23rd May 2019

Nordic countries to pool troops and intelligence

The Nordic countries - Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland - could pool military forces, maritime monitoring and satellite surveillance, a report commissioned by the five foreign ministers says.

Drafted by former Norwegian foreign minister Thorvald Stoltenberg, the study out on Monday (9 February) puts forward 13 proposals to be endorsed at a Nordic foreign ministers meeting in Reykjavik in April.

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"All Nordic ministers welcomed the report," Urdur Gunnarsdottir, press officer with the Icelandic ministry of foreign affairs told the EUobserver.

Out of the five countries, Denmark, Finland and Sweden are EU members. Denmark is also in NATO, with Sweden eyeing membership. Norway and Iceland meanwhile are in NATO but not in the EU.

The report suggests the establishment of a common task force to include both civilian and military personnel, deployable under UN or EU missions abroad.

Pooling strategic airlift and establishing common amphibious unit are mentioned, as well as a common maritime response force, consisting of the countries' coast guards.

With the accelerated melting of the ice cap and a projected increase in traffic for oil and gas transport, the five countries are also advised to establish a monitoring and early warning system in the Nordic sea areas.

"The system should in principle be civilian and designed for tasks such as monitoring the marine environment and pollution and monitoring of civilian traffic," the Stoltenberg paper says.

The system should have two pillars, one for the Baltic Sea ("BalticWatch") and one for the North Atlantic, parts of the Arctic Ocean and the Barents Sea ("BarentsWatch"), under a common overall system.

Further proposals include a common satelite system, a resource network to help against cyber attacks and a disaster response unit.

The Stoltenberg blueprint is not likely to shape the Swedish EU presidency, a Swedish official told the EUobserver under condition of anonymity.

But the report should be seen as a "good housekeeping effort between Nordic countries" with a clear economic drive, he said. The official didn't expect resistance from the EU or NATO on the issue, citing the EU's Nordic battlegroup (involving non-EU member Norway) as a precedent for such regional initiatives.

Air protection for Iceland

Ms Gunnarsdottir added that the Icelandic government particularly welcomed the idea of including non-NATO countries in the alliance's efforts to oversee Iceland's airspace, after the US withdrew its troops from its Icelandic base in 2006.

"The Nordic countries should take on part of the responsibility for air surveillance and air patrolling over Iceland," the Stoltenberg paper proposes.

In 2009, NATO members Denmark, Spain and the US will be deploying fighter planes to Iceland. Germany and the US have confirmed that they will deploy aircraft in 2010. Other countries that have shown an interest in taking part in air patrols include Canada, Italy and Poland.

Finland and Sweden to join NATO system

For their part, the Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish chiefs of defence recently proposed that non-NATO members Finland and Sweden should enter into an agreement on data exchange with NATO's air defence system.

"This process is already under way, and will make it possible for the Nordic countries to establish a common recognised air picture for Nordic airspace and to keep this updated," the Stoltenberg report reads.

Russia, Norway and Iceland already have a system for exchanging information that ensures continual monitoring of oil tankers sailing from Murmansk to the US via Norwegian coastal waters and Icelandic waters.

"The EU is seeking to promote integrated management of vulnerable sea areas. The EU is also concerned to put in place arrangements that will make it possible to control the Schengen external borders in the northern sea areas," the report reads.

"Cross-sectoral, cross-border Nordic co-operation on maritime monitoring would fit with the EU's long-term visions in this field, and an integrated Nordic system could be a pioneering project in Europe and the world as a whole. This could also open up possibilities for European-level funding," it adds.

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