Here’s a roundup of recent events in Nordic military affairs.
Norway moves military operations HQs to High North
Norway has moved its center of military operations to Reitan, becoming the first Arctic state to headquarter its operations command in the High North. This development is in line with Norway’s increasing strategic focus on the High North. On August 1, mil-ops will move from Jåttå, outside Stavanger in southern Norway, about a thousand miles north to Reitan, located outside of Bodø. Currently, Bodø is the subordinate center of command. It is currently also home to the country’s main air force base, which deploys aircraft to monitor Russian jet exercises.
Vegard Oen Hatten, writing on the Norwegian military’s official website, says that “Particular emphasis has been placed on building a new and better organization, and ensuring the best possibilities for employees who are directly affected by the move.”
Nordic Foreign Ministers Meeting in Reykjavik
In other news, the Nordic Foreign Ministers met from June 8-9 in Reykjavik, Iceland to discuss deepening regional cooperation in foreign policy and security affairs. The meeting built on the work of former Norwegian Prime Minister Thorvald Stoltenberg’s report entitled Nordic Cooperation and Foreign and Security Policy, which was released last February to general enthusiasm of Nordic ministers. Ministers from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden agreed that. One issue they discussed in particular was the idea of cooperating to provide Iceland with air force defense services, which it lost once the U.S. military withdrew from its baval air station in Keflavik in 2006. The most pressing problems were defined to be “crisis management, air surveillance and communications, satellite services, cyber security, foreign services, and military cooperation on transport, medical services, education, material and exercise ranges.” The environment was also a major topic of discussion. Ministers discussed creating an civil maritime environmental surveying system, which would be called Barents Watch, and preparation for the Copenhagen Summit in December 2009.
Nordic security cooperation is not a new idea, but it has recently resurfaced as the Arctic grows in importance (and this even though neither Finland nor Sweden are Arctic states). After World War II, a Scandinavian Defence Union was floated to protect the Nordic countries from Russia, but with the creation of NATO, such an organization was deemed redundant. However, it is now regarded that a regional defense union could provide a useful complementary layer of security, particularly since neither Sweden nor Finland are NATO members. The declaration produced by the ministers at the end of the meeting stated that only through “well-functioning multilateralism, not least the work in the United Nations framework, that transnational challenges can be solved.”
Yet it appears that Nordic military cooperation is more along the lines of regionalism rather than multilateralism. Traditionally, of course, the Nordic nations are some of the biggest donators to the United Nations by percentage of GDP, making them important players in the multilateral arena. But now, the countries are now trying to band together not just militarily, but also diplomatically. In Kabul, there is a pilot project to intensify Nordic diplomatic cooperation between the embassies. This regionalism flies in the face of a Nordic-wide turn away from the European Union, notably in Finland, where the Euroskeptic True Finns party made significant gains in the recent European parliamentary elections. And of course, Norway twice rejected EU membership. Then again, Iceland is looking to join the EU, so the Nordic countries could be further divided along EU and non-EU and NATO and non-NATO lines. Thus, Nordic cooperation that does not depend on going through multilateral organizations could make the regionalism more coherent and enduring.
The entire declaration can be viewed here.
Finland favors increased Nordic security cooperation
Also of note, Finland has officially stated that it is in favor of deepening Nordic security cooperation. Finland has historically been ambivalent about entangling itself in military alliances, as it has generally pursued a policy of neutrality for fear of provoking the Russian bear. To wit, it has never joined NATO. But back in February, Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb remarked,
“This will not be called a defence alliance. Finland remains a country that is not a part of any military alliance.”
Press release from the Finnish government here.
Russia angered by NATO exercises in High North
Pravda, a Russian newspaper which professes its mission to be “to report the truth and nothing but the truth,” reports that Baltops, a NATO-led annual multinational military exercise currently underway in the Baltic Sea, is “obviously a provocative act” – particularly since the neutral states of Sweden and Finland are participating under the umbrella of the NATO Partnership for Peace, which Russian military expert Konstantin Sivkov of the Academy for Geopolitical Sciences claims is evidence of “a wider bloc being formed in the West.”
Sivkov goes on to say that “NATO is holding its drills near Russia’s southern and northern borders, which is not incidental. The alliance approaches Georgia as a springboard to capture the energy resources of the Caspian Sea region. The north is attractive for the opportunity to attack Russia’s key centers.”
The article closes with this bombshell: “To put it in a nutshell, NATO organized the exercise to train the destruction of enemy’s operational aircraft and navy, which al-Qaida does not have, of course..”
So whether NATO is performing exercises in the Arctic or the Baltic, it will inadvertently be in Russia’s backyard and risk provoking it – which was Finland’s fear all along. It may be a good thing that Finland doesn’t have an Arctic coastline, since that makes for one less potential dispute with its eastern neighbor.