Defining Neutrality II – Sweden (3a)


The case of Sweden (Part III)

When the Cold War ended, a wave of optimism emerged, as peace was thought to would remain almost perpetually, with history supposedly coming to an end as the competition between the two superpowers was over, ending 42 years of constant tensions and threat of large-scale conflict. Sweden adopted this approach rather enthusiastically, having some cautions nevertheless. This period also brought challenges and new dilemmas to neutrality policy, at the point of losing its centrality; a strong defensive approach was no longer necessary hence redefinitions, due to the end of the Soviet Union, new international dynamics and political processes – like the European integration project – and new security threats.

Non-alignment, due to these factors, became the main Swedish foreign and security policy framework, with neutrality remaining only nominally. Interestingly, after the Cold War, Sweden set aside and then retrieved – partially – armed neutrality, mainly due to the comeback of the Russian threat.

This period is indeed very interesting and complex, as Swedish neutrality was defined again and again. To understand how this complexity took place and why it forced such frequent re-definitions, it will be reviewed in three small periods. The first period is between 1991 and 2001, with the post-cold War reforms – based upon the period’s optimism – and the new international dynamics, including the crises at the Balkans and other new security threats, sparked the first reforms to neutrality. The second period spans from 2001 to 2014, with further new security threats – terrorism mainly – and the re-emergence of old threats taking place, thus sparking more re-redefinitions. And the last period spans from 2014 to nowadays, with Sweden concentrating mostly on the re-emerging old threat.

The Post-Cold War: Neutrality after the winds of change (1991-2001)

This period was characterized by the abovementioned post-Cold War approach, and the emergence of new political processes and security threats, with Sweden implementing several foreign policy and military reforms, redefining neutrality thus making it very particular.

It lost its ‘armed’ element, becoming mostly into ‘non-alignment’, product of the reforms. Firstly, Sweden began to focus on domestic affairs as defence was not urgent (Tirpak, 2017). Secondly, engagement with international organizations and institutions was furthered. It joined the North Atlantic Cooperation in 1992, the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) in 1994, it took part in two NATO-led operations in the Balkans (IFOR and SFOR), it joined the EU and the Western European Union – as observer – in 1995; all of this took place despite non-alignment being the main policy and mostly because of economic considerations[1]. By the end of the Cold War, defence spending was high – 1.3% of GDP – and then were reduced following the end of the Cold War; new security threats, the spark of inner conflicts near Europe with serious effects should spilling, all required military-civil tools and international cooperation, hence the reforms (Bergman, 2004; Basset, 2012; Gotkowska, 2013; Hetmanchuk, 2012; Lindström, 1997; Pashkov, 2009;, 2014; Swedish Defence Commission, 1999; Westberg, 2013; von Sydow, 1999; Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000).

The Swedish Armed Forces (Försvarsmakten) received new operational missions through reforms. Focusing on interoperability with international organizations, neighbour countries and regional partners, and focusing on reduced size for flexibility and mobility took place. Also, conscription was evaluated while the Home Guard (Hemvärnet) was to be expanded (Bergman, 2004; Swedish Defence Commission, 1999; Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000; von Sydow, 1999). Capacities to provide and receive support in a cooperative solidarity spirit, and interoperability during crisis management operations were given to the Försvarsmakten, becoming also their main framework. They were implemented when deployed in the Balkans, with Sweden contributing to protection of civilians and regional stabilization. Sweden, then, relied on collective security and international law while national defence capacities were reduced (Gotkowska, 2013; Westberg, 2013, von Sydow, 1999).

Nevertheless, Sweden still assessed that some important threats were present. Indeed, despite no large-scale attack was not considered as military power and political differences around were reduced, political instability and potential limited attacks – through cyberwarfare and terrorism – along weapons of mass destruction and airstrikes required Sweden to retain considerable defence capacities. The abovementioned reforms were oriented also on this direction, thus merging civil and military crisis management assets, including civil defence and infrastructure protection (Swedish Defence Commission, 1999; Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000; von Sydow, 1999).

Reforms and joining multilateral instances could be perceived as going against neutrality and non-alignment. Very far from it. For instance, Sweden considered that shared values, respect for international law, diplomacy and multilateralism with the EU were valid to join it. This also allowed Sweden to take part in NATO and EU-led peacekeeping operations, to achieve peace and prevent conflicts with both organizations as a mean, being PfP very ideal given its flexibility and freedom of participation. The EU was also deemed an alternative for security due to its cooperation by consensus and economic collaboration basis, being Sweden’s way to open to Globalization. Also, non-alignment was set as pre-condition for participation in operations abroad, with cooperation going beyond the military and into non-military aspects (Bergman, 2004; Lindström, 1997; von Sydow, 1999; Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000)[2]. This became a turning point in Swedish neutrality[3].

Sweden became more involved with Europe and with its most immediate neighbourhood, with the EU membership being a vehicle for such. The same with UN peacekeeping operations, since like those of NATO and the EU, were a way to prevent conflict, achieve conflict and fulfil its own norms, Human Rights and values-based foreign and security policies. In fact, they became a good complement for non-alignment. Cooperation was central indeed, as Sweden would provide any EU – and Nordic – country victim of an attack or a disaster with assistance, expecting the same from them (Bergman, 2004; Pashkov, 2009; Westberg, 2013)[4]. Relations with the US became as important as relations during the Cold War, becoming more formal. Sweden considered the transatlantic relations crucial, while considering the EU should have valued more US presence – and NATO – in Europe; the same EU was deemed a very weak actor, especially in crisis management (Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000).

The flexibility and adaptability of Swedish neutrality was made evident. It managed to adapt itself and the Försvarsmakten to the EU Common Defence and Security Policy (CDSP). The first re-definition of neutrality in 1992 allowed this, as it stated that neutrality was to be maintained – and ensured as an option – in wartime, avoiding alliances in peacetime. It was also stated that the EU security equalled that of Sweden, enabling it then to address any crisis or conflict in the vicinity. This opened also the door for close defence cooperation with other Nordic states, regardless of their varied security mechanisms, and having political consultations (Basset, 2012; Bergman, 2004; Lindström, 1997; Ugwukah, 2014; Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000). This Nordic-based security cooperation remains, being very important for Sweden.

A similar security cooperation with the Baltics emerged, being equally important for Sweden. For instance, Sweden would intervene if any Nordics or Baltics were attacked. Sweden also co-operated with its neighbours in operations, like the Nordic-based battalion in Bosnia under UN command in 1993, which was the product a Nordic/Baltics-based defence structure idea, with joint battalion deployed mainly for peacekeeping. Baltics troops were also deployed under Swedish command. In addition, efforts with Finland to enhance the EU conflict management capabilities took place alongside strong bilateral cooperation in security[5]. Contacts with NATO and Russia took place as well[6]. And PfP became a tool for the Nordic/Baltics-based defence cooperation and by taking part in exercises, discarding the Baltics ‘neutralization’, supporting instead their armed forces’ establishment with material, assets and instructors. It also supported their path towards NATO (Lindström, 1997; Swedish Defence Commission, 1999; von Sydow, 1999; Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000).

Sweden further contributed to the EU. It helped in shaping the EU as a security actor by insisting on the integration of the Petersberg Tasks within the EU core security tasks and in CSDP, helping it to meet its objectives and own security aims. Yet non-alignment remained as a pre-condition for taking part in EU-led operations, with the EU not to become a collective defence body and remaining a cooperative defence body only (Bergman, 2004; Basset, 2012; Westberg, 2013)[7].

The post-Cold War re-adaptation wasn’t smooth, though. During the Kosovo crisis, Sweden did not intervene until the aftermath, as there was no UN approval for use of force against Serbia and Sweden objected NATO interventions. Its own principles forced also such absence. A sense of regret emerged later as Sweden stood idle while the crisis unfolded. Then, neutrality was again re-defined so to address the issue of similar crisis requiring no UN approval for intervention, maintaining the multilateral and regional approach, alongside the no-alliance and non-alignment principles (Bergman, 2004). This event highlighted the limits the Swedish humanitarian side had when colliding with Neutrality and non-alignment

From the 9/11 to Crimea (2001-2014)

The turn of the new century brought further reforms and new re-definitions to neutrality and non-alignment. New security issues emerged along those already manifesting since the 90’s; old threats also began to re-emerge.

After the 9/11 attacks, a new re-definition came to be necessary. The no-alliance, non-alignment and the EU as a vector of regional stability principles were maintained. But further flexibility was given, allowing Sweden to take part in EU-led operations and to contribute to its rapid reaction forces, since they were considered a force for peace and stabilization, capable of enforcing Human Rights, and a good tool for Baltics security. It was also recognized that neutrality was not central or possible anymore. Also, the requirement for cooperation, with the EU not to become a collective defence body, was kept (Bergman, 2004).

Foreign policy aims remained the same. Maintenance of peace and autonomy, safeguarding Swedish citizens, contributing to international peace and security remained central; security co-operation by political consultations with the Nordics as well (Bergman, 2004; Ugwukah, 2014). In fact, this cooperation became further important, evolving to become a genuine security tool having an Arctic/High North security scope, materialized in the shape of the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO). It has as four pillars: developing a Scandinavian Rapid Reaction Force; a Joint Naval unit for patrolling; to control the Icelandic airspace; and to work in other security aspects. The focus is placed on the member states’ air forces with exercises in the High North, Southern Sweden and Northern Denmark, and with the Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and Danish air forces taking part. There was also aims of participating in NATO Iceland Air Policing (Gotkowska, 2013; Pashkov, 2009).

The Försvarsmakten was a subject of further reforms too. Internationalization and further reductions took place, thus taking part in global and regional deployments – like EU-led operations Artemis and Concordia – while deepening participation in NATO’s assistance to Baltics defence. PfP exercises are joined by the three services so to gain further interoperability and to show Sweden as a reliable and capable partner. Human Rights and rule-of-law remained as frameworks. Interestingly, Sweden participated in NATO-led ISAF in Afghanistan and its reaction forces, in the anti-piracy operations in Somalia, in rescue operations in Chad and Mali, supported Security Sector Reform in Kosovo, and in NATO intervention in Libya[8]. CSDP and the EUBGs became additional main security frameworks for Sweden, with a 2004 Security Strategy stating that Sweden would act in case any EU was attacked. Conscription was finished in 2010 in favour of a rapid reaction force on a volunteer-basis and with interoperability, flexibility and versatility as principles (Bergman, 2004; Basset, 2012; Göranson, 2012; Gotkovska, 2013; Pashkov, 2009; Swedish National Audit Office, 2014; Tirpak, 2017)[9].

With terrorism becoming the main security, measures to tackle it emerged. This took place regardless of Sweden being neutral and not a likely target, affecting neutrality. In fact, terrorism and its impact prompted such measures, alongside the new threats, both requiring multilateral approaches to address them. Hence, the new re-definition confirmed the obsolescence of neutrality and non-alignment. Its participation in ISAF was due to the understanding of non-state actors in international security and the emerging security issues[10]. It also explains its implementation of anti-terrorism measures, advancing also on a EU-based security architecture (Basset, 2012; Bergman, 2004; Pashkov, 2009).

As the decade was coming to a close, a threat of old began to arise again. For instance, the 2008 Georgia War, Russian assertiveness and cyberattacks against Estonia in 2008, alongside mock nuclear attacks against Sweden made the public to support a military strengthening. Also, a new 2009 Defence Decision and Security Strategy emerged, assessing that though direct attacks were unlikely, they weren’t impossible. National defence then became a priority again alongside crisis management operations, with increased issuing of armament and equipment to some units, and reintroducing regional commands. A new Defence Decision followed in the earlier 2010’s, keeping Sweden’s commitment to any Nordic or EU state in case of attack or natural disaster, keeping also solidarity and interdependence as tool to secure Sweden (Gotkowska, 2013; Tirpak, 2011). A debate on joining NATO also emerged, as it was becoming attractive due to Russian assertiveness in the vicinity, alongside event in the Arctic, where Sweden is having strong interests, following Pashkov (2009).

This period marked the end of the post-Cold War optimism, and evidenced the damage made by reforms. It also evidenced some things, as the return of Russia made solidarity – and cooperation – with the EU and the Nordics more necessary, as well as the need to overhaul the Försvarsmakten. This became even more evident as the Försvarsmakten was left almost unfit for national defence given the previous reforms, with Russian assertiveness threatening to further stretch the scarce defence resources (Gotkowska, 2013).

Hence the need to address this issue affecting the Försvarsmakten, along with other related problems. The 2012 Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences, in fact, made a study given the regional instability, reaching interesting conclusions. First, the ‘declaration of solidarity’ was deemed unfit for dealing with Russian military and intelligence activities. Second, the Försvarsmakten has good expeditionary capabilities, good assets and well-trained personnel, but the problems were gaps on national defence and nearby high-intensity conflicts capacities. Third, there was a lack of AA defences and of personnel, with the navy lacking AA defences forcing the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) to do AA defence, lacking long-range attack capacities. And fourth, there was a lack of priorities. It was concluded the reforms were to be blamed, as they made the Försvarsmakten to have few units, few personnel – given issues on recruitment – and lacking financial resources for defence for long periods of time, requiring assistance[11]. Moreover, the lack of economic growth could hamper the acquisition of needed new equipment – such as submarines, UAVs, infantry fighting vehicles and transport planes (Gotkowska, 2013; Swedish National Audit Office, 2014).

Problems affecting the Försvarsmakten are not the only source of concern, as it seems the EU is not positively evaluated. Hence Sweden is not considering furthering cooperation with the EU given its lack of military focusing, having capabilities only for interventions but not collective defence. NATO was considered not to be mirrored or the US to be set aside. Also, Poland was deemed a potential good element for defence cooperation – though not a secure one – as there could be shared threat assessment and close cooperation for prevention and cooperation. And Sweden is looking for new ways of military cooperation and new partners to advance on interoperability and participation under NATO Reaction Force, and to work on new security threats (Gotkowska, 2013).

The re-emergent Russian threat would become worse. The annexation of Crimea, the refugee crisis and the increased threat of terrorism would prompt further debates on neutrality, non-alignment and NATO membership, following Tirpak (2017). The need to overhaul the Försvarsmakten would be highlighted too.

The Bear returns (2014-today)

The world was taken by surprise and in shock when Russia annexed Crimea, and conflict in eastern Ukraine involving a Russian-backed separatist group. The geopolitical and security implications were important for Sweden, given Russia’s proximity and as its assertiveness is taking place the most in the Baltics and the arctic, where Russia and Sweden are having interests.

Sweden felt then the need to do something, as the adverse conditions were worsening. As a result, readiness and deterrence were to be enhanced, with the Flygvapnet becoming important for national defence, readiness and deterrence. The public kept its support for the Försvarsmakten overhauling and modernization[12]. Incidents involving Swedish and Russian fighters and surveillance and SIGINT planes – even an airliner was involved – justified further such support. Sense of vulnerability was increased as Russian assertiveness was taking place in the Arctic, as a potential clash might take place given overlapping interests there. The 2015 Parliamentary White Paper recognized this issue: it reaffirmed Sweden as neutral, yet it stated Sweden would fight alongside other states while increasing defence spending to 2.2% of GDP. This was also a recognition that military force was again a foreign policy tool (Gotkowska, 2013; Tirpak, 2017).

Redefinition of neutrality and non-alignment became inevitable, along other measures. Increased military relations with other countries, the EU and NATO were deepened, with Sweden seeking to establish stronger transatlantic links with the US, including interoperability between Swedish and American forces, joint training and exercises, cooperation on armaments, R&D, multinational operations and a development of a joint trainer jet – the Boeing/Saab T-X. Cooperation between the Flygvapnet and the US Air Force in technology, ammunition and interoperability was aimed too. In addition, and as an alternative to NATO membership, further defence links with Norway and Finland were established, including exercises at squadron level with air forces; increased focusing to the Baltics as a main security area took place too[13]. The ‘dispersed air base’ system was re-introduced while partnership were further implemented alongside interoperability (Gotkowska, 2013; Tirpak, 2017; Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, 2015).

In addition to the realization of fixing the damage done by reforms, a debate on joining NATO emerged. Membership was indeed considered, yet some political sectors are insisting on the post-cold War optimism and underestimating the threat Russia is to Sweden and its neighbourhood. Interestingly, convergence on threat assessment with the EU and NATO resulted in Swedish mechanized units taking part of NATO Northern Group despite being out of NATO official defence discussions (Gotkowska, 2013).

Discussions on the need to reinforce the Försvarsmakten yielded important steps to be taken and solve the issue(s).

Fixing an army

One of the most important steps taken by Sweden is the Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, published in 2015. This document manages the military overhauling, preparedness and interoperability, being a product of the aforementioned debate and a materialization of measures.

This policy aims at increasing the Försvarsmakten combat capabilities and to ensure collective force. As such, it defines its tasks as four: protection of life and health; ensuring society functioning; protecting values, rule of law and Human Rights; and protecting interests, rights and sovereignty. They are framed by a solidarity-based security; war prevention and rise of threats against Sweden, her neighbours and the Baltics and Europe; a support to the UN and EU aims of promoting peace and democracy. The Försvarsmakten also have to assist civil agencies when required and protect civil society, with cooperation with NATO being important, mostly for acquiring capabilities – including all weather/arctic capabilities – and for contributing to international security, let alone for accomplishing their tasks. Cooperation with the Nordics, the Baltics and the US remains core principle, alongside territorial defence with Finland (Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, 2015). Hence, cooperation remains fundamental and useful for the Försvarsmakten to become stronger and more capable.

