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4th Dec 2021

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Nordic parliaments agree mutual defence on cyberattacks

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MPs from the Nordic states this week stepped up both their language, and mutual defences, against cyberattacks.

In future, a cyberattack against any one of the Nordic parliaments will be seen as an attack on all - and on Nordic democracy.

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  • Greenland's left-wing prime minister, Múte B. Egede, secured victory in spring elections on a promise of halting mining of untapped uranium and rare-earth minerals (Photo: Magnus Fröderberg/norden.org)

The proposal for a mutual Nordic defence clause was tabled by the conservative parliamentarians in the Nordic Council and backed by all parties from left to right at the council's annual meeting in Copenhagen (2-4 November).

The Nordic Council, founded in 1952, comprises Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland.

The group of northern European states - some in the EU, some not - are already among the most digitalised countries in the world - and thus also among the most vulnerable to cyber attacks.

"It is overall positive to be digitised, but at the same time it makes us extra vulnerable to potential cyberattacks. Our defence is no longer just ground-, sea- and air-based but must also function in cyberspace", Danish social democrat, Annette Lind, said during the debate.

"Espionage on the Nordic states, hacking of citizens' information or cyberattacks on companies is the type of digital attack to which the entire Nordic region is exposed every single day", she said, adding that this week she had been alerted that her friend's phone had been hacked.

The Finnish parliament was attacked last autumn, and a cyberattack in March 2021 compromised the Norwegian parliament's email system. An investigation by the country's intelligence services revealed that the attack came from actors operating out of China.

The Nordic parliaments can, however, only offer each other moral support.

"After all parliaments do not have their own military force. But to push back it is important that we publish the cyberattacks and protest against them in public", Swedish conservative Hans Wallmark told EUobserver.

Fall-out from Covid-19 'failure'

The Nordic MPs meet once-per-year in one of their parliaments. The council has in total 87 members, divided into five political groups and mirroring the political composition of all the parliaments.

The Nordic prime ministers also met in Copenhagen for a parallel summit.

They agreed on better joint-emergency preparedness in the case of pandemics, major fires, floods and risks imposed by climate change. The strategy comes after much public disquiet, as the Nordic states largely failed in coordinating their responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.

When hit by coronavirus in spring 2020 Sweden did not impose restrictions on citizens, while - for example - Norway in the first 54 weeks of the pandemic changed restrictions 48 times.

That different approach had major consequences, not least for those living and working in the Nordic border regions. As a result nine-out-of-ten people in the Nordic area are disappointed with the lack of coordination of pandemic response, according to one recent opinion poll.

However, their leaders did not promise to take a very different approach should a new wave of Covid-19 pick up in the near future.

"When something like this strikes you have responsibility for your own population and to look after their safety. That is a core responsibility," Norway's new social democrat prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, said at the press conference.

He and Iceland's prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, expressed gratitude towards Sweden for having shared vaccines during the worst of the crisis.

The Nordic countries passed through the pandemic relatively well, the PMs concluded.

But, according to figures from the Johns Hopkins University, Sweden recorded just over15,000 Covid-19 deaths as of November 2021, while the rest of the Nordic countries together recorded less than 5,000.

Growing concerns over China

Out of respect for Sweden and Finland's non-aligned status the Nordic Council has traditionally avoided discussions on security and defence issues. But times are changing.

Secretary general Jens Stoltenberg spoke as the first high-level Nato representative in the Nordic Council this week and welcomed more Nordic defence co-operation, including with the non-Nato countries Finland and Sweden.

"We've seen significant Russian military rearmament in the Baltic, with the deployment of new modern weapon systems," Stoltenberg said, and reaffirmed that Nato's door remains open to Finland and Sweden.

Such a decision would however be for the Finns and the Swedes to make, parliamentarians pointed out.

Stoltenberg delivered strong criticism of China and warned that for the first time the world's soon-to-be strongest economic power is not democratic.

"China will soon have the world's largest economy. It already has the world's largest navy, and the world's second largest defence budget. And it is investing heavily in new, long-range nuclear weapons", he warned.

