Nordics to step up security cooperation on perceived Russian threat

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(Laura Tolonen / Yle)
(Laura Tolonen / Yle)
The Finnish Defence Minister and his Nordic peers have published a letter declaring their intention to increase joint military exercises, armaments cooperation and intelligence sharing.

One analyst assessing the letter published in the Norway’s largest daily Aftenposten said that the intensified cooperation could take Finland and Sweden even closer to NATO membership.

Norwegian daily Aftenposten reported Thursday on the defence cooperation agreement involving Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark in an op-ed undersigned by their respective Defence Ministers. The background to the intensified collaboration was said to be the perceived threat posed by Russia.

“The Russian aggression against the Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea are violations of international law and other international agreements. Russia’s conduct represents the gravest challenge to European security. As a consequence, the security situation in the Nordic countries’ adjacent areas has become significantly worsened during the past year…. we must be prepared to face possible crises or incidents,” the ministers wrote in the opinion piece.

“We have to examine what Russia is doing, not the rhetoric coming from the Kremlin,” they added.

They noted that the Nordic states represented in the missive plan to deepen cooperation in areas such as military exercises, acquisition of defence materiel, intelligence sharing and thwarting cyber attacks.

The letter disclosed that the decision to intensify defence cooperation was taken during a meeting of Nordic defence ministers on March 10. The Baltic States will also be included in the community. The ministers indicated that the adrive to expand the group beyond the Nordics was discussed back in November 2014.

“In November last year 12 nations met in order to prepare an extended defence cooperation: The Nordic counties plus the Baltic states, Poland, The Netherlands, Germany and Great Britain,” the op-ed stated.

Analyst: Russia will see cooperation as aggression

Professor Janne Haaland Matlary, a security policy analyst interviewed by Aftenposten to review the ministers’ position, said that following the steps outlined would mean that further cooperation wouldn’t be possible unless non-NATO members Finland and Sweden joined the military alliance.

“Finland and Sweden have decided to organise exercises that are NATO-compliant and this means one step closer to NATO. However these countries don’t have any political mandate to join at this point; the climate isn’t sufficiently ‘fearful’ and it membership would require a referendum. But in spite of all that, what’s happening now resembles preparations for membership,” Matlary observed.

The analyst, who is also a member of the Norwegian Defence Minister’s expert advisory team, said that Russia can be expected to interpret the move towards closer Nordic defence cooperation as aggression.

“You have to take into account that there will be negative reactions from the Russian side; this however should not be emphasised,” she added.

Minister: Cooperation “not an alternative to NATO”

Norwegian Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide told Aftenposten that the move towards deeper Nordic defence cooperation was predicated on defence and aimed to strengthen security and increase predictability in the region.

“We cannot predict Russia’s reactions,” she remarked.

She also noted that the cooperation was meant to be flexible and represents a supplement and not an alternative to each country’s existing membership in NATO and the EU. She added that cooperation provides no mutual security guarantees.

“It underlines the importance of solidarity and cooperation in order to strengthen security in our region. Otherwise there is nothing new in the fact that our nations have been cooperating for a long time,” she added.

The opinion piece was signed by Defence Ministers Carl Haglund of Finland, Peter Hultqvist of Sweden, Ine Eriksen Søreide of Norway, Nicolai Wammen of Denmark and Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson of Iceland.

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