The policy proposes 9 measures to strengthen the Försvarsmakten. First, the implementation of new training system for officers. Second, to increase presence in the Baltics and in Gotland, as the island is a cross-point between sea and air lanes. Third, to upgrade the AA defences. Fourth, to increase the quality of the Home Guard (Hemvärnet). Fifth, to reorganize the Army (Armén) into 2 mechanized brigades. Sixth, to retrieve the Civil Defence as it could support the Försvarsmakten in war time, protecting and securing vital social assets.  seventh, to acquire enhanced cyber capabilities. Eight, to modernize psychological defences given their importance on keeping the democratic order during a crisis. And ninth, to acquire long-range precision strike capabilities, mainly for the Flygvapnet. In addition, a merge between the Försvarsmakten, the civil society and political, diplomatic and financial means is considered, so to enhance Sweden’s security while cooperating with other states and organizations (Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, 2015)[14].

What Sweden needs for materializing military overhauling is the same thing the EU needs to achieve security: an increase to defence budgets. Such increasing would give the Försvarsmakten the capacities to manage the current unstable scenario, enhance its combat capabilities and increase intelligence through increased training and exercises[15]. Moreover, there is a need for investing in basic material and logistics; to add a motorized battalion; to deploy regiment units with mechanized and armoured companies in Gotland to make a battlegroup; to upgrade the armoured and infantry combat vehicles; to add more bridge layers and new anti-tank weapons, plus 4 mortar platoons for the Hemvärnet. Active cyber-defences, renewed civil defence and more investment on recruitment and sustaining of soldiers were also deemed necessary (Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, 2015; Tirpak, 2017).

The three services, in turn, will receive important additions in assets and equipment, to enhance capacities, evidencing how Sweden will manage a renewed threat by retrieving many aspects of the previous version of neutrality[16]. First, the Armén would receive the abovementioned investment in basic equipment, logistics, training and exercises, and anti-tank missiles, deployed mainly in Gotland. These measures will enable the Armén to withstand high intensity conflict with increased reconnaissance, armoured, mechanized, AA assets and other battalions and companies: battle tanks and combat vehicles are to be upgraded with AA mid-range missiles to be acquired too (Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, 2015).

The Flygvapnet and the Navy (Svenska Marinen) will receive additions as well. The Svenska Marinen would implement mid-life upgrades to 2 Gävle-class corvettes with additional corvettes of this class, 2 Gotland-class submarines, 7 patrol boats (4 to be fitted with SW capacities), and 2 Stockholm-class corvettes to be re-fitted as patrol boats. New anti-submarine light torpedoes and helicopters, more crews, a new SIGINT vessels and 2 new submarines would be added. The Flygvapnet will receive 4 Wings enhancing all-time readiness, an air transport squadron, and air combat control and air surveillance battalions, and a new helicopter Wing (which would reinforce Svenska Marinen and the Armén with ASW and transport, respectively), would be activated. Trainers would serve alongside fighter in wartime, with the latter increasing in number of units to be received – reaching a total of 70 units. The AA capacities would be increased by fitting the Saab J39 Gripen with missiles – and short and medium range AA missiles (Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, 2015; Tirpak, 2017).

And as a last, recruitment is to be re-established. This has the purpose of increasing retention of soldiers and personnel and to increase social support. The reserve system is to be restored too, focusing on a cost-effective system by high quality training. Interestingly, a dual volunteer-conscript system was considered (Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, 2015).

Some steps have materialized or are in the verge of, with some unspecified additions that could benefit the Försvarsmakten. For instance, the main Swedish submarine builder might fit the new A26 submarines with vertical launchers capable of firing Tomahawk cruise missiles, or installing them in vessels to receive mid-life upgrades. Although not openly mentioned for Sweden, it would be no surprise if it receives those submarines with the new weapons systems or even those currently in service; it must be reminded that acquiring long-range strike capacities is one aim[17].

Moreover, Sweden will increase military spending. Defence budget would be of additional 8.1 billion kronor for national defence, alongside an annual increase of 2.1 billion kronor. Conscription will be indeed re-established with troops deployed in Gotland and becoming closer to NATO, yet not ready to join the Alliance (Reuters, 2017)[18]. An additional deal to invest in defence took place, with 6.8 billion kronor for the Försvarsmakten, and 1.3 billion kronor for the Civil Defence. this to increase the former’s capacities by purchasing new vehicles and ammunition, increasing available positions in officer education and training, and receiving more soldiers. These steps could benefit cooperation abroad (The Local Sweden, 2017).

Yet while the reforms were clearly harmful for Sweden’s defence, by no means it means new assets wouldn’t be received. While not as extensively produced, new assets and weapons systems were introduced in the post-Cold War period. Many were product of developments during the Cold War while others were brand new. All were optimized to fulfil the new operational tasks and conventional defence. The most remarkable, being the spearhead of Sweden’s defence is the Saab JAS 39 Gripen, developed in the late 70’s to replace older platforms such as the J 37 and the J 35, and in service since 1995, being a capable multi-mission platform receiving upgrades and updates. The Saab 340 AEW&C (S 100B ARGUS) tasked with electronic surveillance and early warning was introduced in 1997. The Armén received important new combat vehicles, chief among them the Stridsvagn 122 (a Leopard 2 partially made in Sweden) and the CV-90 infantry combat vehicle and CV-90-120 light tank. The Svenska Marinen modernized and re-fitted the Stockholm and Göteborg class corvettes (retiring 2 of them after the Cold War) for operations abroad, being deployed off the Lebanese coast during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War and in the anti-piracy operations off the Somalian coast in 2009. The new generation stealth Visby class corvette was also introduced from 2002 to 2015 (5 units), providing Sweden with state-of-the-art surface combat systems. And Gotland class diesel-electric submarines, fitted with AIPS (air-independent propulsion system) were also introduced (Sharpe, 2001; Turner, 2003; Chant, 2006; Jackson, 2012).

NATO: to join or not to join? That’s the question

Since the end of the Cold War and especially today, in the light of Russian assertiveness, the question of joining NATO has been lingering in the air, involving the issue of neutrality and non-alignment. Yet it is clear that Sweden needs NATO as much as NATO needs Sweden. This is very true for Sweden, as its location has always made it vulnerable to Russia’s power, even more today due to three reasons: first, its location makes its especially vulnerable to Russian assertiveness. Second, any crisis in the Arctic will affect Sweden directly. And third, the Baltic sea is especially vulnerable, especially the island of Gotland, making it crucial for Sweden. This results in Sweden being of the middle of strategic triangle or arc, with Russia being a threatening factor against its three sides.

Sweden and NATO are no stranger to each other, since Sweden joined the PfP in 1994, and took part in many NATO post-Cold War interventions to develop its capabilities and ability to co-operate with NATO forces and partner countries, mainly for peace-support operations. Tensions with Russia have prompted NATO, Swedish and Finnish increased cooperation. Sweden is highly valued by NATO as it has provided important contributions and its location makes it very important for its security efforts (Aronsson, 2015; NATO, 2017). This could hint closer cooperation between Sweden and NATO for its defence and for securing the ‘Eastern flank’.

The US also values Sweden and its contribution for European security and stability. For instance, the US Army commander in Europe considers Gotland a strategically important point for countering Russia in the Baltics (The Local Sweden, 2017). Russia also has its evaluation on Sweden and NATO, being a negative one. For instance, Russia threatened military action if Sweden joins NATO as it considers such event a threatening encroachment. Sweden, as a result, declared her willingness to keep non-alignment, as it kept Sweden safe from threats[19]. But Sweden is facing a tragic situation, as Russian actions pushed Sweden closer to NATO and the US. And it seems the same US is contributing to this, as the current administration has casted doubts over cooperation agreements, of which Sweden has some with the US: Sweden might move closer to NATO as it needs security reassurances against Russia, although Sweden keeps insisting on staying out of NATO due to historical factors[20]. It seems that Sweden will have no choice but to join NATO, alongside the implementation of other security measures and policies.

In the light of this: what is the best course of action for Sweden then? Should it join NATO or remain by the sides? In fact, can Sweden remain by the sides in the light of the current crisis with Russia, or it will have to implement a new re-definition of neutrality, or to abandon it entirely? Will the proposed military modernizations suffice to protect Sweden? These questions and others will be answered in the last (analytical) part about Swedish neutrality.



[1] Interestingly, PfP was evaluated as a possible way onto NATO membership, though such remains very controversial. Nonetheless, it became crucial for the cooperative security approach, mainly by exercises, common standardization in equipment and other aspect with NATO Allies (Pashkov, 2009).

[2] In fact, the ‘humanitarian’ leg of Swedish foreign policies were kept and enhanced, with large flows of aid to developing countries, following Bergman (2004).

[3] However, neutrality as such was set aside following Sweden’s joining in the EU, as Bergman (2004) points out.

[4] Close cooperation with many EU countries’ defence industries was established, so to address an almost dependence on US-made equipment, and to acquire better equipment, according to von Sydow (1999).

[5] Cooperation is focused on 5 pillars: arms procurement, maritime surveillance, peace support, exchange of personnel and civilian crisis management. Defence structures were also harmonized, with Sweden fighting alongside Finland should it joins NATO (Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000).

[6] Dialogues with Russia were taking place while there were concerns over the Baltics joining NATO, with Russia being considered a reduced threat yet a factor to be considered in the area, given the political instability then could have sparked a rise of nationalism, following Lindström (1997).

[7] In any case, Sweden supported the EU collective defence despite objections on collective defence, considering such a helpful tool against terrorism, and deeming the EU to have an integrated approach on defence with conflict prevention and peace support (Bergman, 2004).

[8] It was the second time Sweden took part in an intervention abroad using air assets like in Congo in the 60’s. 8 JAS 39 Gripens with more fighters for recce, and a C-130T transport airplane took part tasked with enforcing the no-fly zone, under PfP frameworks. See: Basset, 2012., and Göranson, 2012. Though Sweden ended its participation in NATO-led KFOR in 2013, three military advisors remain at the NATO Liaison and Advisory Team and the HQ of KFOR. In Afghanistan, it remains part of NATO Resolute Support Mission with advisory teams to the Afghan armed forces and support personal at the HQ in the north, a German hospital, and airfield and support units for troops. See: Mission of Sweden to NATO. (n.d.). Ongoing mission: RSM and KFOR. Sweden abroad. Retrieved from:–PFP/Sweden-in-NATO-led-operations–sys/Ongoing-operations-RSM-and-KFOR-sys/ on 02.11.2017

[9] Defence industry and integration with industries of the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany and France take place since then, focusing on R&D and capability creation. See: Pashkov, 2009.

[10] Sweden remained there until 2014, leading the northern provinces PRTs after being present initially in Kabul, using civilian and military assets – including heavy ones – while engaging the Taliban; it sought to provide stability and development and humanitarian support (Göranson, 2012; Sweden In Afghanistan, 2017).

[11] The needed assistance could be problematic, as it can spark Russian retaliation or a pre-emptive strike, since Sweden could be used by NATO as a base for supporting the Baltics. But NATO stated in 2012 it would not responsible for non-allies’ security, with Norway stating a similar thing, according to Gotkowska (2013).

[12] It is noteworthy to remind how Russia was evaluated after the Cold War. See footnote 6.

[13] The most remarkable cooperation agreement is that with Finland, considering both nations are the most directly affected by Russian threats, and that both are neutrals or non-aligned nations. Established in 2013, it is aimed at improving security in the region and a better and more cost-efficient use of resources and defence related aspects, as well as to increase interoperability and joint action both home and abroad. Training and exercises, air and maritime surveillance and possible use of basic infrastructure are the tools for this cooperation, which could seek to develop a Finnish-Swedish Naval Task group to be operational by 2023, increased interoperability between the Swedish Air Force and the Finnish Air Force – mainly on joint operation capacity, common base operations and common Command and Control – and a joint Finnish – Swedish Brigade. See: Government Offices of Sweden. (2015). Defence Cooperation between Sweden and Finland. Government Offices of Sweden. Retrieved from: on 01.11.2017.

[14] That cooperation would have a regional, national defence and planning for wartime scenarios focusing, plus a global insight. The Baltics are important for Sweden’s defence strategy, according the Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020 (2015).

[15] This is useful to fight hybrid warfare and propaganda and cyber-threats, as they could hamper Sweden to have autonomous foreign and defence policies.

[16] Interestingly, a joint forces approach is a main scope, stimulating cooperation between services, enhancing interoperability and flexibility, adaptability and responsiveness.

[17] See: Yeo, M. (2017). Saab A26 submarine gets vertical launched Tomahawks. Defensenews. Retrieved from: on 14.10.2017

[18] Conscription was retrieved due to the increasing insecurity around Sweden making readiness a must, and as the volunteer system was not giving enough personnel. The result will be a mixture of volunteer and conscript. US conditioned support to NATO, strong public support and concerns over Baltics security also prompted this retrieval, according to Roden (2017) and the Government Offices of Sweden (2017).

[19] See: Gutteridge, N. (2017). ‘A threat that must be eliminated’ Putin’s chilling message to Sweden over NATO membership. Sunday Express. Retrieved from: on 29.10.2017

[20] See: Milne, R. (2016). Swedes Ponder Joining NATO as Trump Presidency Focuses Minds. Atlantic Council. Retrieved from: on 29.10.2017



Aronsson, A. (2015). The Geostrategic value of Greece and Sweden in the Current struggle between Russia and NATO. Atlantic Council. Retrieved from: on 29.10.2017

Basset, B. (2012). Factors Influencing Sweden’s Changing Stance on Neutrality. Retrieved from: on 16.10.2016

Bergmann, A. (2004). Post-Cold War Shifts in Swedish and Finnish Security Policies: The compatibility of non-alignment and participation in EU led conflict prevention. (Paper). Retrieved from: 16.10.2016

Chant, C. (2006). Barcos de Guerra. [Warships Today, Fabián Remo & Fernando Tamayo, trans.]. Madrid, Spain: Editorial LIBSA (Original work published in 2004).

Gen. Göranson, S. (2012). Speech by General Göranson, Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces at the National Defense University, Peking, 20th of March 2012. Försvarsmakten. Retrieved from. on 16.10.2017

Gotkowska, J. (2012). Sitting on the Fence. Swedish Defence Policy and the Baltics Sea Region. In: Point of View, 33. Centre for Eastern Studies. Warsaw, Poland. Retrieved from: on 20.04.2014

Government Offices of Sweden. (2015). Defence Cooperation between Sweden and Finland. Government Offices of Sweden. Retrieved from: on 01.11.2017.

Government Offices of Sweden. (2015). Swedish Defence Policy 2016-2020. Government Offices of Sweden. Retrieved from: on 16.08.2017

Government Offices of Sweden. (2017). Sweden re-activates conscription. Government Offices of Sweden. Retrieved from: on21.10.2017

Gutteridge, N. (2017). ‘A threat that must be eliminated’ Putin’s chilling message to Sweden over NATO membership. Sunday Express. Retrieved from: on 29.10.2017

Hendrickson, R. C. (2013). Sweden: a NATO special partner? NATO Review. Partners – who needs them? Retrieved from: on 21.10.2017

Hetmanchuck, N. (2012). Swedish Foreign Policy: Neutrality vs. Security. Retrieved from: on 16.10.2016

Jackson, R. (2012). Panzer: Modelle aus aller Welt von 1915 bis Heute. [Ralf Burau, trans.]. Bath, UK: Parragon Books.

Lindström, G. (1997). Sweden’s Security Policy: Engagement – the Middle Way. Occasional Paper (2), 1-58. Retreived from: on 21.10.2016

Ministry for Foreign Affairs & Ministry of Defence (2017) Summary of the Report of the Inquiry on Sweden’s Engagement in Afghanistan 2002-2014 (Summary SOU 2017-16). Government Offices of Sweden. Retrieved from: on 29.07.2017

Milne, R. (2016). Swedes Ponder Joining NATO as Trump Presidency Focuses Minds. Atlantic Council. Retrieved from: on 29.10.2017

Mission of Sweden to NATO. (n.d.). Ongoing mission: RSM and KFOR. Sweden abroad. Retrieved from:–PFP/Sweden-in-NATO-led-operations–sys/Ongoing-operations-RSM-and-KFOR-sys/ on 02.11.2017

NATO. (2017). Relations with Sweden. NATO. Retrieved from: on21.10.2017

Pashkov, M. (2009). Swedish Security Model: Peace-loving, Well-armed Neutrality. National Security & Defence (1), 40-43. Retrieved from: on 16.10.2016   

Reuters. (2017). Sweden to raise military budget by SEK 8 billion through 2020. Reuters. Retrieved from: on 21.10.2017

Roden, L. (2017). Why Sweden is bringing back the draft. The Local Sweden. Retrieved from: on 21.10.2017

Sharpe, M. (2001). Jets de Ataque y Defensa [Attack and Interceptor Jets, Macarena Rojo, trans.]. Madrid, Spain: Editorial LIBSA (Original work published in 1999). (2012). History of Sweden: War, Peace and Progress. Retrieved from: on 16.10.2016

Swedish Defence Commission. (1999). European Security – Sweden’s Defence (Summary). Retrieved from.—swedens-defence on 16.08.2017

Swedish National Audit Office. (2014). Summary: The Armed Forces – a challenge for the Government. (RiR 2014:8). Audit Reports concerning the defence area 2010-2014. Swedish National Audit Office. Retrieved from: on 16.08.2017

The Local Sweden. (2017). Sweden’s government and opposition parties agree new defence deal worth billions. The Local Sweden. Retrieved from: on 21.10.2017

Tirpak, J. A. (2017). Northern Exposure. Air Force Magazine, 100 (02), 54-58. Retrieved from: on 28.07.2017

Turner, J. (2003). Tanques y Vehículos Militares Modernos [Tracked Firepower. Mighty Military Machines, José Luis Tamayo, Juan José Guerrero, & Fernando Tamayo trans.]. Madrid, Spain: Editorial LIBSA. (Original work published in 2002).

