The Huffington Post
Vladimir Putin is proving to be a tactical genius but a strategic blunderer. Perhaps the most important geostrategic result of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine is occurring 800 miles to the north in Scandinavia, whose sturdy governments, rather than being cowed by unsubtle Russian attempts at intimidation, are instead coordinating their defenses ever more closely. If the Russian President continues his war in Ukraine and violations of sovereignty in the Baltic, he may help to create an enlarged NATO in Europe’s north.
On April 9 the defense ministers of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden and the foreign minister of Iceland signed a vigorous security declaration, unimaginable just a few years ago, in an Oslo newspaper. Citing Russian aggression in Ukraine, the huge Russian military modernization program, and the recent infringement of Baltic borders — which have included submarine incursions, buzzing of civilian aircraft by Russian military jets with their transponders turned off, a simulated attack against Denmark, and menacing snap exercises of tens of thousands of Russian troops near international borders — they vowed to meet the challenge through increased military, industrial, intelligence, and cyber cooperation and more joint exercises. These measures, the ministers emphasized, are not a substitute for NATO whose Article 5 collective defense guarantee remains the basis for the security of alliance members Denmark, Iceland, and Norway.
The new declaration comes seven months after militarily nonaligned Finland and Sweden, which have participated in many alliance operations including Afghanistan, signed Host Nation Support Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with NATO. The agreements effectively allow NATO troops to train on Finnish and Swedish soil and to provide assistance in the event of accident, crisis, or conflict. To be sure, the MOUs do not allow NATO to deploy troops in the two countries without specific requests, and similarly do not oblige NATO to respond to requests for assistance from Helsinki or Stockholm. Nonetheless, the MOUs were criticized by the Kremlin, which correctly grasped the deeper truth that the momentum is shifting toward eventual NATO membership.
Moving away from military nonalignment would not be easy. Finland and Sweden did abandon political neutrality when they joined the European Union in 1995, but bloc-free security status continues to hold an emotional attachment, even rising to the level of being a component of national identity in segments of both countries’ populations.
Picture: Stuart Bingham (MoD)/MOD [OGL (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons