Saturday

23rd Sep 2017

Focus

Nordic leaders outline visions for European security

  • Five Nordic prime ministers met in Bergen, Norway. From left Bjarni Benediktsson (Iceland), Lars Loekke Rasmussen (Denmark), Erna Solberg (Norway), Juha Sipilae (Finland) and Stefan Loefven (Sweden). (Photo: Silje Katrine Robinson/norden.org)

The five Nordic countries agree they need to invest more in European security, but differ on whether resources should be spent on Nato or EU defence.

“I think the demand that Europe steps up on defence policies and use of money on their defence is very clear and we need to do it because we have a different security situation," Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg told EUobserver, referring to the new climate in Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

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  • This year's Baltops kicked off on 1 June in Poland and will involve 4,000 shipboard personnel, 50 ships and submarines and more than 50 aircraft from 14 Nato countries plus Sweden and Finland. (Photo: Jonathan Snyder/US Air Force)

The extra spending is "not because the Americans are asking us [for it],” the conservative Norwegian politician pointed out.

For a long time ”both German politicians and French politicians have wanted the EU to have a stronger say on security issues and to work more on that," said Solberg, who spoke to EUobserver in the margins of a Nordic council meeting in Bergen, Norway, last week.

“I still believe that Nato should be the biggest, strongest military capacity … the EU should supplement Nato on much more soft power, much more policing, much more conflict prevention and that type of work,” she said.

“I think Nato has a better command structure ... and we don’t need two organisations that in fact have the same type of capabilities.”

Brexit opens way for EU defence

Norway is not a member of the EU but has always been a keen Nato partner. The alliance is currently led by a former Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg.

Soon Britain will be in the same position - outside the European Union while inside Nato.

"I don’t think [Brexit] will change so much Nato as it may change the European Union. Of course there will be a stronger focus from Germany and from France also on security issues because we know that Britain has been one of the countries holding back a little bit [on EU defence integration],” Solberg said.

Regardless of whether extra funds got to Nato or the EU, “it is important to remember that what we really do is to invest in our own defence,” Norway’s PM said.

Iceland without an army

The transatlantic security situation was highlighted recently when German chancellor Angela Merkel said "Europeans have to take our destiny into our own hands".

"The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I've experienced that in the last few days," Merkel told a crowd at an election rally in Munich, southern Germany on 28 May following US president Donald Trump’s first Nato and G7 meeting.

Iceland, as with Norway, is a non-EU member of Nato, but also has a special relationship with the US.

“What is indicative of the situation is that things are changing rapidly and Europe needs to adapt immediately,” Iceland’s prime minister Bjarni Benediktsson told EUobserver also in Bergen.

“I think one should take notice of both what the president in the US is saying but also to what Merkel is saying. I think they are more or less saying the same thing. Donald Trump is saying that Europe can not in the area of defence and security rely as heavily on their [US] expenditures as they have done in recent years and we have already taken notice of this. That was what happened in Wales,” Benediktsson said.

The defence spending goal was a key talking point at the Nato summit in Wales in September 2014, when Nato states pledged "to move towards the 2% [proportion of GDP spent on defence] guideline within a decade."

“If we look more closely to our Icelandic situation in the area of defence and security we are a little different as we, number one: don’t have our own army ; number two: we have a special defence agreement with the United States which is still valid and the US is even beefing up their presence in Iceland with those submarines, submarine detecting air planes coming more frequently”, Iceland’s Benediktsson added.

Benediktsson said that “it is not self evident that we found the golden rule in 2 percent”, the part of GDP that the Nato says member states should give to defence spendings.

He added that we should not “try and solve all issues with force, but also with civilian solutions, introducing the ideology of democracy, equality, security and peace in different ways than only with force on the battlefield."

Merkel said no news

Denmark’s liberal prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen also referred to the Wales summit decision and said Merkel had not really said anything new.

“I do not think there is any crucial new conclusion,” he told EUobserver in Bergen.

“We are the continent that is also most affected by the things that an unstable world sets in motion. We have a refugee and migration flow to Europe that the entire continent of America, both America and Canada, with all fine principles in place, for geographic reasons, can stay out of. So the effects of not having control appear with greater clarity in Europe”, he said.

Loekke said the EU enlargement to the east had changed the security situation in Europe.

“The threats have come closer and that's why we [Denmark] sent 200 men to Estonia, for example”, he said, referring to Nato forces that were recently posted to the Baltic states to deter Russian aggression.

His own son was one of the officers planning the operation, he noted.

Non-aligned Sweden and Finland

Denmark is currently prevented from investing in EU security due to an old op-out from EU defence and security policies.

Finland and Sweden, on the other hand, are not likely to invest in Nato forces because of their status as non-aligned countries, but they do participate in Nato drills, such as Baltops 2017, as so-called Enhanced Opportunities Partners.

The BALTIC OPERATIONS (Baltops) drill has been held since 1972 and Russia participated in the past, with its last appearance being in 2012. Since 2015 it has not been invited to join the international exercise due to its annexation of Crimea.

This year's Baltops kicked off on 1 June and will involve 4,000 shipboard personnel, 50 ships and submarines and more than 50 aircraft from 14 Nato countries plus Sweden and Finland.

It is designed to ”demonstrate resolve among forces from allied and partner nations to ensure stability in and, if necessary, defend the Baltic Sea region,” according to Nato.

Putin warning Sweden

In the run-up to Baltops 17, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has warned Sweden directly against joining Nato.

"If Sweden joins Nato, it will negatively affect our relations because it will mean that Nato facilities will be set up in Sweden so we will have to think about the best ways to respond to this additional threat," Putin said at a meeting in St. Petersburg on 1 June, the same day as the drill began, Russian state news agency Tass reported.

"We will consider this [Sweden’s joining Nato] as an additional threat for Russia and will search for the ways to eliminate it," Putin added.

But there is currently no reason for Moscow to fear that Sweden is applying for membership of Nato.

“We will stay non-aligned, because we believe that is, we are convinced, that is the right position,” Sweden’s social democrat prime minister Stefan Loefven said when talking to EUobserver.

“We have different kind of co-operations already, we are one of the partners of Nato but we are not aligned.”

Asked what the EU could contribute to strengthen Swedish security, Loefven said that "it could be anything from research, developing of defence materials but also we have already - since year’s ago - formed battle groups that take part in international conflicts for example. There is a lot of co-operation that we can do,” he said mentioning cyber security as a "very important field to cooperate on.”

Finland keen on EU security

Finland is on the same path as Sweden, but its prime minister appeared even more enthusiastic about investing in security via the EU.

“There is a positive chance or possibility to have a deeper cooperation inside the European Union and we are very much in favour on that approach from Finland. For example cyber threats and hybrid threats - these are the areas we can cooperate much more on inside European Union and this is something we are going to discuss in the next European council meeting,” Finnish prime minister Juha Sipilae told EUobserver.

“We are in favour of this kind of approach also because there is a lot of things which are not overlapping Nato’s meaning or targets,” he said,

EUobserver asked him whether the European Union could develop a new security dimension with his support.

“Yes, exactly. Security and defence co-operation. It is very important for us,” he said.

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