Ugwukah, A. (2015). Neutrality as Foreign Policy Principle: A Historical Evaluation of Swedish Posture. Historical Research Letters 17, 27-42. Retrieved from: on 16.10.2016

Vaahtoranta, T. & Forsberg, T. (2000). Post-Neutral or Pre-Allied? Finnish and Swedish Policies on the EU and NATO as Security Organizations. UPI Working Papers (29), 2-43. Retrieved from: on 16.10.2016

Von Sydow, B. (1999). Sweden’s Security in the 21st Century. Ministry of Defence. Retrieved from: on 28.07.2017

Westberg, J. (2013). Sweden’s policy of neutrality. In: Novaković, I. S. (Ed.). Neutrality in the 21st Century – Lessons for Serbia, Essay Compendium. Retrieved from: on 16.10.2016

Yeo, M. (2017). Saab A26 submarine gets vertical launched Tomahawks. Defensenews. Retrieved from: on 14.10.2017



Image 'Cold Response DV Dag' by Soldatnytt. Released under Creative Commons 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) License

Image ‘Cold Response DV Dag‘ by Soldatnytt. Released under Creative Commons 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) License

* This article and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


The Viking Saga: NORDEFCO – Warriors of the North (Epilogue II).

What NORDEFCO means for its Member States

NORDEFCO is of great importance for the participant nations, especially in the sense of contributions that a mutual defence cooperation provides in the light of the increasing geopolitical importance of the Arctic and the Baltics-Scandinavia regions as well as the Russian assertiveness.

For Sweden, NORDEFCO means the possibility of a joint contribution of troops or international peace missions, as well as to develop, procure, maintain material, officers’ training and exercises. It also means the possibility to create capabilities through common readiness that would provide a high operational efficiency, superior quality, cost effectiveness and ability to maintain high capacity as results. Additionally, the defence industry would be benefited, since it can provide products intended to meet Nordic requirements for regional and international operations, along with the stimulation of common production and units by NORDEFCO members[1].

For Norway, 2014 is the year where this country is currently occupying NORDEFCO’s chairmanship. Generally, the country seeks to develop rather the practical side of the cooperation, while ensuring its progress through a cooperation based on results, efficiency and relevance. The objectives set for its chairmanship are:

Firstly, to enhance security policy dialogue among (and affecting) Nordic countries through NORDEFCO. Secondly, to strengthen the Nordic ability to contribute to any international peace operation. Thirdly, to ensure further progress on training and exercises, and extending the existing ones along with cooperation between Nordic, Nordic-Baltic, and NATO. Fourthly, to adopt a result-oriented approach to cooperation in capabilities and armaments, and to direct resources to highly potential projects. Fifthly, to strengthen cooperation on capacity building and security reform in post-conflict and young democratic countries, and to offer such to NATO, the EU and UN. Last but not least, to enhance dialogues between NORDEFCO and the national defence industries, as well as to revitalize cooperation on Public-Private Partnerships (PPP’s) among the countries and the defence industries[2].

Needless to say, the Norwegian approach towards NORDEFCO is a positive one, since it is being regarded as the important tool to solve some crucial issues and challenges that the Scandinavian nations are facing in regards to defence. Additionally, tight financial constraints, increasing prices for advanced materiel and the abovementioned challenges, makes a regional and multinational defence cooperation’s development something natural, from a Norwegian point of view[3].

Denmark, in turn, perceived NORDEFCO as an instance to enhance dialogues and cooperation in three main aspects: first, cooperation on capacity building in East Africa and under UN frameworks; second, cooperation in the Arctic; and third, joint initiatives in regards to materiel, education and training[4].

Iceland, on the other hand, perceives NORDEFCO as an ideal instance to address issues such as natural and man-made disasters, terrorist and cyber-attacks[5]. Iceland, due to its lack of armed forces, has only a political role in NORDEFCO, in a similar way as in NATO. In fact, its defence relies on air surveillances executed by both NATO and NORDEFCO assets, something of increased importance after the closure of Keflavik Air Base by the United States (Forsberg, 2013; Jokela & Isu-Markku, 2013).

For Finland, NORDEFCO was of capital importance in 2013, as the country held the chairmanship of the organization. The objectives it set were: first, to develop the existing activities with a focus on capability cooperation, operations and training and exercises; second, to frame NORDEFCO’s objectives and activities through the development of a long-term plan; and third, to enhance the Nordic perspective on defence issues through seminars and workshops[6].

Both Finland and Sweden have special relations and cooperation with Estonia – the reasons were exposed on the previous articles about Sweden and its strategic triangle – in various issues, defence included[7]. The recent event of the Russian submarine incursion in Swedish waters made both countries to recognize the importance of strengthening such ties, which consist on the Baltic Defence College, joint procurement and cooperation in training Estonian troops[8]. Finland, in turn, has a cooperation agreement with Estonia in the fields of cyber-security, political and defence consultation and shared practical endeavours from 2012 to 2015[9].

The Warriors of the North: facing the Future, facing a common threat

At the moment, NORDEFCO is a cooperation structure rather than a command structure. It is not either an alliance in the strict sense as NATO yet it implements some joint operations, training, exercises and production of defence assets under defined standards in a very similar way. This structural deficit could be the very first and general mistake the Scandinavian and Baltics nations are doing. Although one should not forget that both NATO and the EU are also there – however NATO can provide the needed security better than the EU – and that following it, it does not make any sense in introducing a new defence organization that might overlap some of their functions, further advances in consolidating NORDEFCO as a command and operational structure with its mentioned cooperation activities is very needed.

Another fact is that cooperation is yet to be formalized, both at political and military level. The steps done in order to pursuit that have been timid, if not few. This does not mean that the current efforts and achievements should go unrecognized. Yet the increasing importance of the Artic, the Baltic, the military build-up by Russia and its assertive policies aimed at the Baltic and the Arctic (regions of importance for the security of ALL Scandinavia and the Baltic states, not to mention Europe and the United States and Canada) somehow enforce the Scandinavian and the Baltic nations considering the transformation of NORDEFCO into a new military alliance in the near future. Moreover, instead of replacing NATO or overlapping with its functions, it can simply complement it and even transform itself into a big Nordic group within NATO command and operational structure, thus reinforcing NATO activities and objectives in the Arctic-Baltics-Scandinavia area[10].

This, in the end, could be a great contribution to the security of Scandinavia, the Baltics, Europe, the Northern Hemisphere and the West, as well as the same Arctic, facing the increasing Russian assertive actions and repeated military incursions in NATO, EU and Scandinavians territories. And it could also provide an excellent balancing against a Russia that clearly is not hesitating in using its military power to meet its objectives and achieve its political purposes, as well as threatening all of its Western neighbours.

A final problem that is quite hard to solve is the focus that should be given to NORDEFCO. Certainly, due to the awakening of the Russian bear, the focus could be on regional defence and assistance, and all of the assets eventually could be oriented towards meeting that strategic objective. This is something that nations with strong “out of zone” objectives, like Denmark and at some extent Sweden, has to recognize and assume as their core for every action within NORDEFCO areas, and eventually under its operational area, should NORDEFCO transform into a full operational and command structure. They could also promote in a more active way the strengthening of cooperation between the Scandinavian countries and the Baltics, as well as to push for NORDEFCO to adopt the abovementioned necessary transformation. This for the sake of their own territorial integrity and security and dealing the important threat that Russia means.

It is time for the Warriors of the North to become closer allies and face together the lurking Ragnarök.



Estonian Embassy in Helsinki. (n.d.). Finland. Retrieved from: on 19.10.2014

Försvarsmakten. (n.d.). Nordic Defence Cooperation Strengthened. Retrieved from: on 19.10.2014

Herolf, G. (2013). European Security Policy. Nordic and Northern Strategies. International Policy Analysis. Berlin, Germany: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. Retrieved from: on 16.10.2014

Ministry for Foreign Affairs. (n.d.). Nordic Co-operation. Retrieved from: on 19.10.2014

Ministry of Defence. (2011). Nordic Defence Cooperation – NORDEFCO. Forsvarpolitikk. Retrieved from:—nordefco.html?id=532212 on 19.10.2014

Ministry of Defence. (2014). Norway assumes NORDEFCO chairmanship. Press release No.: 01/2014. Retrieved from: on 19.10.2014

Ministry of Defence. (n.d.). Finnish NORDEFCO chairmanship in 2013 in Nordic defence policy related co-operation. Retrieved from: on 19.10.2014

Republic of Estonia, Government. (2014). Estonia and Sweden have common views on the security of the Baltic Sea. Retrieved from: on 19.10.2014



[1] See: Försvarsmakten (n.d.). Nordic Defence Cooperation Strengthened. Retrieved from: on 19.10.2014

[2] See: Ministry of Defence (2014). Norway assumes NORDEFCO chairmanship. Press release No.: 01/2014. Retrieved from: on 19.10.2014

[3] See: Ministry of Defence (2011). Nordic Defence Cooperation – NORDEFCO. Forsvarpolitikk. Retrieved from:—nordefco.html?id=532212 on 19.10.2014

[4] When Denmark had the chairmanship in 2012, those were the objectives during its leadership.

[5] See: Ministry for Foreign Affairs (n.d.). Nordic Co-operation. Retrieved from: on 19.10.2014

[6] See: Ministry of Defence (n.d.). Finnish NORDEFCO chairmanship in 2013 in Nordic defence policy related co-operation. Retrieved from: on 19.10.2014

[7] Finland also has a strong Baltic approach due to its geographic position and the neighbouring Russia. See: Herolf, 2013, p.5.

[8] See: Republic of Estonia, Government (2014). Estonia and Sweden have common views on the security of the Baltic Sea. Retrieved from: on 19.10.2014

[9] See: Estonian Embassy in Helsinki (n.d.). Finland. Retrieved from: on 19.10.2014. It is important to remark that Finland was the first country to recognize Estonia’s independence in 1920 and 1991.

[10] The same thing applies for the EU. In addition, the transformation of NORDEFCO into a command and operational structure should not block the needed joining of NATO by Sweden and Finland.


Image ‘Alaska National Guard‘ by The National Guard. United States Government work.

Image ‘Alaska National Guard‘ by The National Guard. United States Government work.


* This article and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


Frozen Priorities, Cold Interests and some Issues

The priorities of the United States are based, with some variety of degrees, on the same basis of the nations reviewed so far: economic and strategic/military. Alaska, as was mentioned in the previous part, it is the strategic linchpin cleavage and pivotal point for any US Arctic involvement, either in the nearby areas or the Arctic Ocean. This strategic importance is increased by the recent Russian assertive actions and the possibility of aiding Canada and the European allies, which might be affected by Russia.

The Economic Side

In terms of Economics, the first priority is to gain and secure access to resources that are present in the Alaskan Arctic areas and in the waters in front of it. Those resources are oil, natural gas, methane hydrates, minerals and marine species. Sovereignty is deemed to be exerted in order to secure those resources and to also provide better protection to the environment and develop resources in the area (Andersen & Perry, 2012; The White House, 2009). As a matter of fact, it is estimated that in the Alaskan Arctic there could be over 30 billion barrels of oil, 221 trillion cubic feet of natural gas plus additional 85.4 trillion cubic feet. Coal, non – mineral resources, zinc, lead, copper, gold, silver, rare mineral material along with important commercial fisheries, timber and fresh water are also present in the area. These are the resources that the United States can develop, exploit and take advantage. But also those are the resources that needs to be secured (Andersen & Perry, 2012; O’Rourke, 2014; Conley & Kraut, 2010).

Nevertheless, oil and gas reserves are the most important resources that can provide a certain amount of energetic independence, complementing other exploration and extraction sites such as the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Coastline and side-lining sources that are far from stability along with the problem of prices should a disruption takes place (Andersen & Perry, 2012). This also provides an advantage besides the mere energetic independence in the sense that dependence on unsecure, long and vulnerable lines of supply is simply avoided. In this sense the United States faces a similar dilemmas the one faced by the European Union[i], and at some extent Russia. This demand might increase the stakes when the competition for the control of resources unleashes and increases in intensity.

Additionally, there is the issue of the Arctic melting and the opening of new commercial routes, where Alaska is located not only in front of the Bering Strait but is also at the gates of the Northwest and Northern Sea Route. These routes, for instance, could provide China, Japan, and South Korea cheap routes to export goods to North American and European markets (O’Rourke, 2014; Conley & Kraut, 2010). Along with commercial shipping, the traffic in the area is related to resources extraction and transport, supply transit to the communities inhabiting the region, and cruise ships for tourist purposes (O’Rourke, 2014). This of course drives the United States to fulfil its own need of exerting sovereignty, not only for the control of the transit on its territorial waters (and of the Northwest Route), but also of every activity that can pose a risk to the nation itself or even to provide a fast answer to any situation of emergency in the area.
The Strategic/Military Side

This takes us to the military priorities and interest that the United States has in the Arctic in the strategic/military aspect. As a first, the Arctic was of strategic importance for the United States facing the Soviet threat during the Cold War. Even during the Second World War, the Arctic was important for the country. The prospects of an occupation of Greenland by the Third Reich and its utilization as a platform for attacks against America and the transatlantic shipping concerned the US (Andersen & Perry, 2012)[ii]. An agreement with the exiled Danish government and American military presence followed. During the Cold War the Thule Air Force Base was created. This base had the purpose of providing a forward base for the Strategic air Command’s nuclear bombers until the introduction of nuclear submarines and ballistic missiles (Andersen & Perry, 2012).

Radars of the American – Canadian Distant Early Warning network were also to be deployed at Greenland, and its extension ranged from Greenland to Alaska, all throughout the Arctic coastline of both Canada and the United States. The network and the infrastructure was completed and became fully operational by 1993, and they are still operating as the integrated defence system of the US – Canadian North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) (Andersen & Perry, 2012). Additionally and during the Cold War, the area was used by both superpowers and their allies as a yard for air and naval manoeuvres and the testing of nuclear ballistic missiles (O’Rourke, 2014).

Currently, the United States seeks to be able to conduct early warning and missile defence operations, to deploy air and naval defence forces to support strategic deterrence, execute global airlift and sealift, maintain maritime presence, and the secure freedom of navigation and overflights in the Arctic (Andersen & Perry, 2012). Terrorism is also another strategic – and security – interest for the country, mainly in regards to preventing and/or mitigating the effects of terrorist attacks or the potential of such a threat in the area. Needless to say, it is also of strategic importance for the United States to secure the access to resources in the aforementioned areas – given its condition as coastal Arctic State – trough sovereignty (Andersen & Perry, 2012; The White House, 2009; The White House, 2013).

Beyond those priorities, there are some current issues that provides an idea of how much the Arctic is once again important for the geopolitical and security interests of the United States. 9/11, for instance, brought back the importance of the radar network for homeland security and terrorist attack prevention. NORAD also received maritime warning in addition to the air-space surveillance tasks it had in the light of post 9/11 activities and the melting of the ice caps. But the resuming of bomber patrol flights by Russia and the increased intensity of those flights near Alaska and Canadian Arctic air space have increased the attention given to the radar network[iii]. Three command posts are based at Alaska and since those three posts are held by one person, he or she can draw, if not to station, advanced fighters – such as the newest Lockheed F22 Raptor – to defend Alaskan airspace (Andersen & Perry, 2012; Conley & Kraut, 2010)[iv].

Alaska is also a key, if not central, element for the United States ballistic missile defence. Indeed, one of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) radars have been deployed in Alaska[v]. A high-capacity radar has also been deployed in one of the Aleutian Islands and nearly 20 mid-course interceptor missiles are on to be deployed for the purpose of providing an anti-ballistic shield for American territory. A satellite network control facility is also deployed at the Thule Air Force Base, where it could be potentially used as an air -naval harbour with fuel facilities (Andersen & Perry, 2012).

