The US, Swedish, and Finnish defense ministers signed a trilateral Statement of Intent (SOI) to expand defense cooperation on all fronts. The signing ceremony took place in Washington on May 8. In 2016, the two Scandinavian nations finalized separate defense SOIs with America. Now they have signed a joint document to unify those previous agreements and enhance their interoperability.
The Scandinavian visitors claimed this was just a starting point for a more mature relationship. The agreement emphasizes the countries’ combined joint exercises and streamlines the procedures that have been established to manage them.
Other issues covered by the SOI include regular trilateral meetings at all levels, the exchange of information (including about weapons systems), increased practical interaction, cooperation in multinational operations, improved communications, and the promotion of the EU-NATO strategic partnership. The latter issue will transform the Scandinavians into a connecting link that will eliminate the chance of any European deterrent that could operate with any real independence from its North American “big brother.” Washington wants to make sure that the PESCO agreement will not protect Europe’s defense industry from US companies.
Sweden hosted the Aurora military exercise in September 2017, the largest such event on its soil. The US supplied most of the visiting troops. The American military has also taken part in a number of drills in Finland recently. That country will host a large-scale NATO exercise as early as 2020 or 2021. The US has already been invited. The militarization of the Scandinavian Peninsula is moving full speed ahead.
The recently signed SOI actually transforms the bilateral agreements into enhanced trilateral cooperation. For Stockholm and Helsinki, joining NATO is not an option for domestic political reasons. At least not for now. Instead, a new US-led defense alliance has emerged.
The increased tempo of exercises anticipates a larger US presence. It has far-reaching implications. With American military personnel rotating in and out of Sweden and Finland, any offensive action against one of those states would officially be an attack on a NATO member. It would trigger a response as envisaged by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Russia considers any American military presence there as provocative. The US is not a Scandinavian country. If an incident took place that resulted in a clash between Russian and US forces, the two Scandinavian nations would be pulled against their will into a conflict they may have nothing to do with. The American soldiers on their soil will never be under the control of their national commands. More US presence means less sovereignty and more risk.
Actually, since they are EU members they don’t even need Article 5, because Article 42.7 of the EU treaty also contains a binding mutual-assistance clause. France invoked it after the 2015 Paris terror attacks.
Last year Sweden and Finland joined the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF). All other participants in the nine-nation formation are NATO members. It means that in an emergency their armed forces will operate under NATO command, becoming parties to a conflict they could avoid if they were really neutral. The two also cooperate with Washington through the Northern Group (NG), which consists of 12 countries, although Sweden and Finland are the only non-NATO participants. That organization holds its own dialog with the US. Another venue is the five-nation Nordic Countries group, that includes these two non-aligned members.
In reality, Sweden and Finland have already joined NATO through other groups and agreements. They did so informally, avoiding referendums and the relevant parliamentary procedures at home. This should be viewed as part of a broader picture. In early April, the first-ever US-Baltic States summit took place in Washington. It was an unprecedented event that somehow was kept out of the media spotlight.
The leaders of NATO’s “frontline states” called for a permanent US military presence in the region. They want that to be much larger than just American participation in multinational battalions. They are asking for a permanent presence on a much wider scale. Washington, which already has forces deployed in Norway and Poland, is considering rotating American troops through the Baltic nations as well. Poland and the Baltic states are a focus of NATO’S bellicose preparations. One might as well forget about the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act (1997), which states that no substantial forces should be deployed in the proximity of the borders. That document has already been breached by NATO.
The US guests have provided advice on how to promote American influence (they call it “democracy”) in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, the members of a newly formed anti-Russian alliance. And it’s not just the defense sector. Last year, Lithuania began importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) from America. Poland has also built an LNG terminal to expand the shipments of American gas to Europe, which compete with Russia’s energy supplies.
The withdrawal from the Iran deal is not the only time a US position on an issue has been opposed by the leading European nations. There are many more points of disagreement. Old Europe is gradually creating an independent deterrent. A rift between the EU and the US is deepening. But as one can see, Washington is building another pro-American alliance on the continent. It does not mean it will replace the North Atlantic alliance. Certainly not. On the contrary, it will strengthen the US position in the bloc.
But aside from NATO, Washington also leads an informal alliance of “frontline states” that are intimidated by a nonexistent threat. The idea of the Russia bogeyman is being exploited by the US in order to reach its foreign-policy goals. Northern Europe is being turned into a hornet’s nest, with its good-neighbor policy gradually being replaced with confrontation that benefits the US but makes the region less secure.