Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to address this seminar, and I would like to thank the Swedish Atlantic Council for their kind invitation.
When we talk about NATO today, we talk most of all about its operations and missions: Afghanistan, Kosovo, naval patrols in the Mediterranean, training Iraqi security forces, providing humanitarian relief after natural disasters, and offering logistics support for the African Union. All these operations take place in areas far away from Northern Europe. Some of them take place in the South and South-eastern parts of our continent; others take place outside Europe altogether.
A casual observer might conclude from this that the Nordic dimension of security is of diminishing relevance for NATO. But such a view would miss the forest for the trees. The reality is quite different. First, even though NATO’s current operations take place in areas far away from Northern Europe, they are relevant to the security of all our nations. This is something that Nordic governments clearly recognise – as the range and quality of their contributions demonstrates. Second, NATO is also looking to the North – and will continue to do so. We know full well that there are currently major changes going on in that region – changes in the political and economic sphere, and, of course, in the climatic conditions of that region. These changes are going to create new opportunities, not least in the economic realm. But they will also change some of the parameters of Nordic security.
Security in the North is a delicate business. The countries in the region are likeminded countries, but they differ in size and culture, and their historic relations have at times been quite turbulent. And yet Nordic cooperation does work. Indeed, it works particularly well. If it doesn’t make the headlines, it is not for its lack of relevance or success, but rather because it accomplishes much – pragmatically, without fanfare. That is, after all, the Nordic way.
But I would go even further. The Nordic dimension of European security offers several parallels to NATO’s own evolution. So, in my remarks here today, I would like to address the areas where I see Nordic security cooperation acting as a kind of “avant-garde” – to use that old Viking term – for security management in an age of globalisation.
First, and most importantly, Nordic security cooperation demonstrates how countries respond collectively to a changing security environment. All Nordic states – very much like the rest of us – had to grapple with the changing security environment after the end of the Cold War, and to shift gear once again after “9/11”. Challenges such as international terrorism, failed states, or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are quite different from those of the past, but they too require our nations to act together.
This is not to say that all Nordic nations now feel compelled to adopt uniform security policies. They will continue to honour their respective security traditions and alliance commitments. But there is clearly a need to explore the synergies that can come from cooperation between likeminded states.
For example, the Joint Statement of the Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish Foreign Ministers in Bodö last month indicated a number of areas where the three countries seek to work together more closely. One area is cooperation in ISAF. I don’t need to elaborate why this can only be beneficial to NATO. After all, it is in the context of a NATO-led operation that all three nations have deployed forces to Afghanistan. So I can only welcome such an attempt to work together more effectively and efficiently.
It does not diminish the value of Nordic cooperation when I say that one major driver is scarce budgets. It is simply a fact that tight defence budgets force us to explore new ways of creating “more bang for the Krona”. And, once again, the parallels to NATO are obvious. I have persistently argued for more open-mindedness regarding multinational cooperation, by reminding people of the success of our AWACS fleet. We are now developing similar multinational solutions in other capability areas, such as sea lift, nuclear, biological and chemical defence, and strategic air lift – an area where Sweden and Finland are also involved. We are also looking to see what potential there is for improved efficiency and cost-effectiveness by adopting multinational logistics. And we are looking into more common funding of our operations, as a means to make financing more fair and equitable. So getting the most of our scarce resources has become a strategic imperative for all of us.
My second point: Nordic security cooperation shows how nations can work together effectively across different institutional affiliations. During the Cold War, the NATO membership of Norway and Denmark and the non-aligned status of Finland and Sweden may have acted as an impediment to closer security cooperation. But not any more. In the North, the fact that there are now EU-only members as well as NATO-only members is no longer a divisive issue.
Success has many fathers, so you will forgive me when I say that NATO has made a significant contribution to this synergy. I am referring, of course, to Partnership for Peace. Initially, NATO’s partnership policies were aimed at former Warsaw Pact countries, to help them to cope with the daunting challenges of transition. But very quickly, PfP became a pan-European framework that bridged different memberships, and that allowed the non-aligned countries to come closer to Euro-Atlantic security structures without entering into difficult domestic debates. And last, but by no means least, PfP has been an effective framework for pan-European military cooperation in peace support operations, whose value was demonstrated on the ground in the Balkans, and now in Afghanistan.
