May 31, 2007

Nordic Countries deepening cooperation in defence policy

Exchange of information planned before government reports issued

Cooperation on foreign policy matters appeared to be a step closer to a strategic level on Wednesday.
At a Nordic defence ministers' meeting in Sandhamn in Sweden, the countries decided on exchanges of information and ideas, when the governments of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden prepare their own defence policy reports.
A desire for the "synchronisation" of Nordic defence policy lines was in the background, when Finnish Defence Minister Jyri Häkämies insisted that Finland must get its own defence policy report ready next year at the latest.
Häkämies has warned that if the new basic policy lines are not drawn up until 2009, Finland will not "catch the same train" as the other Nordic Countries.

"Many countries are working on foreign policy reports, with various committees giving assessments on the future. We decided to exchange information for next autumn among the countries", says Swedish Defence Minister Mikael Odenberg to journalists.
Odenberg hosted the two-day meeting of Nordic Defence Ministers in the Stockholm archipelago. He used the occasion to announce that Finland and Sweden would invite the other Nordic Countries to serve as observers of Finnish-Swedish cooperation in surveillance of the Baltic Sea.
Häkämies appeared to be satisfied with the new level of cooperation.
"Each country naturally has its own processes, but it benefits all Nordic Countries if we know as early as possible what plans there are in materiel policy and crisis management", he said.

Finland has debated when a new defence policy report should be prepared. Previously, Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva and others felt that 2009 was an appropriate time, as there might be more information available then about the situation of the European Union constitution.
Häkämies has been calling for a faster timetable, and on Wednesday, a key reason for this proved to be the desire to work more closely with the other countries in the region.
"This is an important point even from the economic point of view. The next decade will bring large acquisitions, and other matters in which there is reason to see what can be done together."

Sweden and Norway have blazed a trail to closer cooperation, with the defence forces of the two countries drawing up detailed lists of possible targets of cooperation. The Finnish government appears to want to join in.
"Cooperation between Norway and Sweden is open to all. We are happy to expand it in the Nordic region", said Espen Barth Eide, a top Norwegian Defence Ministry official representing the country's Minister of Defence at the meeting.
"The Defence Forces can see that it will not be possible to maintain a defence force that is both developed and extensive and completely national, which used to be the case. We are thinking about the integration of central functions", Barth Eide said.

Norway is preparing its own security policy document for next year. Sweden plans to discontinue drawing up large reports, and is drafting a new situational analysis late this year or in early 2008.
"In this connection it is naturally interesting to tell others what our defence committee has been thinking, and to hear what is going on in the corresponding work of other countries", said Defence Minister Odenberg

Growing concern about Russia leads to new defence thinking in Sweden

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Concern about Russia appears to be growing in Sweden, leading to increased behind-the-scenes debate on the country’s security policy line.
On Wednesday, the head of the Analysis Centre of the Swedish Defence Forces said that a new assessment of the state of Russia is leading to fine-tuning of the focus toward domestic and regional defence.
Sweden’s present defence philosophy emphasises participation in international missions for building peace, because no immediate threats against Sweden itself have been seen.

"The strategic map has changed. We must now analyse what resources are needed here at home, if tension in the north of Europe were to grow", said Colonel Stefan Gustafsson in a recent interview with the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
As Gustafsson sees it, Russia’s armed forces have passed their nadir, and Russia is now able to invest more in its military. According to Gustafsson, Russia also has new energy interests to protect in the Barents Sea, and in the Baltic Sea gas pipeline, which is a cause for concern in Sweden.

Swedish political leaders are clearly annoyed by public political statements from the military.
"Sweden’s defence policy is not formulated by Colonel Gustafsson, if I may say so", said Defence Minister Mikael Odenberg to Helsingin Sanomat.
Odenberg took part in the presentation of the government’s new foreign policy line at the Swedish Parliament on Wednesday.
"Defence policy is formulated by the [parliamentary] defence committee, the government, and Parliament. There is nothing in the situation in Sweden’s near environment that would be radically different from the situation a year back. Things have been going in the wrong direction in Russia in recent years, but there are no reasons for alarmist reassessments", Odenberg said.
Foreign Minister Carl Bildt noted in a foreign policy speech made on behalf of the government that development in Russia has taken a few backward steps. He said that the political system and the media atmosphere are not as free as before, human rights continue to be violated in Chechnya, and that the unsolved murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the circumstances surrounding the death of Aleksandr Litvinenko "cast dark shadows".
Bildt did not want to take an immediate stand on the new assessments from the military. "I have only read what the newspapers have written. I need to examine the situation better", Bildt said to journalists.

Sweden adheres to the so-called "defence decision" that came into force in 2004. It is a document that defines the tasks and resources of the country’s defence forces in the coming years.
On Wednesday a new defence committee, which was set up after the autumn elections, began its work. The committee will ponder a number of issues, including whether or not a new defence decision is needed.
There has been some discussion brewing as to whether or not Sweden went too far in 2004 when it emphasised participation in international missions at the expense of homeland defence.
Sweden’s Defence Forces Commander Håkan Syrén also appears to have taken part in the debate, although his tone was more moderate than that of Colonel Gustafsson.
Syrén said that there is clearly a reason to place more emphasis on security questions in our nearby areas.
"Northern Europe will have a growing strategic role in energy questions in the coming decades. This will have security policy consequences that need to be carefully analysed. Development in Russia politically and militarily is obviously an important factor that needs to be taken into consideration", Syrén wrote in an e-mail newsletter a week ago.

Russia has been prominent in Swedish newspaper headlines in recent weeks because of the Baltic Sea gas pipeline. Many consider it to be an environmental and security policy problem, because protecting it is expected to increase Russian naval activity, and even espionage, near Sweden.
In an exceptionally sharply-worded comment, Russia’s Ambassador to Sweden, Aleksandr Kadakin dismissed the Swedish debate this week as "idiotic".
"I cannot imagine what kind of an idiot could have said in a report to a superior that a station for servicing a gas pipeline would be an outpost for espionage against Sweden. If we want surveillance information about Sweden, we have satellites that can read the number plates on every car in Stockholm", Kadakin said in a radio interview.

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