Finland, Sweden Offer NATO an edge as rivalry heats up in the north

Finland, Sweden Offer NATO an edge as rivalry heats up in the north

Washington – The first surprise, for the Finnish conscripts and officers taking part in a military exercise in the Arctic this spring organized by NATO: the sudden roar of a US Navy helicopter attack force that landed in a field right next to the Finns’ well-hidden command post.

The second surprise: Finnish Signal Corps communications workers and others inside poured out of their field headquarters and directed the U.S. Marines—the Finns’ designated adversaries in the NATO exercise and members of America’s professional and premier expeditionary force—in the ensuing firefight.

Finnish camouflage for the Arctic snow, scrub and swell had likely prevented the Americans from even realizing the command post was there when they landed, Finnish commander Lt. Col. Mikko Kuoka suspected.

“For those who years from now will doubt it,” Kuoka wrote in an infantry-focused blog about an episode he later confirmed to The Associated Press, “It actually happened.”

As the exercise made clear, NATO’s addition of Finland and Sweden — what President Joe Biden calls “our allies in the high north” — would provide military and territorial advantages to the Western defense alliance. It is especially so as the rapid melting of the Arctic from climate change is stirring up strategic rivalries at the top of the world.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto shakes hands with Swedish Foreign Ministry Ann Linde next to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after a press conference in Brussels on July 5, 2022. Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto shakes hands with Swedish Foreign Ministry Ann Linde next to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after a press conference in Brussels on July 5, 2022.

Sophisticated partners

In contrast to the NATO expansion of former Soviet states that needed major boosts in the post-Cold War decades, the alliance would bring in two sophisticated militaries and, in Finland’s case, a country with a remarkable tradition of national defense. Both Finland and Sweden are in a region in one of Europe’s front lines and meeting places with Russia.

Defending itself against Soviet Russia’s invasion just before World War II, Finland relied on warriors on snowshoes and skis, expertise in snow and forest camouflage, and reindeer to carry weapons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, along with his pointed reminder of the Kremlin’s nuclear arsenal and his repeated invocation of broad territorial claims dating back to the days of the Russian Empire, have spurred current NATO nations to bolster their collective defenses and create onboard new members.

Finland, Sweden Offer NATO an edge as rivalry heats up in the north FILE – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses troops as part of a military exercise called “Cold Response 2022”, which brings together around 30,000 troops from NATO member states plus Finland and Sweden.

Finland – until 1917 a Grand Duchy of that empire – and Sweden abandoned long-standing national policies for military non-alignment. They applied to come under NATO’s nuclear and conventional umbrella and join 30 other member states in a powerful mutual defense pact, which stipulated that an attack on one member is an attack on all.

Putin justified his invasion of Ukraine in the West as pushing back against NATO and the West, as they, he said, were encroaching ever closer to Russia. A NATO that includes Finland and Sweden would come as an ultimate rebuke to Putin’s war, strengthening the defensive alliance in a strategically important region that surrounds Russia in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean, and pushing NATO closer to Russia’s western border for more than 1,300 kilometers ( 800 miles).

“I spent four years, my term, trying to persuade Sweden and Finland to join NATO,” former NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson said this summer. “Vladimir Putin did it in four weeks.”

Biden has been part of the bipartisan US and international cheerleading for the two countries’ candidacies. Reservations expressed by Turkey and Hungary prevent NATO approval from being a lock.

Russia has in recent years “rearmed in the north, with advanced nuclear weapons, hypersonic missiles and multiple bases,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this month. “Russia’s threat, and Russia’s military build-up, mean that NATO is strengthening its presence in the north.”

Map of NATO member countries, prospective countries and Finland.  Sweden and Finland are about to join NATO. Map of NATO member countries, prospective countries and Finland. Sweden and Finland are about to join NATO.

Finland and Sweden would add a lot to that mix. But they are not without flaws.

Both countries downsized their militaries, slashed defense funding and closed bases after the collapse of the Soviet Union eased Cold War-era fears. Just five years ago, the entire Swedish armed forces could fit into one of Stockholm’s football stadiums, noted one critic.

But as Putin became more confrontational, Sweden reinstated conscription and otherwise went about rebuilding its military. Sweden has a capable navy and a high-tech air force. Like Finland, Sweden has a valued home-grown defense industry; Sweden is one of the smallest countries in the world that builds its own fighter planes.

The Finnish Winter War

At the same time, Finland’s armed forces are the stuff of legend.

In 1939 and 1940, Finland’s small, poorly equipped forces, fighting alone in what became known as the Winter War, made the nation one of the few to survive an all-out assault by the Soviet Union with its independence intact. Over the course of an unusually, deathly cold winter, Finnish warriors, sometimes clad in white sheets for camouflage and usually moving unseen on foot, snowshoes and skis, lost some territory to Russia but forced out the invaders.

Finns were responsible for up to 200,000 deaths among invading forces compared to an estimated 25,000 Finns lost, said Iskander Rehman, a fellow at the Johns Hopkins Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs.

It helped fuel a Finnish national credo of “sisu” or gravel. Finnish Winter War veterans were recruited for the U.S. Army’s Winter War training, Rehman noted.

Finland’s constitution makes it an obligation for every citizen to rally for the national defense. Finland says it can muster a fighting force of 280,000 men, built on near-universal male conscription and a large, well-trained reserve, equipped with modern artillery, fighter jets and tanks, much of the U.S.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, waves as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, second right, and Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov inspect warships marking Russian Navy Day in the Gulf of Finland on July 31, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, waves as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, second right, and Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov inspect warships marking Russian Navy Day in the Gulf of Finland on July 31, 2022.

The US and NATO will likely increase their presence around the Baltic Sea and the Arctic with the accession of the two Scandinavian countries.

“If you just look at the map, if you add in Finland and Sweden, you basically turn the entire Baltic Sea into a NATO lake,” said Zachary Selden, a former head of NATO’s parliamentary assembly. defense and security committee who is now a national security expert at the University of Florida.

Similarly, Russia will become the only non-NATO member among countries with claims to Arctic territory, and the only non-NATO member of the Atlantic Council, an eight-member international forum created for Arctic issues.

Selden predicts a larger NATO presence in the Baltics as a result, perhaps with a new NATO regional command, along with US military rotations, though likely no permanent base.

Russia sees its military presence in the Arctic as critical to its European strategy, including ballistic missile submarines that give it second strike capabilities in any conflict with NATO, analysts say.

In this North Atlantic Treaty Organization photo, Finnish soilders pose for a photo as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visits during the Cold Response in Bardufoss, Norway, March 25, 2022. In this North Atlantic Treaty Organization photo, Finnish soilders pose for a photo as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visits during the Cold Response in Bardufoss, Norway, March 25, 2022.

The Arctic is warming much faster under climate change than the Earth as a whole, opening up competition for Arctic resources and access as the Arctic ice disappears.

Russia has built its fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers to escort expected future commercial shipping through the melting Arctic, “as a way to create this toll for transit,” said Sherri Goodman, a former US first deputy defense secretary. , now at the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute and at the Center for Climate & Security.

Goodman points to future threats that NATO will have to deal with as the melting Arctic opens up, such as the kind of shadowy, unofficial forces that Russia has used in Crimea and in Africa and elsewhere, and the increased risk of a hard-to-manage Russian nuclear accident.

NATO’s strategy will increasingly incorporate the strategic advantage that Finland and Sweden would provide for such scenarios, analysts said.

    Source: sn.dk

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