself describes them as ‘questions’ or challenges for the ministers to answer). Even adopting one or two of them would require serious efforts to overcome bureaucratic, legal and financial obstacles, which would reduce resistance to the implementation of other proposals;
b) The incremental nature of the ideas: as is shown in the table, several ideas concern areas where cooperation has already started. The report’s novelty lies in finding ways to extend them systematically to all five nations;
c) The absence of ‘hard’ military themes: the report avoids naming any specific threats (e.g. from Russia) that the cooperation would be directed against; instead, it demonstrates that Nordic military assets can be used for multiple purposes, including civil, humanitarian and environmental ones. Throughout modern history, the idea that the Nordic countries should work together for ‘hard’ military defence has been problematic for all kinds of reasons, including their own mutual mistrust, the risk of provoking neighbours and reasonable doubts over whether their pooled assets could actually balance their mighty neighbours;
d) Domestic attitudes: generally speaking, the idea of Nordic cooperation can be ‘sold’ to both the right and left wings in Nordic politics and it may have reassuring overtones especially in a time of global crisis. It is certainly less divisive than, for example, relations with the USA or the issue of joining the EU and NATO for those countries that are still outside them.
Factors pushing in a more negative direction include not only past habits and the familiar differences in Nordic outlooks, but also some objective concerns:
i) Is the Nordic group still too small? Serious transnational problems, ranging from terrorism to climate change, strategic supplies and pandemics, exceed the capacity of even the most advanced and best-organized sub-regions. The Nordic countries might protect their interests better by promoting policy development in the EU, NATO and the international arena. In terms of economy, a smaller investment in a big forum might bring a greater payback than over-investing in Nordic harmonization;
ii) The obverse of the same point is that the Nordic countries would be unwise to create the impression that they could solve all their distinctive regional problems, if that meant pushing other useful actors away. Foreign assets, both military and financial, are likely to be needed in the Arctic in particular to deal with such tasks as shipping safety, search and rescue and infrastructure investment. Stoltenberg’s proposals on joint Nordic air policing, for instance, will have to be handled sensitively to make sure that occasional patrols by Allies from outside the region – with the important signals they convey about NATO’s strategic protection – will not lose their purpose and relevance. Just like in Cold War times, the Nordic countries would be foolish to waste their small resources on tasks that outsiders are willing to do for free;
iii) If the Nordic countries cannot afford to push their friends out of the region, they also cannot want to provoke Russia. A number of Stoltenberg’s proposals imply new patterns of military action, including by non-Allied nations – Finland and Sweden. In terms of regional stability, it is hard to see the ultimate cost-benefit balance of a ‘breakout’ by Swedish and Finnish forces – normally focussed on the Baltics – into high northern waters where so far Norway and Iceland have been alone against Russia and where even NATO’s presence has been cautious;
iv) Finally, the very idea of extending Nordic cooperation to the security sphere – or ‘securitizing’ it, as Nordic philosophers would say4  – may still be too much for some sectors of Nordic public opinion and for politicians sensitive to it. This kind of reticence is strongest in Sweden, which is the largest Nordic state with the largest resources to contribute.
Since the 18th century, Nordic relations have profoundly been shaped by Sweden’s wish to escape its aggressive great-power past, which makes it unwilling not only to provoke possible enemies, but also to take protective responsibility for its friends. This is one of the reasons why in the 1990s the Baltic states had little alternative but to seek NATO and EU membership. Stoltenberg’s proposals cannot change the reality, in which small and medium-sized nations in Northern Europe must turn to bigger (national and institutional) partners to fulfil their most existential needs – a reality that may soon be further proved by Iceland seeking safety within the EU. But if the Nordic countries trusted and helped each other more, as Stoltenberg proposes in his carefully crafted report, it might not just help them negotiate better terms with their partners, but also contribute more to the development of Europe and the whole world.
1 Nordic Cooperation on Foreign and Security Policy: Proposals Presented to the Extraordinary Meeting of Nordic Foreign Ministers in Oslo on 9 February 2009, full text published by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at www.regjeringen.no/en/dep/ud/Whats-new/News/2009/nordic_report.html?id=545258.
2 Ibid, p. 28.
3 In March 2004, the member states of the European Union, including three Nordic states, already adopted a ‘solidarity declaration,’ which committed them in political terms to help each other in case of a major terrorist attack or natural disaster.
4 ‘Securitization’ is a concept of German origin, developed by peace researchers of the Tampere and Copenhagen schools, who argue that the level of peace and social development in the Nordic countries has benefited from sidelining and de-emphasizing ‘hard’ military issues, thus ‘de-securitizing’ national life as much as possible.

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