The geographical location of Alaska itself would seem to be ideal for placing defences against missiles attacks originating from Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea. Additionally Alaska could provide a platform for operating sea – based missile defence assets like the Aegis cruisers of the US Navy thanks to the melting ice. The deployment of American nuclear submarines armed with ballistic nuclear missiles for attacks and patrols in the area have been a constant since the Cold War and it still seems to be relevant for the United States Navy for deterrence and attack purposes (Andersen & Perry, 2012; Conley & Kraut, 2010). O’Rourke (2014) mentions that Canada, the United States, and Denmark executed a joint naval exercise in Canadian Arctic waters in 2010.

The fact that the ice cap is melting could, as Andersen & Perry (2012) remark, provide a sort of operational complement for the US Navy submarines with the increased presence of surface combatants which, in turn, can use the Arctic as a strategic passage to project itself and reach any point. This could also ease any sealift as well as airlift. The F22s could fly from Alaska to any base in Japan or Europe being able to reinforce those areas following a crisis in short time, while the C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft can reach Europe or any location in the Pacific. Those airplanes can supply bases in short time as well or even carry humanitarian supplies if needed at any location in the Pacific or Europe, taking advantage of Alaska’s location (Andersen & Perry, 2012).

On the soft or secondary security aspects, the Coast Guard operates between 2 to 3 icebreakers and requires 3 heavy and 3 medium icebreakers to perform operations during winter and summer seasons, plus 6 heavy and 4 medium icebreakers for a permanent operational presence (O’Rourke, 2014). Those assets are needed to perform any activity in the area related to emergency response and policing. The Coast Guard is in need of more assets and infrastructure to carry out search and rescue operations and to provide a quick response to any emergency situation.

Actions made in this regard included the establishment of a Task Force and agreements between the Arctic Countries for Search and Rescue operations (O’Rourke, 2014). Those operations are an interest and priority by default for the United States. New assets are in necessity for the United States Coast Guard to enhance its operational capacities related to search and rescue and emergency response, as well as exercising sovereignty and policing the Alaskan arctic waters.

Pending Issues

One of the remaining issues is if the mentioned actions are enough for the United States to achieve its objectives. And also even if the priorities and issues are fully satisfied and met. Or if the contrary, more actions are needed to be implemented. It is clear at this point that the Arctic – and Alaskan – strategic importance is valued accurately. But it is one thing is to provide a correct assessment and estimation, and another is to do the actions that provide strength to those assessments and estimations. This is especially so when it is very clear that: first, the Arctic will increasingly become a geopolitical hotspot – with all of the consequences – as well as an important region hosting two sea lines of communication; and second, that cooperation and hopes of a low risk of conflict in the area are fading away day-by-day with the renewed aggressive and assertive actions made by Russia.

However, the core question is whether the United States is fully prepared to defend its Arctic area and to defend its allies, their respective interests and territories in the Arctic/High North. And how prepared is the United Stated to address properly any highly potential situation of conflict with Russia – or China – should the Arctic become the main scenario or just one scenario of an open confrontation between the United Stated, Europe and US and Europe.

Also, how the United Stated is ready to react if Russia executes any aggression in the Baltics, Scandinavia or Ukraine, aggression that could involve the Arctic as well. The next and last part will solve these questions and provide a set of recommendations that should be followed by the United States, if it wants to protect its Arctic interests and perform well as a partner for the security of its North American and European Arctic allies.



[i] Situation that is not a problem for Norway, for instance.

[ii] During World War II the North Atlantic was an important area, where supplies were transported from America to the United Kingdom. Thus the strategic need to protect that area.

[iii] See: Hensley, N (2014). Russian bombers on training missions intercepted by U.S. fighter jets off coast off Alaska. Retrieved from: on 16.08.2014

[iv] The main command post is the Alaskan NORAD Region (ANR), and the person posted there holds also the Alaska Command (ALCOM), a – component – command of the US Pacific Command (USPACOM), and the Eleventh Air Force Command (11 AF). The 11 AF is part of the USPACOM Pacific Air Force (PACAF), and this fact allows the commander to draw the fighters or any other air asset under that command.

[v] The other two of the whole system were deployed in Greenland and in the United Kingdom.



Conley, H.; & Kraut, J (2010). U.S. Strategic Interests in the Arctic. An Assessment for Current Challenges and New Opportunities for Cooperation. Washington, USA: Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Hensley, N (2014). Russian bombers on training missions intercepted by U.S. fighter jets off coast off Alaska. Retrieved from: on 16.08.2014

O’Rourke, R (2014). Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issue for Congress. Washington, USA: Congressional Research Service.

Perry, C. M; & Andersen, B (2012). Chapter 3. The Arctic Five: Priorities, Policies, & Programs. The United States. In: New Strategic Dynamics in the Arctic Region: Implications for National Security and Cooperation (pp. 98 – 131). Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis.

The White House (2009). National Security Presidential Directive and Homeland Security Presidential Directive. Retrieved from: on 19.06.2014.

The White House (2013). National Strategy for the Arctic Region. Washington DC; USA.




Image '57mm_stealth_swedish_navy' by Times Asi. Released under Creative Commons 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) License

Image ‘57mm_stealth_swedish_navy‘ by Times Asi. Released under Creative Commons 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) License


* This article and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


The Viking Saga V: The Northern Realm of the Pines and the Ragnarök

Protecting Asgard, or the Ragnarök beneath the Northern Lights (Conclusions).

Three are the sons of Loki: Hel, Fenrir and Jörmundgandr. Three are the corners of the High North Strategic Triangle: Finland, The Arctic/High North and the Baltic region. The three sons can unleash the Ragnarök and make the terrible Naglfar and Garmr appear. A lack of capacity in Sweden to secure all three corners of the high north strategic triangle might encourage Russia to exert political and military pressure, to release its own Naglfar and Garmr, on the aforementioned areas or even the core of the triangle, Sweden. And such problems in the High North will have consequences for Sweden’s neighbours in Finland and even in the Baltics. The renewed aggressive and expansionistic actions made recently towards Ukraine by a Russia adopting an openly confrontational behaviour towards the West, has made the possibility of confrontation in the arctic region a highly likely scenario.

The Baltic countries and the Swedish interests that lie there are the most vulnerable of all, not only because of their proximity to Russia but also because of the Russian minorities who reside there that might be used as an alibi for a potential invasion and annexation just as what happened in Crimea. If this were to happen not only would Sweden lose its buffer zone but also most of its economic investments and revenues in the region.

Finland also has the problem of sharing a large border with Russia and is therefore also vulnerable to any attack from Russia. Finland does not have any significant Russian minority but it was part of the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1917 following an invasion against the then Swedish territory. And it seems that such a history could be used as a possible argument for Russia to invade the country as a whole; according to Withnall (2014), a former advisor of President Putin has warned of a possible intention to argue that the grant of Finland’s independence was a way to repair the mistakes that the Bolsheviks and the Communists made against the country[i]. Even if such intentions are not totally accurate, they, along with the aggression from the Soviet Union against Finland in the late 30’s and the relationships both nations had after the World War II, might provide a hint of what is to come. To make matters worse, for Russia Finland occupies an important strategic position when it comes to preventing invasion and protecting St Petersburg (Puheloinen, 1999)[ii].

The High North/Arctic has the potential to become the next geopolitical hotspot of the 21st century, if it has not become so already. Russia clearly wants to secure by any means (military mostly) its interests and the High North/Arctic, especially when it is considered the resources that could be exploited or invested in there (along with other economic activities) that the Russian economy desperately needs. And it must be reiterated that Russia perceives the High North/Arctic as a strategic zone to keep any western “intrusion” away, meaning that Russia will wage in a very assertive way the contest for the control of the aforementioned resources.

If Russia dared to invade a sovereign country simply because it began to stray off the track of its intended interests (and to harm the interest of the West, mostly that of the European Union), the possibility of Russia invading or attacking a Scandinavian nation just because of a tension regarding the Arctic or because it wants to level-up its political strength is not so unimaginable. And even if Russia threatens the Baltic States instead of Scandinavia, Finland and Sweden inevitably will end up involved due to the proximity of the area to their own territory[iii]. To hold the idea of an Arctic as a stable and peaceful place where institutions, dialogue and cooperation will mark the pace of relations is at this point a wishful and unrealistic perspective, and Sweden must assess the situation in order to realise the extent of the threat lurking nearby.

The fact that Sweden has been shrinking and reshaping its armed forces to perform missions that belong to a world in which the strategic mind-set is based upon the idea that the era of contest between great powers has become a thing of the past, and where small conflicts and humanitarian operations are the main tasks of European militaries, is proving to be a mistake in a world that it is witnessing the renewal of such Great Powers competing. And this resurgence of national interest based behaviour puts the Arctic squarely on the map as a future region for conflict [iv]. Moreover, the recent actions of Russia have simply blunted the idea of a cooperative Russia contributing at keeping the stable and peaceful environment on the continent. Both the Georgia war in 2008 and the Ukraine crisis in 2014 show that the Russian threat was and still is a reality and will be a reality whether the West wants to accept it or not.

Following this, the first step that Sweden must take in order to secure the High North/Arctic area along with the Triangle as a whole and the integrity of its core is to implement a re-armament program that reinforces not only the quality of the Swedish armed forces but also its quantity to a reasonable level to defend its national territory and secure the corners of the Triangle, as well as to provide a credible and strong cooperation with and to the neighbouring nations, either Scandinavian or Baltic.

Aviation is an area that has been well looked after by Sweden during the last two decades and the SAAB JAS 39 Gripen is a very good platform to execute defence missions. However it could be optimised further to take a more aggressive role that could improve its deterrence function helping to prevent or deter intrusions into Swedish airspace. Very recently an airliner operated by Scandinavian Airlines nearly collided with an intrusive Russian Il – 20 intelligence aircraft near Malmö, in southwest Sweden[v]. The good news is that such a move is actually being untertaken, with the Gripen being modified to deploy cruise missiles increasing the strike capacities of the multi-mission aircraft and their deterrence capacities too[vi]. In addition, if Sweden were to join NATO, the cruise missiles could be armed with non-conventional warheads under special NATO policies and instances for non-conventional weaponry.

Sweden’s navy could also be reinforced with the introduction of more Visby class stealth corvettes or similar models, along with the overhauling of the very effective and famous Swedish submarine fleet to deny Russian vessels the possibility of sailing in Swedish and its friend nations’ territorial waters or block any attempt by the Russian fleet to raid the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland. However the problems regarding political decisions and technical issues on the new submarines needs to be cleared if Sweden really wants to have a powerful submarine branch to face the Russian surface fleet[vii].

Sweden’s army could also enhance its winter & arctic warfare preparation and develop new land combat systems in order to prepare the country to repel any Russian incursion on either Finnish or Swedish soil.

Sweden is already seeking to deepen its cooperation with Norway, Denmark, Finland and Estonia under the Nordic Defence Cooperation but further cooperation with countries such as Poland would be smart [viii].

Sweden must take a decisive role in the task of defending the High North/Arctic and Scandinavia against any aggressive Russian attitude, even at the slight political threat. By doing so it can promote the integration of the Scandinavian Defence Industries and other related industries as well as of the respective nations’ Armed Forces, pushing for an efficient supply of material and the development of different combat systems in the sea, land and aerospace realms. If this is made, Scandinavia can even supply the Baltic armies under NATO frameworks with military hardware and training, thus the need to enhance the cooperation between Scandinavia and the Baltics.

In the face of the renewed Russian threat, Sweden must consider along with Finland the very serious possibility of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization[ix]. Neutrality for both nations is no longer feasible and given the fact that the balance of power is firmly with Russia, to remain so would just decrease the possibility of both nations’ ability to defend themselves effectively. And now that there is a certainty of the future behaviour of Russia, political considerations should be discarded in favour of gaining a (collective) defence of Sweden and Finland. But Sweden especially must prove to NATO that it will be an important member as Norway has been, thus the aforementioned leading role and increasing of its armed forces in both quality and quantity are a must[x]. The Russian threat is a harsh but true reality that Sweden and other nations must face, especially when Russia simply mocks through a video the Swedish Military power and suggest by a “joke” that Sweden should join Russia instead of NATO[xi]. Such attitude and certain Russian activities are fostering great concern in Sweden[xii].

Following this, should Sweden then abandon the Nordic Defence Cooperation and other regional alliances schemes (like the ones it has with some Baltic nations)? The answer in such a case is certainly no.

Firstly, some NATO countries are also Arctic Nations and Scandinavian Nations. This means that the Nordic Defence Cooperation, instead of being discarded, could actually be integrated as a military region within the NATO operational and political structures. This would provide NATO with the advantage of covering the entire Scandinavian theatre of operations thus having a Nordic wing, making it much easier for the Alliance to deter Russia and to also have a more firm grounding in the Arctic region and have an integrated Artic/Scandinavian Command. In addition to this, the Alliance would also have full coverage from the Arctic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, covering completely the Russian and Belarussian borders.

Secondly, the Baltic Nations are also NATO nations and if Sweden and Finland decide to join NATO, things would be much easier when it comes to securing the corners of the Stategic Triangle and for the latter to guarantee its own integrity and avoid the nasty situations the country saw in 1809 and in the Winter of 1939 – 40[xiii].

Thirdly, such integration can help both NATO and the EU guarantee their own defence (their own continental defence) against the Russian threat, and might even provide the EU with enough teeth to secure its interest at the Arctic and also to deter Russia.

And last but not least, the preservation of the frameworks provided by the Nordic Defence Cooperation can help not only Sweden but all of Scandinavia to boost their own economies by enhancing the defence sectors and even allowing them to create a Porter’s cluster economy model that can include indirect sectors and activities to defence, an important aspect to bear in mind given the stormy conditions of the European economy as a whole. Such a cluster can also act in benefit of NATO by simply having a selected and ample branch of hardware and technology, not to mention the potential collaboration between Sweden and the European members of the alliance[xiv].

In conclusion, the three corners of the Triangle are to be protected and secured by Sweden through enhanced alliances with both Scandinavian and Baltic countries, as well as a full overhauling and expansion of the Armed Forces (plus the introduction of more and new assets capable to deter and defeat the Russian threat) and by joining – with Finland – NATO. The integration of the Nordic Defence Cooperation is a good possibility to do so and can help both NATO and Sweden in meeting their strategic interest in Scandinavia, the High North/Arctic and its vicinities. Cooperation could also go beyond Scandinavia and the Baltics and include Poland, a nation that will be a strategically important in deterring Russia and to address any tension that the later wants to exert following a conflict at the Arctic, and against the West in general. Also, a cooperation of that kind can strengthen the local economies via the defence sector, where the gains can include the development of assets needed to patrol the skies over the Baltics, Finland, the Arctic Ocean and Lapland, as well as the waters at the Baltic Sea, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Svalbard and the Arctic Ocean against any intruding Russian naval and aerial assets. But it is clear that Sweden must increase and strengthen its armed forces to secure its strategic interests and secure its High North/Arctic interests as well, not to mention to avoid the Ragnarök by one of the mentioned three corners of the Triangle, which are clearly interconnected.

Only through a military build-up at the same scale of the Cold War plus a joining of NATO can help Sweden to secure other priorities and objectives that are non-military related in the High North/Arctic, not to mention the integrity of the country itself. This, of course needs overall a change of mentality where reliance on an obsolete neutrality policy and a wishful approach based on cooperation and institutions are to be changed by a more assertive and realist approach within an area that is going to be a very important source of international tensions and competition.

The Russians are coming. The Ragnarök is waiting. Sweden must be prepared.



[i] See: Whitnall, A (2014). Vladimir Putin ‘wants to regain Finland’ for Russia, adviser says. Retrieved from: on 17.05.2014.

[ii] Even if the core interest is the securing of the Gulf of Finland in order to support the interests that Russia has at the Baltics, to do so the whole country (Finland) might be involved, if not threatened and attacked. In the worst of the situations, a double sided move by Russian troops against the Baltic States would put the control of the southern areas of Finland as a priority, and involving also a sea and air control over the area.

[iii] Just remember also the Göteborg Islands factor as both a source of conflict and a strategic asset that Sweden must protect if it want to neutralize the advantages that Russia would obtain by seizing the place a la Crimea.

[iv] And the consequences of such wishful thinking are being reflected by the fact that Sweden can fight ‘only for one week’. See: The Local (2013). Report confirms ‘one – week defence’ analysis. Retrieved from: on 20.05.2014.

[v] See: Cenciotti, D (2014). A SAS Boeing 737 had to change its course at the last moment so as not to collide with a Russian Il-20 off Malmö, Sweden. Retrieved from: on 09.05.2014.

[vi] See: AGENCE FRANCE – PRESSE (2014). Sweden to Arm Fighter Jets With Cruise Missile ‘Deterrent’. Retrieved from: on 24.04.2014.

[vii] See: Turnbul, G (2014). Sink or swim: Sweden’s new A-26 next-gen submarine in doubt. Retrieved from: on 17.05.2014.

[viii] As a matter of fact, the effectiveness of Poland as a watch of the East depends not only on a strengthened Sweden but also on a more decided and proactive Germany. Its attitude might make the difference between a Europe able to guarantee its own integrity before Russia or Europe being unable to deter and neutralize any threat made by Putin.

