September 11, 2013
Finland, Sweden Mull NATO Option
By Gerard O'Dwyer, Defense News
In NiinistĂ¶â€™s 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.
â€śThere 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€ť NiinistĂ¶ said at a news conference here. â€śIt is a fundamental asset to have a strong national defense.â€ť
NiinistĂ¶â€™s position reflects Defense Ministry thinking, which favors retaining the countryâ€™s 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.
â€śIt is intended to sharpen the operational capabilities of Finnish forces through increased interaction and exercises with NATO,â€ť he said. â€śIt is also designed to explore new areas for cooperation with Russiaâ€™s military, perhaps in strategic areas like the Arctic.â€ť
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 governmentâ€™s Defense Policy Advisory Committee (DPAC) raised concerns over Russiaâ€™s rearming in the High North. . . .
â€śThe 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€ť 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, Finlandâ€™s foreign minister. The idea that Finland and Sweden might â€śjump togetherâ€ť into NATO remains an unlikely prospect, Tuomioja said.
â€śWe established a very clear principle [with Sweden] over a decade ago that we will not hand each other surprises in defense policy issues,â€ť he said. â€śInstead, 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€ť