Enhanced Swedish-Finnish Defense Cooperation?

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Finnish President Sauli NiinistöWhen President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt met at the Sälen security conference on 12-14 January, they told the media they agreed on two things in particular: one, NATO membership for neither Finland nor Sweden was topical at the moment and, two, both of them supported enhanced defense cooperation between these two Nordic countries.

Just the following week, in a joint article in Svenska Dagbladet, a Swedish daily, the Swedish and Finnish Defense Ministers Karin Enström and Carl Haglund hammered on the same theme: since the two countries are in many ways so close and share the same values, defense cooperation comes natural to them. . . .

[N]o matter how high the political interest for cooperation might be, there are no longer that many uncharted areas of cooperation left. There are also those who wonder whether the most fruitful venue to enhance defense cooperation between Sweden and Finland would be in the NATO context.

Besides, one should also be keenly aware of the fact that the record of cooperation has at best been mixed. There are excellent examples of cooperation producing common capabilities, combined and joint training and exercises, and opportunities to combine efforts in international operations. However, there are also spectacular failures such as the Nordic Standard Helicopter Project in 1998-2001, or the bilateral project between Sweden and Finland in which they sought to design and produce a 120 mm twin-barreled mortar turret called AMOS (Advanced Mortar System); an effort that ended up in a disappointing failure and caused bad blood between the two countries.

Enhanced defense cooperation between Sweden and Finland thus offers no panacea. No matter how close the partners, there are still political hesitations and sensitivities beyond practical military limitations that put brakes on closer defense cooperation. It might well be that nations prefer to stand alone, since they are reluctant to commit themselves fearing that the shared capabilities would not be there for their use when push comes to shove.

Nevertheless, if these parochial concerns and the obvious political constraints could be pushed aside, one area of beneficial cooperation still remains: If the Swedish and Finnish Chiefs of Defense and their staffs could sit together and start drafting common defense plans, produce such plans, and implement these plans, that would hugely raise the credibility of Swedish and Finnish national defenses. It would also add to stability and security in the whole Baltic Sea region.

Image: Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö (photo: Office of the President of Finland)