[ix] Finland has been making some moves in that sense, by signing off a NATO assistance deal and partnerships with NATO (and Sweden). See: Finland to sign off on NATO assistance deal. Retrieved from: on 23.04.2014. And: O’Dwyer, G (2014). Finland Builds Multiple Defense Partnerships With NATO, Sweden. Retrieved from: on 10.05.2014.

[x] Even the dilemma of quantity versus quality can be solved by reaching an optimum equilibrium where hi-tech and professional forces can see an increase that can provide a good complement to the quality.

[xi] See: The Local (2013). Russia mocks Sweden’s lack of military might. Retrieved from: on 05.04.2014. The link of the video where Russia mocks (and threatens) Sweden is available here:

[xii] See: The Local (2014). ‘Russian plans for war on Sweden’ cause concern. Retrieved from: on 10.04.2014

[xiii] And also for the Baltic States in the sense that along with the current NATO members, it can receive the reinforcement of the Kingdom of the North.

[xiv] Czech Republic and Hungary, for example, have within their ranks the JAS 39 multirole jet fighters. This cluster model can even place the Swedish and other Nordic Defence industries in a very competitive stance regarding other military – industrial complexes.



Cenciotti, D (2014). A SAS Boeing 737 had to change its course at the last moment so as not to collide with a Russian Il-20 off Malmö, Sweden. Retrieved from: on 09.05.2014.

Defensenews (2014). Sweden to Arm Fighter Jets With Cruise Missile ‘Deterrent’. Retrieved from: on 24.04.2014.

O’Dwyer, G (2014). Finland Builds Multiple Defense Partnerships With NATO, Sweden. Retrieved from: on 10.05.2014.

Puheloinen, A (1999). Russia’s Geopolitical Interests in the Baltic Area (Ruhala, K; Ed.). Finnish Defence Studies, (12). National Defence College: Helsinki, Finland.

The Local (2013). Report confirms ‘one – week defence’ analysis. Retrieved from: on 20.05.2014.

The Local (2013). Russia mocks Sweden’s lack of military might. Retrieved from: on 05.04.2014.

The Local (2014). ‘Russian plans for war on Sweden’ cause concern. Retrieved from: on 10.04.2014.

Turnbul, G (2014). Sink or swim: Sweden’s new A -26 next – gen submarine in doubt. Retrieved from: on 17.05.2014.

Whitnall, A (2014). Vladimir Putin ‘wants to regain Finland’ for Russia, adviser says. Retrieved from: on 17.05.2014.

Yla (2014). Finland to sign off on NATO assistance deal. Retrieved from: on 23.04.2014.


Image 'Aircraft_Fighter_Jet_Saab_JAS-39_Gripen_1'. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY-SA 2.0) License.

Image ‘Aircraft_Fighter_Jet_Saab_JAS-39_Gripen_1‘ by mashleymorgan. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY-SA 2.0) License.


* This article and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


The Viking Saga V: The Northern Realm of the Pines and the Ragnarök. (Continuation)

Dominium Maris Baltici

There is a lot of history between Sweden, the Baltic States and Russia. Since the early modern times of Europe, both Sweden and Russia have clashed over control of the Baltic region and sea. Even if the Arctic becomes the new “Baltic” or a new source of clashes between the old rivals, the Baltics States and the Baltic Sea would once again become a scenario for further and renewed confrontations. Given recent Russian attitudes, it is conceivable that the region could be another scene of major tensions with Russia over the Arctic.

In the past, Sweden’s desire to control Russian trade and the ensuing Livonian War, during which the first major clashes with Russia took place, resulted in it gaining control of Estonia and Latvia. As a result, for many years Estonia was the cradle of the Swedish Empire and turned the capital issue of every Swedish policy onwards [i]. The Baltic possessions were then lost to Russia after the Great Northern War (1700—1721), a war in which the Russian Czar founded St. Petersburg as a forward post to halt Sweden and to control the ever-contended Baltics (STRATFOR, 2009).

However, the fact that the Swedish dominance over the area ended long ago does not mean that the Baltic States are no longer an issue for the Swedish defence. In fact, Sweden considers the so-called peaceful times after the Cold War as being anything but granted, and that the use of force is very likely to be needed in future. Russia is the main state indicated in this regard, especially after the attitudes it is taking with the resuming of aerial patrols with nuclear bombers over the High North/Baltic area, cyber-attacks and protest after the removal of a monument in Estonia and the War in Georgia of 2008 (Gotkowska, 2013). Moreover and as Gotkowska (2013) remarks, other sources of unease are those related to the increase of energy resource transport in the Baltic and the presence of significant Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia. Also, the sole presence of resources at the High North along with fishing and maritime transportation, in addition to Russian ambitions, modernization and willingness to use its armed forces are a factor in the Swedish perceptions regarding both regions.

The presence of the Russian minorities can be a source for instability in the aforementioned countries just as it happened in Ukraine in Crimea and now in the Donetsk region. As Neretnieks (2011) remarks, Sweden will, beyond any doubt, be heavily affected by any conflict in the area and the factor of the Russian minorities is regarded as one possible cause for high tensions in the area. This could have the effect of, at the very least, dragging Sweden into participating in NATO naval exercises to deter any Russian action. This scenario is becoming more and more likely day by day now that Russia is promoting unrest in its neighbouring nations to justify either interventions or territorial annexations. Once again, Ukraine and Georgia are the examples of a similar situation.

A second possible cause for tensions is a direct Russian threat of invasion of the Baltic States via a military build-up in response to Stockholm allowing its bases to be used by NATO aerial assets and NATO inviting Sweden to participate in a deployment of its forces as a deterrent in the area.

A third possible cause is a war unleashed by Russia against the Baltic States and the NATO north-east Area with Sweden collaborating in the defence of the countries and with the probability of its airspace being used for NATO operations (Neretnieks, 2011). As Neretnieks (2011) points out, it seems that even in the worst case scenario, the Swedish aim is not to wage a confrontation with Russia on Swedish territory but in a nearby territory, with the aim of preventing Russia reaching its mainland. A quote from King Gustavus Adolphus during the Thirty Years’ War, cited by Neretnieks (2011), definitely sums up this strategic stance: “…the enemy should be prevented from gaining a foothold on the Baltic coast and that the war should be waged on foreign soil.”

Any of these scenarios are not only a matter of national defence for Sweden however; as STRATFOR(2009) points out, Sweden and the Baltic States also have strong economic ties. For example, Estonia alone receives three quarters of its total external investment from Sweden and Finland (Aruja, 2014), or about 3.65 billion Euros by 2011, as well as 12.49% in Latvia and 11.1% – 60 million Euros – in Lithuania by 2011 (Zeljković, 2012). There is a new sort of Dominium Maris Baltici (Baltic Sea dominion) that could be jeopardised by any hostile Russian action, even if tensions take place in a “far” place such as the Arctic[ii]. And the Baltic States are vulnerable to any clash between Russia, the West and Sweden. As such, so are the Swedish interests in the area which would be very vulnerable in the case of a crisis in the High North.

The Land of Ice and Snow

But its not just the Baltic region that is cause for concern for Sweden when it comes to its competition with Russia. Finland, for instance, also plays a role in both scenarios and is an important element for Sweden’s defence policies and interests.

There is a long history between Sweden, Finland and Russia, with Sweden having controlled Finland for 6 centuries until 1808 when it was lost to Russia in the Finnish War. During that war, Sweden saw the peril of falling under Russian rule as the Russian troops advanced towards Stockholm through Swedish territory, using Finnish territory as a base to launch its attacks. Despite losing control over Finland, Sweden did manage to stop that Russian invasion but since then it has used Finland as a strategic buffer to avoid a similar situation – even aiming to prevent Finland from ever being used as a base for a similar attack – by using the Northern Area of Scandinavia as a possible scenario to do so (STRATFOR, 2009).

Sweden, despite its neutrality, played a significant role in the independence of Finland and the following Civil War (a Soviet attempt to retain control over Finland through a local communist army and party) and during the Winter War. In the first case, Swedish volunteers formed a Brigade that fought alongside the Whites in the Battle of Tampere, contributing to their victory over the Russians and their local supporters[iii]. In the second case, Sweden provided Finland with 8000 troops, supplies and weaponry (from light infantry weapons to field artillery, anti-aircraft and anti-armour artillery. Even 17 fighters, 5 light bombers, a transport aircraft and 3 reconnaissance aircraft were given as an aid[iv]. The reasons behind these moves were much the same as those today, as Sprague (2010) points out: firstly, to keep Finland as a buffer zone against any Soviet aggression and secondly because of the brotherhood between Sweden and Finland. Interestingly, the aid was planned several months prior to the aggression and the very same day Soviet troops invaded Finland, recruitment centres were opened in Sweden.

The Northern Warriors and the High North Defence: NATO and NORDEFCO

It is often thought that the Partnership for Peace and the collaboration between NATO and Sweden is something recent but during the Cold War, and despite its neutrality policy, Sweden actively sought NATO and Western assurance that they would assist in the event of a war breaking out in Europe to avoid Soviet occupation (Gotkowska, 2013). This means then that Sweden’s approach to NATO is not something new, today the changing circumstances have simply allowed the country to openly approach NATO.

This relationship can be of absolute benefit for Sweden in the case of an Arctic-Finland-Baltic crisis, as Sweden can now have access to NATO capacities and support in the worst of the cases. As Gotkowska (2013) points out, Sweden prefers NATO since it offers advanced command structures and capabilities to execute military operations during a crisis. And those definitely benefit Sweden to manage its defence and to address any crisis in what I would call the “High North Sweden’s Strategic Triangle” (and issues): The Arctic, Finland, and the Baltics and facing Russia as the main threat[v].

The declaration of solidarity in 2009, in which Sweden expressly declared its willingness to provide assistance to any EU or Nordic nation simply made the ties with NATO stronger, and was a move that comes after the realization of the absolute involvement of Sweden in one way or another in the case of a crisis (Gotkowska, 2013). And since Russia views the West in a negative way and as an entity to be confronted, a hypothetical situation with the Arctic as the starting point and subsequently sparking tensions in the other areas is not unlikely and would mean Sweden would be forced to take an active role to protect itself and its interests.

Given the recent developments in Ukraine and the Eastern-Baltic areas of Europe, NATO has increased its strategic value for Sweden for the sake of its defence and of the Strategic Triangle. And of course it has sparked a strong debate in the country. NATO is now perceived as a must as a result of years of defence cuts, reforms and the shifting of strategic aims from National Defence to peacekeeping operations. This situation makes the country even more dependent on foreign assistance than during the Cold War and a full membership to NATO can secure such assistance during a crisis. This comes after a crude realization that Sweden cannot defend itself alone, and some current policies and mechanisms are not effective either (Salonius – Pasternak, 2013). As Ford (2014) remarks, Crimea is pushing Sweden to consider a full NATO membership as the most practical option to face Russia, as a similar situation to that of Crimea could take place with the island of Götland, a key strategic position that could provide Russia with a strategic control in the whole Baltic area [vi]. That, combined with a nearby Russian pipeline, could give Russia all the more reasons to move in. Indeed, Putin declared his intentions on defending such economic assets to the extent that Russian bombers and fighters intruded upon Swedish airspace to simulate an attack on Götland[vii].

In any case, Sweden has participated in NATO-led operations since 2009 and in the Partnership for Peace Programme within the Nordic Region and even outside Europe, such as the operations in the Horn of Africa and Libya.

The European Union came to the table as well and through the Nordic Battle Group, comprising the nations of Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Denmark and Iceland, Sweden expects to enhance cooperation with the Nordic Nations’ armed forces (Swedish Armed Forces, 2009). But Sweden has another mechanism, well related to the Nordic Battle Group: The Nordic Defence Cooperation, comprised of Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. This mechanism seeks to enhance the members’ defence via cooperation and by defining the strategic needs, setting up inter-operational capacities, effects and quality, and by technological cooperation and any other forms of assistance and military integration. This general objective may also enhance the national defence capacities of the members as well as to allow them to reach an efficient production of defence assets and to enhance contributions to other operations led by UN, NATO, and the EU (NORDEFCO, 2013).

This mechanism in particular can be of extreme importance and benefits for Sweden and the other Nordic Nations not only for the sake of their own defence strategic needs and the defence of Scandinavia as a whole, but also because all of the aforementioned nations are members of the Arctic Council, having in turn their own strategic needs and policies regarding the area. All of them are facing the same military-strategic threat posed by Russia in the Arctic and will be affected in the same way if tensions between the West or between one of the Nordic-Arctic Nations and Russia, erupts.

What can Sweden do at last to face a Ragnarök unleashed by Russia? How can Sweden secure its Arctic/High North area while at the same time being prepared to secure its other strategic areas following a Russian will to drive possible Arctic tensions into those areas? In short, how can Sweden avoid and/or even manage a perilous situation taking place at its Northern Corner of the Strategic Triangle and how will that affect the Baltic and Finnish corners? The elements, problems, advantages and weaknesses have been pointed out, but these questions will be answered as a sort of recommendations and conclusions on Sweden and its High North in the light of all the previously mentioned elements in the next article.



[i] This is also known as the “Dominium Maris Baltici” policy, or in other words, the Swedish aim to gain control of the Baltic Sea to further its geopolitical and economic interests. See: Roberts, (1984) pp. 16 – 17.

[ii] STRATFOR (2009) accounts that the current prosperity of the region is pushing Sweden to lead and take advantage of it.

[iii]See: Juhani & et al (n.a.). Swedish Brigade. War of Independence. Retrieved from: on 20.04.2014. And: Sparks, B (2014). The Warfare Historian. Finland’s Civil War 1918: Red & White Suomi and the Kinship Wars, 1918-1922. Retrieved from: on 20.04.2014. It worth to note that even Estonian and Swedish volunteers, along with Finnish troops, fought in the Estonian War of Independence.

[iv] See: Rare Historical Photos (n.a). A Swedish Volunteer in the Winter War, Finland, 1940. Retrieved from: on 20.04.2014.

[v] The reader must keep in mind that the three corners of the triangle are highly interconnected with each other and that any crisis in one could and would have effects on the other two, affecting its core: Sweden’s main territory.

[vi] The value of the pipeline is of $ 11 billion and transport 55 billion cubic meters of gas to Western Europe, according to Ford (2014).

[vii] See: Ford, M (2014). After Crimea, Sweden Flirts with Joining NATO. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: on 02.02.2014.



Aruja, E (2014). Estonia. Economy. In: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from: on 14.04.2014

Ford, M (2014). After Crimea, Sweden Flirts with Joining NATO. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: on 02.02.2014

Gotkowska, J (2013). Sitting on the Fence. Swedish Defence Policy and the Baltics Sea Region. In: Point of View. 33. Centre for Eastern Studies. Warsaw, Poland.

Juhani & et al (n.a.). Swedish Brigade. War of Independence. Retrieved from: on 20.04.2014

Neretnieks, K (2011). Sweden and Stability in the Baltic Sea Region. In: Nordic – Baltic Security in the 21st Century: The Regional Agenda and the Global Role (Nurik, R., & Nordenman, M. Eds.). pp 12 – 15. Atlantic Council, Washington, US.

NORDEFCO (2013). Annual Report 2013.

_________ (2014). The Basics about NORDEFCO. Retrieved from: on 20.04.2014

Rare Historical Photos (n.a). A Swedish Volunteer in the Winter War, Finland, 1940. Retrieved from: on 20.04.2014.

Roberts, M (1984). The Making of the Empire. The Swedish Imperial Experience 1560 – 1718. (pp. 1 – 42). Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom.

Salonius – Pasternak, C (2013). Swedish defence illusions are crumbling. In: FIIA Comment, 6. The Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Helsinki, Finland.

Sparks, B (2014). The Warfare Historian. Finland’s Civil War 1918: Red & White Suomi and the Kinship Wars, 1918-1922. Retrieved from: on 20.04.2014

Sprague, M (2010). Introduction. Swedish Volunteers in the Russo-Finnish Winter War, 1939-1940. (pp. 1 – 6) McFarland, North Carolina, US.

STRATFOR (2009). The Geopolitics of Sweden: A Baltic Power Reborn. STRATFOR, Austin, Texas. US.

Swedish Armed Forces (2009). The Pocket Guide to the Swedish Armed Forces 2009. Public Relations Office. Stockholm, Sweden.

Zeljković, N (2012). Scandinavian investments in the Baltic States and Nordic-Baltic cooperation. Norden Centrum, Nordic Monitor. Retrieved from: on 14.04.2014




Image 'Viggen_08b' by Released under Creative Commons 2.0  (CC BY-NC 2.0) License

Image ‘Viggen_08b‘ by Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY-NC 2.0) License


* This article and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


The Viking Saga V: The Northern Realm of the Pines and the Ragnarök. (Continued)

The Warriors’ Sagas

February 27, 2013. As the world follows the crisis in Ukraine after the protests fuelled by the desire of many Ukrainian people to have closer ties with the EU, armed men, said to be pro-Russian, seize the Parliament of Crimea. The next day, more armed men – suspected Russian Special Forces – seize two important airports in the Crimean peninsula while the former pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yakunovich, reappears in Russia after fleeing the country. Events escalate further when on the 1stof March the Russian president Vladimir Putin asks his parliament for an authorization to send troops into Ukraine. At the same time, Ukraine asks for NATO’s help.

