Sweden has come out with a proposal to build a joint Nordic Battalion Force (NBF) to make it part of the agenda for Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark.
The estimated strength is 1,200 personnel comprising three to seven companies. The Swedish initiative is to be discussed this September at the defense ministers’ level. Swedish Armed Force Chief Gen. Sverker Göransson has said that establishing the modular-style NBF is fundamental to meaningful Nordic defense cooperation. According to him, the force could be activated in 2016. Finland said the initiative is welcomed, though it is still to mull it over and make some details precise. “Would it function as a regional force or could it be a crisis management tool that could be used outside of the European Union’s borders?” asked Finnish Defense Minister Carl Haglund. Norway and Copenhagen, the NATO members, have adopted a wait and see king of attitude.
The force advocated by Sweden would operate as a separate force to the European Union’s Swedish-led Nordic Battle Group (NBG), made up of troops and equipment from Finland, Norway, Ireland, Estonia and Latvia. Unlike the NBF, which would be Nordic-specific, the larger NBG is assigned to the EU’s standby international mission forces. But taking into consideration the fact that the major EU parties are also NATO members, it easy to guess the both formations will inevitably add to NATO’s capabilities too… The Swedish initiative matches the NORDEFCO Cooperation Area Battalion Task Force 2020 study, devoted to finding a common approach to the creation of a generic Nordic Battalion Task Force. The proposal sparks a debate on a broader issue of Nordic states security policy, while in Sweden the question of whether it should rescind its non-aligned status and join NATO hits the national radar screen.
Nordic states defense dimension – NATO guidelines followed
The five Nordic countries, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, have a long history of cooperation. Even before the EU offered a framework for getting closer, they had a passport union and common labor market with each other since the 1950s. Talking about security arrangements, in 1948 and 1949, there was an attempt to form a Nordic defense union. It ended up in failure due to multiple disagreements.
Time had passed and the Nordic defence cooperation NORDEFCO was established in 2009. That year the Nordic Foreign Ministers started to discuss the Stoltenberg report that contained thirteen concrete proposals to enhance Nordic cooperation in the foreign and security policy area; including items such as peace building, air surveillance, maritime monitoring, arctic issues, military cooperation, declaration of solidarity and cooperation with our foreign services among others. Most of the items in the report had already been part of Nordic cooperation earlier or were already under consideration. The Nordic Declaration on Solidarity, adopted at the Nordic foreign ministers meeting in April 2011, was a clear indication of this commitment. Should a Nordic country be affected, the others will, upon request from that country, assist with relevant means, the same way it is envisaged within the framework of NATO as stipulated in Article 5 of Washington Pact. It is emphasized that this intensified Nordic cooperation is fully in line with each country’s security and defence policy and complements existing European and Euro-Atlantic cooperation. True, the Nordic Defense Cooperation, which includes all the Nordic countries, is not an official military alliance. But in practice it brings the Nordic states together against the background of differences: the countries are members of different economic and monetary groups. Only Finland is a Eurozone member; Denmark and Sweden are EU members but not in the currency alliance; and Norway and Iceland are not EU members.
At that, today the Nordic countries are engaged in intensive defence and security policy cooperation. Joint exercises, training, surveillance activities, military procurement, crisis management cooperation including capacity building in East Africa and participation in the ISAF operation in Afghanistan.
The Nordic defence co-operation strengthens, and the US builds ever-closer bilateral military relationships with Finland and Sweden. These are stronger than with many countries that are nominal NATO members. This year Swedish planes took part for the second time in the coveted ‘Red Flag' air force exercises in Nevada, for example.
The Nordic security and defence cooperation has achieved impressive results. Speaking to military experts in Helsinki this March, general Ari Puheloinen admitted that among the success stories are the exchange of marine and air space information, joint training of navy units and cross-border air force training.(1) Some examples of the results are the Archerartillery program, a joint effort between Norway and Sweden, and Finland’s acquisition of the Norwegian NASAMS II air-defense system. There is also an ongoing study to see whether Norway, Sweden and Denmark – which all operate the US-produced C-130J Super Hercules – could cooperate more closely on tactical air transport. There has also been very good experiences with joint cross-border training, for example, when the combined territories and airspace of Norway, Sweden and Finland are being used for exercise and training.
NATO guidelines influence the Nordic states security policy. In line with the NATO’s Smart Defense there are steps taken like the long-lasting collaboration on Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft (AWACS), the cooperation on the C-17 Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) in Hungary, the NATO Sea Sparrow Project.
