April 21, 2009

Finland expected to opt out of joint Nordic air patrols over Iceland


Disagreements in ministries over Nordic projects in Arctic Ocean

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Finnish jet fighters are unlikely to be seen patrolling the air space of NATO member Iceland in the near future. Sources in the Finnish civil service have told Helsingin Sanomat that there are economic, political, and legal impediments to Finland’s participation in the proposed joint Nordic project.
“It would be a bridge too far. Even if there were enough money, there would be political questions”, says one source.

The participation of the Finnish and Swedish air forces in air patrols over Iceland were one of the proposals put forward by Norway’s former foreign minister Thorvald Stoltenberg in February on ways to increase Nordic foreign and security policy cooperation. NATO members Norway and Denmark are already taking part in the surveillance.
Stoltenberg also proposed a joint solidarity declaration, including a commitment to providing help in a crisis.

Finland’s official reactions to the new proposals are not expected until the end of May, when the foreign and security policy committee of the government and president meet. The foreign ministers of the Nordic Countries will discuss the proposals in the Icelandic capital Reykjavik on June the ninth.
According to the sources, problems related to the air surveillance of Iceland have emerged in work by civil servants at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence. However, there are differing opinions on Finnish participation in extensive Nordic joint projects in Arctic areas in general.
The sources say that taking part in air patrols over Iceland in shifts of about two weeks would be very costly. The United States needed 700 men at the Keflavik air base in Iceland as backup for two fighters.

The USA is committed under treaty to monitor Iceland’s air space, and says that it will keep its obligations. The sources also say that NATO is not very enthusiastic about the idea of allowing countries that are not members of the alliance to take part in the patrol flights.
According to other sources, the proposal for air surveillance has been given too much attention. They say that cooperation on maintaining a common air surveillance picture in northern sea areas would not be a problem. Finland is already involved in similar cooperation with NATO via Norway.

Critics have said that with its proposals, Norway hopes to harness the Nordic Countries into securing its own interests in areas such as Spitzbergen, where it has unresolved territorial issues with Russia.
Others, meanwhile, feel that if defence cooperation among the Nordic Countries is to be increased, Finland needs to consider Norway’s interests as well, and not just the Baltic Sea region.
Stoltenberg will be in Finland next week to discuss his latest proposals for Nordic cooperation

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