Crimea is still under occupation and dangerous tensions continue to build. But what does this terrible scenario have to do with Sweden and the Arctic?

Russia and Sweden have clashed before in the past both in the Baltic and Finland in wars started by both sides, and it is easily conceivable that the Arctic could simply become just another new theatre for those clashes of interest to take place[ii].

The Crimean crisis evidences Russia’s dismissal of cooperation in favour of the fulfilment of its own interests and Ukraine is perhaps the first step down a path that Russia might take from now on. Many of the Arctic nations (except Norway) rely highly on cooperation, dialogue and on Russia’s good behaviour in Arctic Institutions and its abiding by the rule of International Law[i]. But Russia has now shown that if it wants, it will use its armed forces (which are currently being modernized and expanded) and willingly break international law [iii].

None of this is good news for Sweden, especially considering that its current state of defence is not prepared to handle such a complicated situation. This was seen when on two separate occasions in 2013, Russian TU – 22 bombers, SU – 27 fighters and an ELINT IL-20 violated Swedish air space and the Swedish Air Force either reacted at a very slow pace or failed to scramble fighters to intercept altogether [iv]. This is a consequence of the downsizing and reforms made by Sweden and other European Nations immediately after the Cold War when there was the idea that Russia was a lesser threat. But, as Howorth (2007) remarks, such shifting was necessary because of the challenges that were taking place in the Balkans and other parts of the world at the time. Military reform was needed in order to transition from the national defence mentality of the Cold War to the development for overseas deployments capacities to accomplish other non-traditional missions such as peacekeeping and humanitarian interventions.

Sweden’s defence policies from the 20th century to the present

Sweden has had a policy of neutrality since 1810, staying out of both the First and Second World Wars, that aimed to isolate the country from Europe. However, the policy has bias towards the West which as a result defines the country’s relations with Russia in regards to the aforementioned conflicts and the Cold War (Lundquist, 2013). In short, although Sweden is neutral, it has always been closer to the West rather than fully isolated.

It was during the Cold War that tensions between Russia and Sweden took a turn for the worse, since Russia perceived Sweden not as a neutral but as a “western nation”, and therefore a hostile one. Interestingly, even before this situation, Sweden had strengthened its armed forces to give credibility to its neutrality and even considered the possession of nuclear weapons (Lundquist, 2013)[v].

Tensions between the two nations reached their peak on a number of occasions, most notably when the Soviet Union shot down an intelligence and a search and rescue airplane inside Swedish territory (near Gotland) in 1952. There were also frequent Soviet submarine intrusions in the 80’s and 90’s, the most remarkable incident being when a Soviet submarine became stranded outside the Swedish naval base in Karlskrona in 1982 (Lundquist, 2013).

The end of the Cold War meant for Sweden stronger cooperation with NATO and the EU, as it embraced the idea of interdependence and of a peaceful and stable Europe. Sweden, as a result, began to implement reforms in their security sectors transforming its defence forces into ones that would deal with fighting wars abroad, peacekeeping and domestic policing. Also, the idea of an independent EU being able to have a strong military collaboration was on the table at this time (Lundquist, 2013).

The elimination of conscription and the modernization of military hardware were the most prominent steps taken after the Cold War, the first boosted by the performance and outcome of the First Gulf War in 1991 (professional vs. conscript-based army) and the need for a transformation of the forces to execute peacekeeping operations by 1993[vi]. The second led Sweden to decrease its emphasis on quantity, opting instead for quality thus acquiring Leopard 2 (Stvr 122) battle tanks and JAS 39 Gripen multi-role fighters (Lundquist, 2013).

In NATO, Sweden had an active participation in many of the missions carried out by the Alliance since 1994 and under the Partnership for Peace Program, where Sweden saw an opportunity to seek guidance and information for its forces’ adaptation and interoperability with NATO operation (Lundquist, 2013). However, a full NATO membership was ruled out for the sake of neutrality but enhanced cooperation with NATO and Swedish membership in the Partnership for Peace Planning and Review Process has allowed the country to focus and gain security of Europe and the Baltic through cooperation.

This approach to NATO is most likely part of the reason for Russia’s distrust of Sweden. This coupled with the fact that Sweden has active interests in the Arctic means that it could be perceived once again as part of a hostile West by Russia, potentially marking it as a target where Russia can, in the best of cases, exert military pressure and in the worst of the cases, unleash a war[vii].

The Sweden-EU membership had a long debate on neutrality, given the country’s long tradition and the lack of will for any involvement in a conflict. The solution consisted of readapting the policy into a one where Sweden as a state would defend itself keeping the action within its territory. Later on, both Sweden and Finland both managed to shift the focus on common defence to a new one on crisis management and peacekeeping operations with a special chapter of cooperation in non-military areas (Lundquist, 2013).

The War on Terror with its Afghanistan chapter and the financial crisis of 2008 also affected Sweden and its defence capacities.

Europe, along with Sweden, realized that to combat terrorism other tools that were a combination of military and civilian were needed, while the objectives to defeat terrorism consisted mainly of fighting terrorism itself, the decrease of WMD proliferation, and addressing regional conflicts and organized crime. This resulted in the inclusion of the nation without a formal membership to either NATO or the EU (Lundquist, 2013).

The financial crisis of 2008 forced Sweden to decrease its defence budget while facing the same dilemma as Europe of gaining better self-defence capabilities with a US that is also shrinking its military expenditures and shifting its strategic interests (namely towards Asia and the Pacific) (Lundquist, 2013).

In the meantime the Battle Group was launched with the intention of establishing rapid reaction forces with assets in the three military domains (Air, Sea and Land) and with the task of executing humanitarian aid, peace enforcement, crisis management and post-conflict stabilisation operations. But such initiatives never went beyond the blueprints (Lundquist, 2013). Thus the Swedish security concept was based on conflict prevention either in the vicinities or in another part of the world.

A strategy of Solidarity was adopted by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, where Sweden would collaborate on any UN, NATO and EU peace support operations, while at the same time launching the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) with the aim of setting a common defence framework to facilitate mutual defence, including operational cooperation and development and acquisition of material between the Nordic/Scandinavian nations (Lundquist, 2013). NORDEFCO is regarded as an important instance for cooperating in training, exercises and to manage resources, as well as in operations executed in international operations. Cooperation has so far been achieved with Finland, Norway and Latvia.

In 2009, Sweden issued its latest security and defence policy with the general objectives of safeguarding the population, the functioning of society and the protection of the Swedish ability to maintain values such as democracy, rule of law, human rights and freedom. Protection of sovereignty, rights and national interests, preventing and managing conflict and war, and protection of society and its functionality by aid to civilian authorities were also included. (Lundquist, 2013).

Interestingly, the Swedish Home Guard is considered as an important element for national defence, with national established forces permanent units on standby for fast availability and issued with modern hardware, equipment and improved training. Contracted personnel are also an organic part of the Home Guard and although based in the Swedish regions, they have a new concept of mobility that will allow them to support the tasks of the regular Armed Forces whenever and wherever needed[viii]. This is achieved by having a mix of contracted and voluntary units, as well as the Army, organized into battle groups with a “manoeuvre battalion” acting as a core of the group comprised of sections of different units. [ix].

The Air Force, in turn, is intended to develop capacities for multinational operations across Scandinavia & the northern countries, and even outside, and also to be able to execute operations within low-scale and high-intensity conflicts. The multi role SAAB JAS 39 C/D Gripen will be the core of Sweden’s air defence, while the helicopter battalion will have new models introduced[x].

Not to be left out, the Navy is to be operating in the Arctic region, with the amphibious battalion transformed into one manoeuvre battalion with amphibious capacities whose focus are the off-shore sea combat and port areas. Cooperation with other nations in the region is also contemplated.

The Defence Policy of 2008/2009 reflects the Swedish efforts to transform its army, but the most remarkable is that all of the forces has now voluntary personnel, or to say more accurately, professional personnel with compulsory service only for the worst of the cases. In addition, the Ministry of Defence (2013) points out the role of the Ministry (and thus the Armed Forces) in coordinating and executing in the prevention and response to accidents, disasters, crises and even war. Disaster relief is also included along with search and rescue and reconstruction. Even humanitarian assistance is mentioned.

However, despite all this, Sweden still seems not to be ready at all to protect itself and the neighbouring states in the Baltic and Scandinavia, and it would be even less prepared if the Arctic turned into a geopolitical hot-spot. A situation that due to the events in Ukraine has become so much more believable and one that might also include Finland and the Baltic nations. The next part will focus then on whether Sweden is really prepared or not, why Finland and the Baltics might feel the weight of tensions between Sweden (and other Western Arctic Nations) and Russia, as well as the NATO and NORDEFCO implications for Swedish defence.



[i] This point in particular will be further elaborated later on.

[ii] Of course, Denmark and Canada are those that are also investing in a significant military presence in the area, although they do not have the same extent and power as the Norwegian one.

[iii] The reader must bear in mind the author’s previous review on Russia illustrating its military build up.

[iv] See: Retrieved on 01.02.2014

[v] Neutrality, however, did not prevent the Swedish participation in the Korean War.

[vi] However this was fully implemented by 2010.

[vii] This probably by attacking Swedish territory from the sea or by advancing across the Baltic States and Finland to drive Sweden to battle.

[viii] For what concerns only the Artic/High North areas, by 2012 The Home Guard has 8 battalions stationed in the mid and upper areas of Sweden, all of them with air, reconnaissance, amphibious and even Chemical, Biologic, Radiologic and Nuclear defence as well as Arctic capacities. See: Åkested (2011), Hemvärnsförbaden 2012, pp. 14 – 15.

[ix] On the sole Arctic aspect, the army has the Norrbotten Regiment, with two mechanized (STVR 122 battletanks and CV90 Combat Vehicles included) and a ranger battalion tasked with developing the Ranger’s capacities and the overall Swedish Armed Forces’ winter warfare capacities. Also, there is the Arméns jägarbataljon which is a light elite infantry battalion and part of the Norrbotten Regiment, the Artillery Regiment with the tasks of Close Air Support, development of indirect fire support assets and the new Archer artillery system. See:

[x] The Norrbotten Air Wing is the aerial element for an Arctic scenario with the SAAB JAS 39 C/D as main assets, and a helicopter squadron based in the location as the Norrbotten Air Wing. See:



Åkested, T (2011). Hemvärnsförbaden 2012. Tidningen Hemvärnet. 71 (5), 14 -15.

Cenciotti, D (2013). Russian Intelligence Gathering Plane Flies Near Sweden. Swedish Air Force Allegedly Fails to Intercept it. Retrieved from: on 01.02.2014

Cdt Lunquist, D (2013). Swedish Security & Defence Policy 1990 – 2012. The transformation from neutrality to solidarity through a state identity perspective. Retrieved from Försvarshöksolan. Stockholm, Sweden. Retrieved from:

Försvarmakten (n.d). Artillerie Regemente – A 9. Retrieved from: on 02.02.2014

Forsvarmakten (n.d). Helikopterflottiljen. Retrieved from: on 03.02.2014

Försvarmakten (n.d). Nörrbotten Regemente – I 19. Retrieved from: on 02.02.2014

Försvarmakten (n.d). Norrbottens Flygflottilj – F 21. Retrieved from: on 02.02.2014

Howorth, J (2007). Security and Defence Policy in the European Union. London: Palgrave.

Ministry of Defence (2009). A functional defence, Fact Sheet. Stockholm, Sweden.

Ministry of Defence (2013). The Ministry of Defence. Government Offices of Sweden. Stockholm, Sweden.


Image 'Sweden Grunge flag' by Nicolas Raymond. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) license. Original image available at and released under Creative Commons 3.0  (CC BY 3.0) license.

Image ‘Sweden Grunge flag‘ by Nicolas Raymond. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) license. Original image available at and released under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported  (CC BY 3.0) license.


* This article and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


The Viking Saga V: The Northern Realm of the Pines and the Ragnarök.


The Vikings made ashore in a land where tall green pines stand covered by snow. They join with the others who had been advancing by land having started the journey long ago. Both groups had begun their travels from the south, following the shoreline northwards. The men discuss the next steps to take, whether they carry on northwards or send the ships home to the South. It is a difficult decision; both places are important for them. The north promises vital resources to send home but pushing on into the unknown is daunting. But the quest they are on, to avoid or prepare for a possible Ragnarök, the Twilight of Times, was given by the Gods. The prospect freezes them and they ask themselves if they are ready to defend or prevent such terrible event. And yet there is no decision to be made. They must, because the strong howl that can be heard carried on the wind from the east might be the sinister Fenrir or Garmr, coming ever closer. Even the Naglfar, the ship made from the nails of the dead, might be sailing in the nearby with the terrifying Jörmungandr lurking beneath the water. The men shiver. They do not wish to see the terrible face of Hell.

Sweden and the Arctic/High North: Yggdrasil

Currently, Sweden is facing a similar situation comprising three issues: the Importance of the Arctic and the Northern Region (Lapland) for the Security and economy of Sweden; Russia being a northern actor (along with its attitudes towards Sweden, the EU and NATO); and the geographical and strategic importance of the Baltic. As a matter of fact, all of the three are interrelated and pose a serious challenge for Sweden, the most important being the integrity of the country. And following the recent events of Ukraine, the Russian intervention in Crimea and its annexation, evidencing Russian willingness to use the military force for the sake of its interests and its expansionist ambitions, this challenge or risk is manifesting itself strongly.

First of all it is essential to review the importance that the Arctic and the High North (in this case, the Lapland region in Swedish territory) has for Sweden in many areas, from its economy to its national defence, and also to point out the interests that the country has in the area(s). This to assess why a country like Sweden would have interests in, even if it does not have a direct access to, the Arctic and why in the end the Arctic or the High North matters for Sweden. This first article on Sweden will focus on topics other than defence, which will be reviewed in the next article.

The ties between Sweden and the Arctic provide a basis for the strategic priorities of the country in the region and serve as an argument for Sweden to consider itself as an Arctic state, despite the fact that it does not have a coastal territory on the Arctic. The first tie is of an historical nature: the consideration of the Swedish powers of Lapland as part of the realm and the interaction with the Sami people since the Middle Ages, and the resultant colonization towards the northern areas, together with biologic and botanic research. Other activities related to research have also been carried out by Sweden in Svalbard, as well as mining, and by the 1980’s and early 90’s Swedish icebreakers reached the Pole to execute research activities and the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat was established (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2011).

The second tie is related with security in the area: Sweden recognizes the influence that the Arctic has on the country’s security. For instance, the Cold War placed Sweden and its Lapland Arctic region between the interests of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Today this situation takes place in a similar way with the US and Russia. Sweden, however, thinks that there is no significant high level of risk in the area given the US – Russian Reset Initiative and the frameworks drawn up by the Arctic Council, plus the border agreement between Norway and Russia in 2010 at the Barents Sea.

But the presence of economic resources and new shipping routes in the Arctic means the rise of new security and strategic chances and challenges. An interdependent Europe makes Swedish security policies be more oriented towards cooperation, an example being the Nordic Declaration of Solidarity which will be discussed later (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2011).

The third tie is in the economic realm, where Sweden is making investments in resource extraction, fisheries and wood-related industries, along with reindeer herding and hunting. Also, research and development projects in the Arctic allows the country to cooperate for a more effective resource use with the private sector. For example, the space industry is based in the northern parts of the country, and Sweden has expertise in Arctic shipping and vehicle testing. Tourism is also being developed in the area (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2011).

The fourth tie is related with climate and environment, given the fact that the Swedish climate and environment are part of the Arctic and are affected by it. Extreme weather has an impact on Sweden’s society and infrastructure, as well as its native cultures.

The fifth tie consists of the research made by Sweden in engineering, natural sciences, social sciences and humanities being carried out by various Swedish institutions and organizations for the past 150 years.

The sixth and final tie between Sweden and the Arctic is the native people, the Sami, who have lived in the area for centuries and whose cross-border existence have allowed Sweden to reach various agreements with its neighbours, Norway especially, in this matter (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2011).

Along with the aforementioned ties, Sweden has great interests in the area that inextricably links the country to it, thus every event in the arctic will have a knock-on effect. In a general sense, Sweden aims to keep the Arctic a low political tension area, to strengthen the Arctic Council as a forum for discussing Arctic related issues as well as the Barents cooperation, while enhancing a common policy and specific projects. Sweden also aims at contributing to an EU Arctic Policy while promoting the EU as an important cooperating partner in the region, utilising in turn the
cooperation mechanisms between the Arctic Council and the Barents Cooperation. In the same way, Sweden wants to focus on projects taking place in the Arctic that have an important value for the Arctic Council. Sweden also intends to exert any activity and cooperation projects within the frames of International Law, UN conventions and other international treaties (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2011).

All the previous general interests mean that Sweden has as an overall – and main – priority in an efficient multilateral cooperation, through dialogue, confidence-building, transparency and cooperation within international law. This approach is also the basis for Swedish security in the Arctic. The discussion on whether the most effective way will be made in the second part of this article.