Several Nordic countries have experienced Chinese retaliation in the form of boycott of export or a halt on political contacts.

When the Nobel Peace Prize in Olso was awarded to Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiabo, China responded immediately. It stopped all political contact, boycotted Norwegian exports, and made it clear that it would do everything to oppose Norway, Stoltenberg recalled. He was prime minister of Norway at the time.

"Denmark had a similar experience when the Dalai Lama was invited here for a visit. Also in Sweden, we have recently seen how the Chinese embassy has threatened journalists who were writing negatively about China. These are just some examples of how China is trying to dominate other countries", Stoltenberg said.

Chairman of the council's youth organisation, Rasmus Emborg, said that across party lines there is a genuine worry among young Nordic politicians over China.

"If we do not limit Chinese power from expanding into our societies in due time then there is a risk that one day we can be threatened into silence and our values of democracy, freedom of expression and human rights will no longer be safeguarded," he said.

Emborg, a young Danish social democrat, suggested that critical infrastructure should be identified and mapped, and a ban introduced on selling these to Chinese actors.

Nato in - Russia out

In addition to Nato's Stoltenberg, prominent guest speakers from the Polish Senate, the German Bundestag and the UK House of Commons addressed the meeting in Copenhagen.

As is traditional, a delegation of Russian parliamentarians was invited to observe the Nordic Council meeting - but the Russian MPs called off their participation this year, without citing reasons. And a scheduled meeting with the Nordic Council's presidium had to be cancelled.

Swedish conservative MP, Hans Wallmark, was not too disappointed. He said the cancellation had in fact made "things easier".

"I note that there are no representatives from the [Russian] Duma here…… it is much easier for representatives of a democratically-elected parliament to associate with only other democrats".

However, others regretted the Russian absence. "We used to have a good dialogue with the Duma delegation", Danish Green-Left MP, Christian Juhl, told EUobserver.

Greenland preparing Arctic strategy

Arctic cooperation is one of the few forums where Russia and western countries still sit at the same negotiating tables and the Arctic situation is another reason for more Nordic foreign policy and security cooperation, Juhl pointed out, calling it a "major step forward".

"When I started in the Nordic Council it was not possible to discuss foreign politics at all. Our proposals on Palestine, Western Sahara, peace research and alike were flatly rejected. But the Arctic situation and since the American policies have become less stable, the Nordic Council is now open for discussions on China, Russia, cybersecurity – everything".

"The world's three major [powers] rival over power to influence the Arctic region. We find that whatever happens there it must be to the benefit of the people living there, it must be environmentally sustainable and, militarily, kept low-tension", Juhl said.

In a sign of that new geopolitical strategic thinking, the US consulate in Greenland's capital, Nuuk, reopened in June 2020 - after an offer by then president Donald Trump in 2019 to simply buy Greenland was turned down.

Russia appointed a honorary consul in Nuuk in January 2021 and the European Union tabled a new Arctic strategy in October 2021.

The EU strategy proposes a moratorium on oil and gas exploration "to promote stability, safety, and peaceful cooperation in the Arctic" and includes plans to open an EU representation in Greenland.

Greenland initially welcomed the EU approach, including the money that would flow from Brussels. Greenland is the world's largest island, but populated by only some 56,000 people, and struggles to make ends meet financially despite budget contributions from Denmark.

Greenland and the Faroe Islands are former Danish territories and they still coordinate foreign and security policies with Copenhagen.

But a long-awaited Nordic strategy for the Arctic did not mature from this year's Nordic Council meeting in Copenhagen because Greenland has not yet presented its own plans.

The process has been delayed by general elections, sources close to the government in Nuuk told EUobserver.

Greenland's left-wing environmentalist party, Inuit Ataqatigiit, secured victory in the elections in April 2021 on promises to halt mining of untapped uranium and rare earth minerals.

"But now it is only a matter of weeks before the strategy can be presented by Nuuk and discussed with the Faroe Islands and Denmark", the source said.

Greenlandic author Niviaq Korneliussen was awarded the 2021 Nordic Council Literature Prize for her novel Naasuliardarpi. (Photo: Magnus Fröderberg/norden.org)

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