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  Sweden and Finland on the doorstep of NATO

Aurimas Dunauskas
2008 12 01

There are assumptions that one of the consequences of the military conflict between Russia and Georgia is possible Sweden and Finland’s membership in NATO. Such an impression is only partially truthful, although membership in NATO is not a new issue in the agenda of foreign policy of Sweden and Finland.

The neutral Finland has been considering a possibility of joining NATO time and again, but intentions of politicians of the country have always been criticized by the society and opposing parties and this reflects internal contradictions of the country regarding the defense issues.  Finland has quite old traditions of neutrality, but politicians taking care of the security of the country refer to the tradition of neutrality pragmatically, especially in view of the Winter War of 1939 and the border of 1200 km with Russia.

Finland and Sweden started approaching the NATO before the beginning of the conflict of Russia and Georgia. Back in 2006 the decision of the Finish and Swedish politicians was made on joining the NATO’s flying squad. However, the above decisions are not passively met by citizens of the countries; therefore the decision made at the end of 2006 was publicized only in March of 2007, after the elections to the Parliament in Finland.

Unusual political detours towards the membership in NATO indicate duality of the situation: efforts are made to co-ordinate principles of the democratic society with the defense imperatives. Geographical closeness of Russia, its military arsenal and the increasing problem of control of natural resources in the Arctic Region makes the approach of the Nordic countries towards their defense strategy quite complicated. Although they are afraid of Russia, nobody talks about this in public.

Such an attitude partially explains why membership of Finland and Sweden in NATO after the Russian and Georgian conflict has become a widely discussed subject. The outburst of brutal military violence has given a specific shape to the abstract fear of Russia. As in the Baltic States, the Nordic countries start considering a possible repetition of the scenario of the eve of the World War II. In the above context issues related to membership in NATO have ceased to be a risky issue which could cost voices of the electorate.

In Finland, violations of the air space are still one of the sources of tension with Russia, whereas Sweden and Russia are also related by the problem of the control of energy resources.  The Swedish are afraid of the gas pipeline which is planned by Russia and Germany in the Baltic Sea and which will replace the balance of energy dependence in the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea. Sweden is not interested in Russia‘s setting in the Baltic Sea. Moreover, the fear of the possible construction of electronic intelligence devices is related to the construction of the pipeline.

Sweden‘s fears on the reviving military power of Russia are related not only to the planned pipeline.  The conservative Swedish government weakens military forces of the country by heavily cutting the defense budget.  Although the minister of defense M.Odenberg resigned because of the above policy, the government intends to proceed with the chosen strategy.

The war between Russia and Georgia reduced the number of optimists considering that after the cold war the threat of military conflicts in the Nordic Region has disappeared. Membership in NATO might seem the best way out for Finland and Sweden searching for the security guarantees. However, the major obstacle for membership is still the attitude and self-consciousness of civil society of the above states. Will the Scandinavians, who are proud of their neutrality traditions, agree to return to the logic of the times of the cold war? This will depend not only on them but also on Russia‘s behavior in the Nordic Region.

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