Sweden focusses on a number of important actors for the sake of its multilateral and cooperative approach including: the Arctic Council, the European Union, the Nordic Cooperation, the Barents Cooperation, the United Nations, the five other Arctic coastal states (in order to gain a more active participation in the decisions of the Arctic Council and other political issues on the area), and the Sami Cooperation.

In a more specific way and according to the Ministry of Defence of Sweden, Perry and Andersen (2012), and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2011), the country’s Arctic Strategy has three main priorities.

The first of all is the climate and the environment, with a focus on climate, environmental protection, biodiversity and climate and environmental research. Bergh and Oldberg (2011) remarks that environment is the top priority to be fulfilled by cooperation focused on oil spills and their prevention, as well as focusing on air pollutants and strengthening natural and societal resilience before any climate change.

The second is the economic development of the region, with a focus on free trade in the Arctic, promoting industrial interests in the Barents region, meeting educational and research needs, and promoting the Swedish economic interests in the Arctic [i].

The third is the human dimension, with a focus on the effects on health by the Arctic’s geographical conditions, the impact of climate change and hazardous substances on the population, the impact on native cultures, their industries and the survival of their language (Sami), transfer of knowledge, and a research programme on the Sami people.

Sweden, although it is not an Arctic state in the sense that it has no direct coast on the Arctic Ocean, has strong interests in the area because of the diverse causes, resources and infrastructure there, along with the obligation to protect the environment and native people. But as it happens, similarities between the Swedish approach and that of the Canadian, Icelandic, and Finnish approach are strikingly similar in the placement of environment, native peoples. Even their approach to the economic issues in the Arctic are similar, placing cooperation as an important tool for the reaching of agreements. The accuracy of such an approach might prevent Sweden from securing the Arctic, its interests and even itself. The reasons for this will be explained in the next article.



[i] Those interests are, according to the Ministry of Defence of Sweden (n.d.): mining, petroleum and forestry; land transport and infrastructure; maritime security and the impact of shipping on the environment; Search and Air Rescue (SAR); ice – breaking; energy; tourism; reindeer husbandry; and others.


Bergh, K., & Oldberg, I (2011). The New Arctic: Building Cooperation in the Face of Emerging Challenges. Conference report. SIPRI. Stockholm, Sweden. Retrieved from: on 20.01.2014.

Ministry for Foreign Affairs (2011). Sweden’s strategy for the Arctic Region. Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Departament for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Arctic Secretariat. Stockholm, Sweden.

Ministry of Defence (n.a). Sweden’s strategy for the Arctic Region. [Power Point Presentation]. Retrieved from: On 20.01.2014.

Munch, P. A (1926). Norse Mythology. Legends of Gods and Heroes (Trans. Hustvedt, S. B). The American – Scandinavian Foundation. New York, US.

Perry, C. M; & Andersen, B (2012). Chapter 4. Other Key Stakeholders in the Future of the Arctic. Sweden. In: New Strategic Dynamics in the Arctic Region: Implications for National Security and Cooperation (pp. 138 – 140). Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis.



Image 'Missile Torpedo Boat (4)' by Sten Dueland. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Image ‘Missile Torpedo Boat (4)‘ by Sten Dueland. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

* This article and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


The Viking Saga IV: The Viking Realm and the Frozen Gates between the West and the East

On a cold night in the year 1194, a group of Drakkars reach a group of islands known to the ships’ crews as the ‘Svalbarði’. As they approach the snow covered land, illuminated by the Northern Lights and stars in the northern skies above, they can see that theirs are not the only ships sailing towards the islands. A Lodje, a ship used by the Pomors, people from the frozen north lands, is sighted. And then another, and another. The Vikings land ashore, with the Pomors following closely behind. Driven by curiosity, the two groups decide to approach each other on the frozen shore. They meet, and as a meteor streaks across the northern skies, the Vikings and the Pomors interact for the first time.

Today, those islands are called “Svalbard” and, although it is Norway who claims sovereignty of the archipelago, they are still a meeting place for the East and West, with members from many nations, such as Russia and the US, living there from time to time. Svalbard can also be seen as an Arctic boundary between the East and West, being a gateway through which Russia can access the Atlantic Ocean. These gateways, and the countries they belonged to, were especially important during WWII and the Cold War and with the growing interest in the Arctic they are once again becoming increasingly important. Nowadays Svalbard is particularly important for Norway as both the islands and their surrounding waters are a cornerstone for the country’s Arctic policy and strategy. Because of Svalbard, Norway is the only Scandinavian country with a direct coastline along the Arctic Ocean and that northern area is a fundamental element for Norwegian actions regarding the area.

Norway denominates this region as the “High North” and has designed a policy for it over the last 20 years which has been developed since the end of the Cold War, taking its current, more defined shape, around 2005. From those days until now the High North policy has had 7 important elements: a deepened and renewed cooperation with Russia[i]; the development of a broad diplomacy, aimed at including countries outside the Arctic region as well as the same institutions created for the area (such as the Arctic Council); the knowledge of the climate change rate and its effects, which are being accounted as an opening for new resources and new trade routes but also as a new obstacle for the livelihoods and traditional way of life of indigenous people; the integrated maritime management of resources, namely fisheries, which has brought a harmonisation between Norway and Russia on the topic; the appearance, and exploitation, of oil and gas fields in the waters to the east of Svalbard; the acceptance of the Rule of Law , or to be more accurate, the Rule of the Sea which in turn provides Norway sovereignty over important resources (and as a basis to solve any dispute); and finally, the establishing of a network through other Arctic countries and Institutions, even the EU, and partnerships like the Nordic Dimension (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011).

The latest High North policy has since added new objectives, based on those previously mentioned. The first objective is to establish the emergence of a new energy source for Europe, which would then provide secured oil and gas for the continent. The second, in close relation with the previous objective, is the forging of a new industrial age in the High North involving the exploitation and sustainable management of gas, oil and fisheries in the Barents Sea as well as cooperation with Russia on the matter[ii]. This drives into the third objective, which is the pioneering work on integrated maritime management, all to be performed in the light of the previously mentioned cooperation with Russia and within the frameworks given by the Arctic Council. The fourth objective is to take measures following the increasing attention towards the Arctic Ocean’s potential as a shipping route, which presents an opportunity and a challenge to both Norway and Russia in terms of provision of services to the ships and the risk that they might encounter respectively. This objective also takes account of the increased interest shown by outsider states, namely China, South Korea, Japan and Singapore (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011). The fifth objective is the implementation of measures in order to support and perform research activities in and on the area, since it is being perceived as source of knowledge on climatic and environmental change[iii]. The sixth is the cooperation between academic and research institutes, institutions, Arctic, and Non Arctic countries, and with a focus on environment, native peoples and resources management, along with tourism and SAR operations. The seventh and final objective is the implementation of actions oriented at the increased military presence of Norway in the light of the increased importance that the High North/Arctic is acquiring once again. Cooperation with Russia and the hosting of NATO exercises are the main actions to be taken and the exertion of sovereignty is beyond any doubt the aim behind this objective (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011).

All of the previous objectives are framed within four more general objectives of the current High North Policy: the safeguarding of peace and stability while providing stability; the ensuring of an environment friendly resource management; the strengthening of international cooperation and rule of international law; and the strengthening of basis for employment, value creation and welfare through regional, national and international cooperation. Three key words capture the soul of the Norwegian High North Policy: Knowledge, Activity, and Presence (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011).

Environment is one of the core preoccupations of the Norwegian strategy, along with the issue of resources and potential new Arctic shipping routes. But the fact that Norway, along with Finland, is a country that shares an immediate border at sea and land with Russia makes cooperation with Russia an imperative action, as Huebert, Exner-Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge (2012) all remark. Cooperation, as it seems, is the main feature of the Norwegian policies on the High North, but on the other hand the desire to increase military presence and capabilities is another feature that takes into consideration a possible failure of the cooperative dynamics. It is a possibility that Norway takes very seriously into account, not only because of the fact that Norway is a neighbouring NATO country with Russia but also because of the strategic implications of an opening Arctic in which exertion of Sovereignty turns into an important matter [iv] (Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge, 2012).

As a matter of fact the policy recognizes that, regarding Russia, there are some important nuclear units present there and the High North area is being used as the scenario for military exercises involving air and naval units of great capacities. Norway also aims at protecting its interests in the area, which includes a climate of stable and predictable relations with Russia and other actors present in the area, along with the protection of maritime resources, as Skagestad (2010, p.12) explains.

Jensen, Jensen & Rottem (2011) explains in a similar way that the military presence in the High North responds to an aim of “traditional state security” (p. 18), where deterrence is the absolute top of such measures in order to tackle any desire of high-level military confrontations[v]. NATO is a cornerstone for such aims but Norway also wants to deal with “minor strategic” conflicts by itself, such as a conflict taking place on one of its fisheries, for example [vi]. As such, sovereignty, protection of national interests and resources, and deterrence are the primary reasons behind the dual approach of Norway on its Arctic area, not forgetting that its policy has cooperation with Russia in every single instance as the second-most important framework, along with the discussed (military) presence in the area. In a deeper way, the High North Strategy points out that the Armed Forces have as a priority the preparations for strengthening their presence in the High North, becoming the gravitating objective around which the Armed Forces will be organized. Particular attention is being paid to the Coastal Squadron and the Coast guard, along with the Norwegian Intelligence Service. New vessels are being incorporated (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011) and the modernization of the Navy and the Air Force are also set as actions to do on the list of priorities: new vessels, helicopters for both Navy and Coast Guards ships and the replacement of the current F – 16 fighter flotilla (with possibly F -35, advanced 5th Generation multirole fighter in which Norway took a part on its development) for the sake of surveillance and rapid reaction in the area. Following this, the Armed Forces Joint Headquarters has been established at Bodø, in the north of the country (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011). Moreover, there is a convergent recognition of the High North/Arctic as a place strategically important for Norway and Russia in military and energetic aspects, and subsequently demanding the presence of the Armed forces in the area (Norwegian Ministry of Defence, 2013).

NATO might be one of the cornerstones of Norway defence policies, but the Nordic Defence Cooperation is another important element for the Norwegian High North Defence. Fighter training is currently taking place among the air forces of the member states, in the High North area, along with a cooperation between Norway and Finland on artillery systems, the Finnish purchasing of Norwegian-made SAM missiles and the possible joining of Sweden and Finland on the NATO Air Situation Data Exchange (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011). The assets in which Norway has been investing to give the High North Strategy and policies the strength to be executed are of great importance and capacity. First of all it has introduced 5 stealth Fridtjof Nansen class Frigates that are multi-role, capable of attacking surface and submerged targets. What makes these vessels so special is that have incorporated the Aegis System, marking a close cooperation with the United States, and have provided the vessels with a high-rank anti-air defence. Secondly, the Norwegian Navy has introduced a class of 5 small and stealth patrol vessels class Skjold, with anti-surface and anti-air capabilities (though the latter is a one of short range) and also capable of speeds over 100 knots. It also has six diesel Ula class submarines and there are plans for the purchase of large support ship for the frigates, increasing the naval assets and their capabilities for the High North. There is also a research ship capable of gathering intelligence and 8 OPVs, three of them capable of having a helicopter and some armed with a 57 mm gun and NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) protection, the latter being operated by the Coast Guard[vii] (Wezeman, 2012; Huebert, 2010; Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge, 2012).

As was mentioned, there are plans for the replacement of the 60 F-16 fighters for 48 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, complemented by six P-3 Orion ASW and long-range patrol aircraft (Wezeman, 2012; Huebert, 2010; Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge, 2012). Finally, since 2009 the Brigade Nord has been stationed above the Arctic Circle having winter training and is a heavy mechanized unit meaning that it has infantry fighting vehicles like the M-113 and CV 9030 within its ranks, along with BV 206 all-terrain carriers, Archer self-propelled artillery systems, and Leopard 2A4 Heavy Battle Tanks (Regehr, 2012). This, according to Pettersen (2012), is a reaction to the declaration by Russia a year beforehand that it would create units capable of operate in the Arctic [viii].

Like Denmark, Norway is among the few countries that it is taking the right measures in the light of the changing Arctic, its transformation into a new geopolitical hotspot, and the everyday possibility of a Russian comeback with a similar aggressive attitude as the days of the Cold War. Norway’s position makes it clear that stabilization and cooperation with Russia in order to reach it is an important issue for the sake of stable and peaceful relations with its powerful neighbour (which reminds one in a certain way of how things were during the Cold War). Being a NATO member also seems to push Norway into such direction. Still, Norway is far more conscious than other nations such as Finland, Iceland and Canada, about the possibility of a conflict involving China or Russia. In the Russian case, Norway hold all the keys to the immediate gateway that would allow Russian vessels, or not, into the open seas of the North Atlantic in the case of a conflict. That gateway is Svalbard, where Norway and Russia, the Vikings and Pomors, might collide in the light of those potential conflicts. In Regards to China, the need to exert sovereignty is more than clear for a Norway that will see more than one flag sailing through its waters in the near future. This of course includes the provision for controlling potential harmful ships as well as SAR operations and disaster management. Sovereignty also comes into the fact that Norway must control and secure the resources, and their exploitation, in the area.

Norway is relying on its preparations to defend itself and manage a potential situation of conflict with its NATO membership and with the Nordic Defence Cooperation. This is an important step taken in the light of a conflict that, as it has been reviewed with the previous Scandinavian cases, will affect them entirely in one way or another, having an Arctic Littoral or not. For instance, if Finland is very vulnerable due to its large border with Russia, Norway, in turn, is very vulnerable for its great maritime border with Russia and the shape of its coasts, just as Iceland is very vulnerable to the sight of Russian warships and submarines raiding near its waters. Therefore, it is very positive that Norway is boosting its cooperation in every sense with some Scandinavian nations, moreover when it comes to dealing with some immediate potential threats.

Norway, in other words, is ready to contribute by peaceful means to a good environment in the Arctic area, but it is also ready to hold the axe and fight if tensions spark. The Cold War might be over, but given recent Russian actions, Cold War instruments and mentality might partially return to the minds and desks of the politicians and generals of Norway. And if so the Arctic might become a very warm place, but not necessarily because of the environmental change.



[i] The document accounts the good trend the relations between Norway and Russia had, although it recognizes that differences still remain due to some issues Norway has, such as being a NATO member. See: p. 11.

[ii] Bear in mind the prospective presence of oil and gas in Arctic waters.

[iii] This includes the acknowledgement that pollutants impact the region, as well as the impact of the radioactive pollution made by the Soviet Union at the Kara Sea during the Cold War. According to the Organization Bellona, there are 17000 containers of radioactive waste, 19 ships with such type of waste, 14 nuclear reactors – 5 of them still contain nuclear fuel – and 735 pieces of radioactive contaminated machinery, along with one nuclear submarine – the K27 – whose two reactors are still loaded with nuclear fuel. See:

[iv] Other “soft” security considerations includes SAR and environment.

[v] It will be very interesting to see how this is going on in the next case: Russia.

[vi] Surprisingly, Jensen & Rottem (2009) point out that the Norwegian policies on the Hard area apparently responds not only to a Russia increasing its military presence in the area, but also to the consequences of a rising China, making such policies to be understood in the light of the geopolitical changes and are not isolated from such.

[vii] Some of them are from the (and named) Svalbard class.

[viii] See: Pettersen, T (2012). Norway establishes ‘Arctic Batallion’. Barents Observer. Retrieved from: on 15.01.2014



Bellona (2012). Russia announces enormous finds of radioactive waste and nuclear reactors in Arctic seas. Retrieved from on 15.01.2014

Huebert, R (2010). The Newly Emerging Arctic Security Environment. Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute. Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Huebert, R., Exner – Pirot, H., Lajeneusse, A., & Gulledge, J. (2012). Climate Change and International Security: the Arctic as a Bellwelther. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Jensen, L. C.; Jensen, Ø; & Rottem, S. V (2011). Norwegian foreign policy in the High North. Energy, international law and security. In: Atlantisch Perspectief, 3/2011 (35). Den Haag, Netherlands.

Jensen, Ø; & Rottem, S. V (2009). The politics of security and international law in Norway’s Arctic waters. In: Polar Record 46 (236), pp. 75 – 83. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Norwegian Ministry of Defence (2013). Competency for a new era. Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Oslo, Norway.

Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2011). The High North 2011. Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Oslo, Norway.

Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2011). The High North. Visions and Strategies. Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Oslo, Norway.

Pettersen, T (2012). Norway establishes ‘Arctic Batallion’. Barents Observer. Kirkenes, Norway. Retrieved from: on 14.01.2014

Regehr, E (2012). Circumpolar Military Facilities of Norway. The Simons Foundation. Vancouver, Canada.

Skagestad, O, G (2010). The ‘High North’. An Elastic Concept in Norwegian Arctic Policy. Fridtjof Nansen Institute. Lysaker, Norway.

Wezeman, S. T (2012). Military Capabilities in the Arctic. SIPRI Background Paper. SIPRI. Stockholm, Sweden.


Image 'Iceland' by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's photostream (NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team). Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY  2.0) license.

Image ‘Iceland‘ by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s photostream (NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team). Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) license.


