September 11, 2013
Finland, Sweden Mull NATO Option
By Gerard O'Dwyer, Defense News
In NiinistĂ¶âs view, while Finland should keep the door open to NATO membership, the preferred solution is to build a stronger national defense capability outside of any military alliance.
âThere are some who believe that NATO membership can replace a strong national defense capability. We must as a nation be able to look after ourselves, whether or not we are in an alliance,â NiinistĂ¶ said at a news conference here. âIt is a fundamental asset to have a strong national defense.â
NiinistĂ¶âs position reflects Defense Ministry thinking, which favors retaining the countryâs non-aligned status while building closer military relations with both NATO and Russia.
This twin-track strategic balancing act holds two central objectives, said Paul Beernert, a Brussels-based political analyst.
âIt is intended to sharpen the operational capabilities of Finnish forces through increased interaction and exercises with NATO,â he said. âIt is also designed to explore new areas for cooperation with Russiaâs military, perhaps in strategic areas like the Arctic.â
The Finnish government has emphasized that no decision on NATO membership will be made in the lifetime of the current government, pushing back a decision to sometime after the next parliamentary elections in 2015, Beernert said. . . .
The possibility of non-aligned Finland and Sweden jumping together into NATO was briefly discussed by the two countriesâ governments in 2009 as part of cross-border discussions on strengthening defense. The talks were linked to reinforcing Nordic defense cooperation with NATO-aligned neighbors Norway and Denmark.
The potential for a possible united front on NATO emerged again in May, when a report by the Swedish governmentâs Defense Policy Advisory Committee (DPAC) raised concerns over Russiaâs rearming in the High North. . . .
âThe political developments in Russia are worrying, as are the ambitious modernization plans for its armed forces. This increases the level of insecurity compared to levels that existed in 2007,â DPAC Chairman Cecilia Widegren told Defense News. . . .
It would be unrealistic to expect Sweden to apply for NATO membership in 2014 or 2015, said Erkki Tuomioja, Finlandâs foreign minister. The idea that Finland and Sweden might âjump togetherâ into NATO remains an unlikely prospect, Tuomioja said.
âWe established a very clear principle [with Sweden] over a decade ago that we will not hand each other surprises in defense policy issues,â he said. âInstead, we discuss such matters together, and after we discuss, we are both free to make our own decisions. In the past, these decisions have been, more often than not, quite compatible.â