Strengthening the Nordic Military Contribution to the International Effort Against ISIL

US and Iraqi soldiers, Camp Ramadi, Nov. 15, 2009The rapid and brutal advance of the Islamic State, a self-proclaimed caliphate, holding onto territory in eastern Syria and western Iraq, is not only threatening the stability of Iraq’s semi autonomous Kurdistan and its religious minorities, but threatens to establish a hub of jihadism in the center of the Arab world with potentially wide ranging global consequences. So far, 62 countries have joined the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Nordic countries, for their part, have committed limited, but valuable resources to the coalition, including providing military transport planes – to help carry humanitarian supplies – while principally agreeing to help train Iraqi-security forces. These efforts not only signal the Nordic countries demonstrated willingness to increase burden sharing within the Euro-Atlantic community, but stepped up efforts to destroy and eliminate the ISIL terrorist threat also have domestic implications as returning Jihadists present a clear danger to the Nordic countries and to Europe at large. Within that context, we have analyzed the respective Nordic contributions to join the U.S.-lead collation against ISIL.

Norway’s Contribution
As the planning and coordination effort of the anti-ISIL mission is under way, Norway has dispatched five staff-officers to the U.S. Central Command’s headquarters in Tampa, Florida. The Solberg-government has also announced that it would dispatch a C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft for a three month duration, but officially ruled out supplying arms. While the government publicly touted its position of non-lethal assistance, Norway appears not to have a surplus of military supplies it could donate, let alone dispatch fighter jets to a foreign theater amid increasing NATO-Russia tensions.

Sweden’s Contribution
Thus far, Sweden’s contribution in Iraq has primarily focused on providing humanitarian relief rather than military aid. As of late September, Sweden’s total aid donations to Iraq amounted to $13 million – money used towards tents and blankets for refugees. Two Hercules transport planes were used to deliver the Swedish aid to Irbil. This sum comes on top of an additional $26 million in aid provided by Sweden since the beginning of 2014, making Sweden one of the major EU donors to the situation in Syria and Iraq.

Finland’s Contribution
For now, Finland is focusing on the humanitarian aspect of the crisis in Iraq and Syria. As a pro-active member of the European Union, Finland also supports the EU’s efforts in the region, which includes a humanitarian airbridge, as well as some $22 million in assistance.

Denmark’s Contribution
The Danish political establishment was quick to recognize that the American call to European allies for military assistance to confront ISIL was principally about Washington’s desire to see a broad international coalition come into play. Faithful to its activist foreign policy doctrine, and only three years after the last Danish soldiers left Iraq, a clear majority in the Danish parliament responded to the American call by approving the deployment of seven F-16 fighter aircraft in operations in Iraq against ISIL. Only the far left Unity Party voted against the resolution, but a large majority of the Danish population supports the Danish deployment.

While Norway and Denmark have clearly demonstrated their respective commitments to provide a substantive contribution to the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition, Sweden and Finland, for their own reasons, have chosen not to contribute militarily. In light of recent threat scenario presented by a Russian submarine allegedly violating Swedish territorial waters – while embarrassing the new Swedish government – Stockholm and Helsinki could be left with no option but to deepen their respective military cooperation with NATO as Moscow seems not to respect their desired neutrality. A first, but symbolic step for Sweden and Finland could be to contribute militarily to the anti-ISIL campaign.

How Nordic Countries Can Contribute To Enhanced Burden-Sharing
International efforts to destroy and eliminate the terrorist threats presented by ISIL’s barbarism provide a strategic opportunity for Nordic countries to play a leading role in global governance, enhanced defense cooperation with the US and other coalition member, and help eliminate a growing threat to Europe and their national security. Within this context, we propose the following policy recommendations:

● By actively contributing to the ISIL mission, the Nordic countries are helping to enhance global stability by taking on emerging threats while allowing for the U.S. to remain fully committed to ensuring peace and stability in Europe. In light of recent events, it is clear that only a credible military posture exhibited by NATO will keep Russia at bay.

● Enhanced Nordic cooperation against ISIL will also send a clear and unmistakable to Washington and to an increasingly isolationist-looking American public, signaling willingness and capability to help tackle the many unfolding threats against peace and global stability.

● Unlike a number of southern European countries struggling with budget deficits and defense spending falling victim to increasing demands for social services, the Nordic countries have strong economies. The Scandinavian countries and Norway in particular – with its large budget surplus and strong military posture – can afford to increase defense spending and contribute more to international operations.

● The fight against ISIL has also proven to have clear domestic implications for the Nordic countries as several dozens of their citizens have traveled to Iraq and Syria to wage Jihad, threatening to bring violence home once they return.

Given the widespread international condemnation of ISIL’s brutality and emerging consensus that the group can only be defeated militarily, the Nordic countries could make incremental military contributions to the U.S.-led coalition by focusing on airpower coupled with assisting their partners with the necessary logistical operations required to ensure that humanitarian supplies are delivered in a timely and orderly manner in order to prevent a large scale humanitarian disaster. By deploying this strategy, the Nordic countries would not only display international leadership, but their troops would also be relatively safer from casualties as opposed to putting boots on the ground.

But whether the political leaders inside and outside the region possess the wisdom, the perseverance, and the ability to seize this chance remains to be seen.

Sigurd Neubauer works for a northern Virginia-based U.S. defense and aerospace consulting firm; Magnus Nordenman, Deputy Director, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at Atlantic Council; Erik Brattberg, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council; Alex Vatanka, Senior Fellow, Middle Eat Institute.

Image: US and Iraqi soldiers, Camp Ramadi, Nov. 15, 2009 (photo: Sgt. Daniel St. Pierre/USAF)