Sweden is one of NATO’s oldest Partner countries, and one of the most active. Given Sweden’s long tradition of participating in UN peacekeeping operations, this is no surprise. For Sweden, neutrality has never meant indifference. And partnership with NATO has become an important instrument for Sweden to punch above its weight internationally. Over the years, Sweden has shown strong engagement at the political level, especially in our Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, where it has often brought interesting new insights and suggestions to the table. Sweden hosted the first EAPC Security Forum in 2005 in Öre, and it is also helping other Partners in very practical ways, including through generous contributions to several Partnership for Peace Trust Funds.
As a major troop contributor to NATO-led operations, Sweden is naturally concerned about being fully involved in information sharing and in having an appropriate role in the relevant command and control aspects. We understand these concerns. Clearly, there can be “no taxation without representation”. That is why we are exploring with your country – as well as with Finland, which is an equally engaged Partner – how we can improve our information sharing and your participation in the chain-of-command during NATO-led operations. You have personal commitment for this.
We also welcome Sweden’s interest in a possible contribution to the NATO Response Force. But this is a Swedish decision and therefore only Sweden can decide on this. Given our current operational requirements, we have decided to take a more flexible, graduated approach to the NRF, and to reduce the number of forces on permanent stand-by. But we are not diminishing either the NRF’s range of missions or its capability. And we have a Framework for Partner Involvement in place which allows for a gradual involvement, starting perhaps with training and exercises, without any commitment to contribute to a particular operation. So the stage is set for a fruitful discussion with Sweden on what form our cooperation in the NRF might take.
My third point: Nordic security cooperation also demonstrates how to constructively engage Russia. The end of the Cold War has changed the nature of the Russian presence in the North. Clearly, Russia remains a major factor in the region, but the issues we are now dealing with in a Northern context are now less of a direct military character. Rather, they lie in the realm of energy, fisheries, and the environment more broadly. It is therefore only natural that the Nordic countries are looking for a new common approach to constructively engage Russia.
Again, what appears to be a specific challenge for the Nordic nations is in fact a challenge for the whole of the Alliance. After a decade of slow but solid progress, NATO and Russia seem to have arrived on a plateau. We cannot remain stuck there. We need to give a fresh impetus to this relationship. This will not be easy, as Russia is currently in an election period. But even if we may disagree on Kosovo, the CFE Treaty, or missile defence, we are not going to let this derail our relationship. For us, the NATO-Russia relationship is a long-term investment in European and indeed global security. And I believe that the Nordic nations will continue to have a lot to offer in this respect.
I am therefore heartened to see that engagement with Russia remains at the forefront of Nordic security cooperation. I noted with great interest that the recent joint statement of the Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish Foreign Ministers emphasised cooperation in the High North “based on openness toward Russia”. Indeed, I believe that openness should be our guiding principle as we seek to build closer ties with Russia. Although we do not agree on everything I believe there is no alternative to constructive engagement with Russia.
Finally, Nordic security cooperation also underlines the enduring significance of the transatlantic link. For a host of political and constitutional reasons, the physical presence of US forces in the North of Europe has never been high and, after the end of the Cold War, was reduced even further. Yet all Nordic countries, whether inside or outside NATO, agree on one thing: on the singular importance of the United States being a “European power”.
NATO is and will remain the central institutional framework that ties the US and Canada to Europe. It is through NATO that both countries define themselves as part of the European project. And, of course, NATO will also remain the central framework for harnessing the political and military power of North America and Europe to meet future challenges. So, for all these reasons, NATO will remain a key player in and for Nordic security. And all Nordic nations will continue to define their security policies either within NATO or with strong reference to it.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Exactly 18 years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down. Suddenly we were given the opportunity to turn our life-long dream of an undivided Europe into reality. In order to exploit that new opportunity we needed to develop a new set of policies. First and foremost, we needed a new idea of pan-European security partnership that would bridge different security traditions. Today, we can confidently say that we were able to meet the challenge. NATO has become an engine for new security partnerships that have helped to overcome Europe’s erstwhile divisions. And the Northern countries played a key role in the development of these partnerships.
Today, almost two decades later, our security agenda has changed again. We now have to deal with threats that are truly global in nature: terrorism, proliferation, failed states. Again, we need new, different policies. And, again, we need to develop policies of partnership that are even more ambitious, even more demanding, than those of the 1990s. Can we do it again? The answer is a clear “yes”. And through their strong political and practical engagement, Sweden and our other Nordic friends will remain at the forefront of this process.