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Loose talk is risky

Risky “NATO’s Nordic Model”

 

There is a risky confusion in Magnus Nordeman’s column “How the Nordic Countries Are Quietly Leading Alliance into the Future”. And it is also echoed in Jorge Benitez’ report “NATO’s Nordic Model”. Recently Edward Lucas’ “A Nordic defensive shield” argued in the same way.

 

Nordeman first correctly reports the achievements of the Nordic countries in various fields. Their contributions in Afghanistan, Libya or even in Mali are described and thanked – with good reasons.

 

A Nordic observer is also happy to read about NATO’s Smart Defense and about the fact that “the Nordics have quietly been working under this approach for years under the label Nordic Defense Cooperation (NORDEFCO).” So far so good.

 

But Nordeman then goes on taking as given something he has been advocating: “This construct could potentially be a real model for NATO as it thinks through how to implement smart defense at a regional level, and how to work closely with partners….” Sweden and Finland “have signed on to participate in Icelandic air policing, although flying unarmed to satisfy the reservations of some Allies about having non-NATO countries participating in an Article V operation.”

 

First there was certain academic confusion between NATO’s cooperation with partners on the one hand and cooperation under Article V on the other. But now this loose wording has become a habit also on the highest political levels in the Nordic countries. And now this way of speaking has hit its first rock in the case of the Icelandic air policing operation.

 

With blue eyes first from Norway and then from Iceland, Sweden and Finland it was declared that the two partner countries should participate the Article V based real life Icelandic air policing. Any informed person could see how impossible it was from the outset. But against the fundamentals of diplomacy the two governments decided to be demandeurs and to hear the rejection from NATO itself.

 

In the Nordic-Baltic region the confusion between partners’ cooperation and Article V cooperation is increasing. Quite recently Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt said that Sweden will “not be neutral” if any of the Baltic states is attacked. With all respect, this is much said from a country disarming itself. The earlier formulation was that Sweden will “not remain passive”.

 

No wonder in this case the NATO realism was quite quickly communicated to Sweden by Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen of Norway: “it is uncertain whether Norway will help if Sweden is attacked because they are not members of NATO….”

 

It is true that Foreign Minister Bildt complemented his statement by saying that “Sweden is not looking to replace NATO or the cooperation the US has with the Baltic states”. But this is exactly the point.

 

Together with extensive member-partner exercises loose talk confusing partner cooperation and Article V cooperation is simply counterproductive to the Post Cold war stability in the Nordic-Baltic region. It creates expectations not only in the Nordic-Baltic countries but in the US and in Russia on what is now happening and what could happen in real life in future.

 

Loose talk like that of Nordeman’s can contribute misjudgments not only among analysts but also among political decision makers. At the time of austerity in the US military it gives an extra argument to leave the High North and Highest North stability to the hands of the imaginary Nordic-Baltic cooperation in a real situation. And at the time of booming Russian military economy, it gives an extra argument to Russia to counterbalance regionally against imaginary Nordic-Baltic “real model for NATO”. So the net effect could be shaking the stability reached at after the Cold War – complemented with the local cuts in defense budgets also helped by the loose talk confusing partners’ and Article V cooperation.

 

The Nordic-Baltic region risks to become a box of accidental side effects of major strategic decisions due to the complacent loose thinking and talk - and its small weight and complex geography or history.

 

However, it is important to recognize that the European High North and the Globe’s Highest North together are not just one detail among the others. The US commitments to the Baltic countries are not just some post WW II relics. It was from the beginning of the WW II in 1939 that the US committed to their independence. In 1997 president Clinton repeated the commitment through reaching an agreement with president Jeltsin on the NATO –membership of the Baltic countries. And on the real map of the Globe the Highest North linked to the European High North is next to home yard not only for Canada but also of for the US.  

 

So, the better way to approach the Northern Europe and the Highest North is to take real map of the Globe. And to see that there the post Cold War commitments and stability based on them are continuously in everybody’s interest – also in the interest of the US and Russia.

 

Risto Volanen

Finland