NORDEFCO is a good example of a “Cooperation Cluster,” a project that is in its infancy worked out to follow the NATO’s Smart Defense concept.
The Nordic cooperation has also materialized in the development of EU Battle Groups. The Nordic Battle Group has already been formed and been on stand-by two times. Finland will also join the next formation of the Nordic Battle Group, led by Sweden in the first half of 2015. The Nordic Battle group (NBG) is one of eighteen European Union battle groups. It consists of around 2,200 soldiers including officers, with manpower contributed from the six participating countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Ireland, Estoniaand Latvia). The military strategic command of the force is done in cooperation with the any suitable of the five Operation Headquarters framework nations at the time for deployment.
Nordic states also enhance cyber security cooperation in accordance with the Nordic Declaration on Solidarity. They have established a Nordic Classified Communication network. The decision was made at the Nordic Foreign Ministers meeting in 2012. The network, which consists of Nordic national Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) will be functional by the end of 2013.
Patrolling NATO member airspace – new landmark step in security policy
A very important step has been done recently to enhance the interaction between Sweden and Finland on the one hand, and NATO on the other. The two Nordic countries are ready to take part in air surveillance over Iceland, starting in 2014. The possible inclusion of Finland and Sweden in Iceland's air patrol mission in the skies of a NATO member-country is an example of the ongoing trend. After 2006, when the United States pulled out of Iceland, NATO has been responsible for surveillance of Iceland’s airspace. In the first quarter of 2014, Norway will have primary responsibility for air surveillance, with non-NATO members Swedish and Finnish also participating in NATO operation.
It is all on the rise. Swedish warplanes supported the no-fly zone in Libya in 2011, though formally they did not engage in combat. Both countries support peace-keeping and anti-piracy missions in far-away places. Now Iceland is a clear step towards further involvement in NATO activities.
Sweden assumes leading role in building Nordic Defense Pact
The Swedish government wants to accelerate the pace and scope of Nordic cooperation, urging moves that could create combined joint units with Finland, Norway and Denmark.Sweden’s intent is backed by a joint positional landmark statement made at the start of this year by Defense Minister Karin Enström and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt that was expanded at the annual Sälen Society and Defense conference Jan. 14. This statement proposes Nordic states “pool and share” their military equipment and capacities, effectively creating joint air, naval and land forces units to undertake Nordic defense roles. “Sweden wants to create a more efficient use of resources, higher quality, better effects and an expanded variety of defense capabilities through cooperation,” it states.“Joint ownership and use of military capacities and resources, or so-called pooling and sharing, is a central part of the Swedish vision for Nordic defense cooperation.”(2)
Staffan Danielsson, the Swedish Center Party’s spokesman on defense said back then that “Sweden will need to strengthen its own national defense capability before promoting a Nordic defense pact.” He pointed out that ““This means taking responsibility and spending a lot more money on our military,” he said.“This is the best means of contributing to increased stability in the Nordic region. He added, that, “. … An increase in military spending is necessary if we are to remain credible.”(3)
The Swedish proposal has divided Finnish thinking. Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen said concrete measures covering joint exercises and equipment acquisition were on the table, but a defense treaty was not. “Discussion of a defense pact is not on the agenda, and I don’t know if it ever will be,” he said. “Now is the time to concentrate on defense cooperation at a practical level.” So, Sweden does have support for its proposal in Finland. “Commonality of equipment and the pooling of capacities and military operations could serve Nordic defense very well,” said Eero Heinäluoma, speaker of the Finnish parliament, the Eduskunta. “For instance, I could not see why Finland would not purchase the JAS Gripen when Finland’s existing fighter fleet is replaced in the future. If the Nordic countries were to deploy a single type modern fighter, this has the potential for huge savings.” (4)
The prospect of a pooling-and-sharing pact with Sweden, or a broader Nordic defense agreement, is a possibility but must be viewed as a long-term rather than short-term objective, said Carl Haglund, Finland’s defense minister. “In practice, the type or arrangement that Sweden proposes would require a treaty-based formal defense agreement with Sweden, given that we are talking about fundamental capabilities impacting the Navy or the Air Force,” he said. (5) The pooling and sharing proposal could be incorporated within the evolving pan-Nordic defense collaboration program, said Erkki Tuomioja, Finland’s foreign minister. As to him, “The Nordic states already collaborate in joint military maneuvers, training, joint materials acquisition, crisis management and surveillance operations. A certain amount of this cooperation is bilateral. A pooling and sharing arrangement cannot be ruled out of future cooperation.”(6)
(To be continued)