* This arcticle and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


The Viking Saga III: Snæland, the Far Island of the North

The Viking Drakkars navigate through the mist and the snow, hoping to catch a glimpse of dry land. They sail for hours but there is no sighting and the mist continues to blind the men on the longships. But then suddenly, as though a curtain was opened for all but a split second, the mist clears. There is a shout, a cry: land. Slowly it reveals itself to the men. Mountains, and lots of them, all covered with snow and towering above the sea shimmering ominously under the Northern Lights. There is little wonder that Naddod the Viking, impressed by such a sight, named the land Snæland, or Snowland. Today that land has a different, albeit very similar, name: Iceland, a name given by Floki, son of Vilgerd.

Nowadays, despite not having any direct coastline with the Arctic Ocean, Iceland is within the Arctic Circle and is an Arctic state facing a similar situation to those already reviewed in this series. It is a state that will also be very sensitive to any rise in any tension there, and it is not the first time Iceland faces such a situation, having been involved in both the Second World War and the Cold War with Iceland being a key member of NATO. And while the Arctic issues won’t be any different for Iceland, it will be an important actor and element if tensions and clashes erupt in a similar way to Finland.

The Icelandic stance regarding the Arctic already takes account of the previously mentioned changing conditions that are giving the Arctic a new importance in the International and Geopolitical spheres, stating that the possibilities of conflict are minimal but mindful that disputes over continental shelf expansion claims can take place and harm relations among the Arctic states. Additionally, Iceland perceives itself as an Arctic State with great interests at stake in the area, which in turn are shaped by its position and access to resources. Increasing the influence of Iceland on the destiny of the Arctic, the safeguarding of economic, environmental and security issues, and furthered cooperation between other nations and other actors are the main aims of the Icelandic arctic policy (Althingi, 2011).

The Arctic Policy of Iceland is, therefore, supported 12 pillars that frame every action and measure taken by the country in a general sense:

  • The first of them is the strengthening of the Arctic Council as a multilateral instance where decisions are to be taken and in which Iceland can play a significant role.
  • The second pillar is related to the first and states that Iceland must have an increased protagonist paper on Arctic decision making, that the EEZ to the north lies within Arctic area and that Iceland has rights to areas at the north of the Arctic Circle, a claim that ought to be supported by government and institutions.
  • The third pillar is based on the promotion of an extension of the geographical demarcation of the Arctic, including the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean to address issues of economic, political, security and ecological natures.
  • The fourth pillar is the use of International Law for the resolution of dispute and resource exploitation (Althingi, 2011; Hanesson, 2012).
  • The fifth is the increasing of cooperation with Greenland and Faroe Island for their respective and common positions.
  • The sixth is the support of Arctic Indigenous peoples’ rights.
  • The seventh is the construction of agreements and cooperation with other stakeholders in the Arctic.
  • The eighth is the protection of the environment and the promotion for a sustainable development along with the contribution to preserve the culture of the Aboriginal Peoples.
  • The ninth is the prevention of militarization in the Arctic Area, aiming instead at a “civilian security” for the area[1].
  • The tenth is the intent to deepen the development of trade between the Arctic States and provide job opportunities for nationals in the new markets and industries created.
  • The eleventh is the provision of information to citizens on Arctic issues as well as promoting Iceland and its Arctic-related institutions for being the host of related meetings and for its cooperation with other organizations respectively.
  • The twelfth and final pillar is the increasing of domestic consultations and cooperation (Althingi, 2011; Hanesson, 2012).

The Foreign Affairs Minister of Iceland, Össur Skarphéðinsson (2012) explains the reasons behind the Icelandic Arctic policy, by pointing out that Iceland and its population depend on the climate and the exploitation of fisheries. As such, Iceland is very vulnerable to the effects of any alteration in climate; fisheries are dependant on climatic and environmental fluctuations and are extremely sensitive to pollutants carried on the currents that flow between the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic. Even a minor contamination can jeopardize the fisheries and thus one of the main economic activities of the country.

However, environmental and economic concerns are not the only important reasons why Iceland looks to the Frozen North. Hanesson (2012) remarks that on the area of security, that in terms of reaching of an enhanced general security, mutual trust, confidence and the prevention of militarization of the Arctic are all essential, along with the improving of civilian prevention, preparedness and response mechanism to an environmental or other disaster. Hanesson (2012) also recommends that forms of cooperation are be strengthened, not just amongst the Arctics and the EU, but NATO too, which makes the Icelandic case equally interesting. In the same way as Denmark, Canada, Norway and the U.S., Iceland can call upon the presence of NATO in the area as well as serve as a passage due to its location, a geographical quality shared only with Greenland. This is especially important given that the Arctic is turning into a new geopolitical competition between the US, Russia, and China.

It is important to point out that, in respects to the newly open shipping lines, given their location, Iceland can have a key role in the opening of a Transarctic Route. This could help make the country a hub for commercial shipping, as well as a key interchange point along the Euro – Asian and North American Arctic routes, aided by an Icelandic company willing to develop such an initiative. Iceland can also play a role in the research and maritime study of the new shipping routes[2].

In this regard, the President of Iceland remarks that the Arctic is the strategic backyard of the US, having been militarized during the Cold War, and now is a region where there is an Institution like the Arctic Council that exists in order to reach cooperation and agreements among the Arctic states. The council has become especially important since the region gained greater strategic relevance due to its resources which are attracting other states like China[3], India and South Korea. The president also notes the potential new trade routes and points out the need for the US to pay more attention to Arctic events and how they can affect its homeland security (Miks, 2013). Regarding NATO, there are two aspects that makes Iceland a strategic gateway for a NATO commitment in the arctic. The first fact, following Stringer (2009), is that the opening of new shipping routes means civilian and military ships from non-Arctic nations (such as China) will have access to the area as well as the fact that the territorial disputes between the Coastal Arctic Nations’ claims can lead to high disputes – and do not forget that every arctic nation is increasing its military presence and capacities in the region – making the Arctic prone to facing a volatile situation with the presence of all the elements needed for a perfect storm. The second fact according to Pétursson (2011), is that the Air Policy that followed the withdrawal of US forces in 2006 allows for NATO members to provide air defence with jet fighters and their logistical support for a short period of time[4]. Cooperation with other Nordic nations like Denmark and Norway are, for instance, based on the NATO frameworks, as well as the one with the UK.

This means that Iceland is likely to bring NATO onto the stage in the same way as Norway, given the importance of the organization and that it is a cornerstone in the defence strategies of all the Arctic states except one. This then gives NATO an even more important role in the Arctic, in both military and political aspects, and is an important point to consider when one is reminded that Russia intends to create an aircraft carrier-based combat group along with the possible marauding of Russian submarines in the area and flights of bombers, as in the Canadian case. This means that, no matter Icelandic intentions, the militarization of the Arctic is likely to continue, adding the fact that new shipping routes means new routes for naval as well as merchant shipping (Pétursson, 2011). Surprisingly, according to STRATFOR (2012), Sweden and Finland decided to collaborate with the Icelandic Air Policy, showing that the security of the Arctic concerns not only NATO and Iceland, but also Scandinavian nations that, although not part of the Alliance, are willing to contribute to it. Additionally, it is a strong sign of cooperation among the Nordic Nations as well as a sign that NATO can cooperate with said countries.

The fact that Iceland is part of NATO, along with Norway and Denmark, is a good and positive sign for its real security, as well as the fact that an increasing cooperation and integration between the Nordic countries might further increase Iceland’s security. Still, as Benediktsson (2011) remarks, NATO is the main cornerstone for any defence plan of Iceland, and in this sense, Iceland has being kept bilateral consultation with the US, continues to advocate for the continuation of the NATO-led exercises known as Northern Viking (in which Sweden as well as Finland took part), and vows for the continuation of its Air Policy. A membership to the EU can only help Iceland even further and in turn, bring the EU into the Arctic Scenario as a new actor. The active taking part on defence consultation at the Nordic Council are also steps that improves the security of Iceland, as it faces the very uncertain and dangerous changes taking place in the Arctic.

The perspectives then, seem quite eased for Iceland and there is more than one aegis shielding Iceland from any possible aggression as during the Cold War. But the fact that there are some Institutions like the Arctic Council and a less tensed environment than there was during the Cold War does not mean that conflicts will not to take place. On the contrary, the Arctic will become another Geopolitical hotspot with the ‘Great Powers’ contesting for the dominion of important parts of it, as well as control over resources and new routes, while increasing their own military presence either to defend or act on their claims.

The positive aspect is that Iceland is furthering on the security aspect no matter the somewhat nïave prediction of a low possibility of conflicts, even if the country wishes no militarization of the Arctic, as it is a process that will take place sooner or later, as though it were a plot of a Greek tragedy. In this sense, cooperation agreements with the Nordic Nations and NATO are on to be furthered, and Iceland is considering bringing back America and other nations to station jet squadrons for longer times to increase the air surveillance system (for air defence and SAR tasks), and to even allow the building up of a harbour to shelter some naval elements of NATO and Nordic navies facing a possible conflict in the area. One way or another, Iceland’s strategic position is too important to be ignored, even if such moves make the island the front-row spectator, along with Finland, to witness and experience any turn in the geopolitical tides. WWII and the Cold War both offer lessons that must not be forgotten in regards to the Arctic. Just as the climate change that affects the currents that flow through the economically vital fisheries, a political-military change in the Arctic will affect the life and stability of the country that could lead to far worse than economic problems.



[1] In other words, the provision of welfare, SAR capabilities and environment protection, to be met through cooperation with other states as well. See: Althingi, (2011), p. 2.

[2] See: Icelandic Government (2007). Breaking the Ice: Arctic Development and Maritime Transportation. Prospects of the Transarctic Route – Impact and Opportunities, p. 26.

[3] As it was reviewed on the First Article of the Arctic Series, China is one of the new outsiders with a strong impact, and most, if not all of the reviewed states, takes that factor into account.

[4] NATO, as a matter of fact, also provides cooperation in surveillance and Search and Rescue.



Althingi (2011). A Parliamentary Resolution on Iceland’s Arctic Policy. Reykjavik, Iceland.

Benediktsson, E (2011). At Crossroads: Iceland’s Defence and Security Relations, 1940 – 2011. Strategic Studies Institute. United States Army War College. Retrieved from: on 30.12.2013.

Hannesson, H. W (2012). Iceland and the Arctic. [Power Point Presentation]Reykjavik, Iceland: Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from: on 30.12.2013

Icelandic Government (2007). Breaking the Ice: Arctic Development and Maritime Transportation. Prospects of the Transarctic Route – Impact and Opportunities. Conference Report. Akureyri, Iceland: Prentstofan Stell. Retrieved from: on 30.12.2013.

Miks, J (2013). Iceland’s President: Arctic Crucial to America. Retrieved from: on 30.12.2013.

Petursson, G (2011). Cooperation in the High North: the case of Iceland. In: Nordia Geographical Publications 40: 4, pp. 77 – 86. NGP Yearbook of 2011. Oulu, Finland: Nordia Geographical Publications.

Skarphéðinsson, Ö (2012). Icelandic Perspectives on the Arctic. Arctic Frontiers – Arctic Tipping Points. Tromsö, Norway.

STRATFOR (2012). Finland, Sweden: A Step Toward Greater Nordic Security Cooperation. In: International Relations and Security Network. Retrieved from: on 31.12.2013.

Stringer, D (2009). Iceland: NATO Charts Out Battle for the Arctic: Arctic’s thawing seas bring new security risks. On: Globalresearch, Centre for Research on Globalization. Retrieved from: on 03.01.2014.



Image 'Finland Grunge Flag‘ by Nicolas Raymond.  Released under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) License. Original image available at and released under Creative Commons 3.0 (CC BY 3.0) license

Image ‘Finland Grunge Flag‘ by Nicolas Raymond. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) license. Original image available at and released under Creative Commons 3.0 (CC BY 3.0) license


* This article and the image were originally published in globalpublicpolicywatch


The Viking Saga II: In the Land of Ice and Snow…

Green pines and a soft carpet of snow covers the ground where the wanderer walks. As he looks towards the heavens and sees the Northern Lights shining in the dark night sky, a shooting star flies past. On the horizon, far to the north, there is a fire. The wandered might not reach the Frozen Seas but the fire lies within reach. There is warmth there, the warmth of a future, although a future not without its risks. Still, the wanderer cuts a path to that northern horizon, heading towards the fire’s glow. This is his land, the land of Ice and Snow. This is Lapland.

Although Finland is not a littoral State in the Arctic, the Arctic region does include the northern part of Scandinavia, and the country has territory within the Polar Arctic Circle. For these reasons Finland is a member of the Arctic Council and is involved in arctic matters, especially in regards to its most northern region of Lapland; every event occurring in the Arctic might affect Finland and its Arctic/Northern Region. Furthermore, in the event of high tensions or an open conflict, Finland will arguably be one of the most affected States and will share the greatest burden of such a situation; it will be on the front line in a war against Russia, a position that might be worsened by the recent NATO enlargement in the country and the wider Scandinavian and Baltic region. And it must be remembered that Russia has had interests in Scandinavia over the last 400 years, waging wars with the Swedish Empire and seizing and attacking Finland in turn during the Winter War (Winter 1939 – 1940).

Finland sees itself as an active actor in the Arctic region, and one that will address the limitations and the opportunities given by the Arctic in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way, and through cooperation (Prime Minister’s Office, 2013). As such, Finland’s Arctic strategy rests on the fact that Finland is an Arctic country and that it will address policies and actions as such, which it states as the first pillar of its strategy. Arctic expertise is stated as the second, while sustainable development and environment is the third, and International Cooperation is the fourth. The Finnish aim is the promotion of growth and enhancement of competitiveness.

The country, of course, recognizes the changing environment in the Arctic and its future activities thus aim at the protection of the environment and the promotion of stability in the region. Finland also plan to take advantage of the new opportunities given by the Arctic, via the region of Lapland, which is within the geographical area of the Arctic. One of the current benefits Finland enjoys is the fact that – as mentioned in previous articles – it is a leader in Arctic maritime technology and shipping. In other words, Finland is a leading country in designing and building ships able to sail through iced-waters[i], and it aims to further enhance this area through cooperation with other Arctic countries. Mining, transport and logistics, and energy resource development (oil and gas) are sectors that the Finnish Arctic Strategy also aims to develop and reinforce, as an example of how Finland is following through with the second pillar of its strategy and how it aims to take advantage of the expertise it has in the previously mentioned areas [ii].

The last pillar has a lot to do with the security of the Finnish Northern Region and the Arctic as well, keeping in mind that every escalation of tension will be highly sensed in Finland. Finland accurately labels that the development of the Arctic economy and people’s welfare needs a stable and secure region. Preparedness is the core element in this area along with cooperation between the authorities, industry, NGOs and citizens. The Finnish defence forces are primarily tasked with supporting civilian safety and rescue services in SAR operations as well as in the event of a natural catastrophe or environmental damage, as the possibility of an armed conflict in the Arctic was assessed as improbable given the declaration of cooperation and observation of international laws signed by the Arctic states (Prime Minister’s Office, 2013).

However and as Colonel Aikio (2009) pointed out, a traditional threat against Finland is much more likely than an unconventional one such as terrorism. Although the cooperation between the EU and NATO has improved, a war is still possible just as what took place in Georgia in 2008 (Aikio 2009). Still, the tasks of the Finnish military forces are concentrated on Crisis Management and the seeking of alliances, along with a decrease in capabilities. A threat then, might come in a Regional crisis, or a political, economic and military pressure format, as well as any strategic attack that aims to seize territory. The regional crisis pointed out by Aikio (2009) might be an Arctic or Scandinavian one, especially when he recognizes that the increased accessibility of the Arctic will trigger the military presence of other nations and disputes for the resources in the region.

Following this, it is easy to deduce that Finland is somehow forced to increase the quality and quantity of its military forces, moreover if tensions between Russia and Norway, Denmark or all of NATO increase, forcing Finland to face a similar situation as the Winter War or at best, the Cold War[iii]. The Finnish Strategy fortunately takes note of the possible outcomes of these events and points out the need of having forces with preparedness and cooperation that are fully prepared to execute operations in the Arctic/Lapland area thanks to investing in equipment and training for specific Arctic operations. As cooperation is an important aspect for Finland, there is a prioritization of the Nordic Defence Cooperation, and the air forces of the Scandinavian Nations, with the exception of Denmark, have held some joint exercises aimed at the enhancement of Arctic capabilities. Sea surveillance has seen also some cooperation with other Arctic area Nations and some EU nations as well. According to the Finnish Security and Defence Policy (2012), the monitoring of the development of issues at the Arctic is also important along with using different initiatives and institutions to address any situation that might arise [iv].

According to Rudd (2010), NATO is proving to be a key element for Finland’s co-operation and defence strategy; the Finnish Armed Forces are making themselves meet NATO standards for capabilities and are taking part in NATOs Partnership for Peace as well as with Sweden in a strategic airlift program. Similarly, the EU is viewed as important for combating terrorism and organized crime, along with the promotion of a defence industries co-operation. Finland aligns itself with the EU approach of civil-military deployments when managing crises abroad and places a strong emphasis on the EUs frameworks for the Arctic (security) policy. Yet both commitments are perceived as essential for the nation’s security taking into account the Russian actions in Georgia and the political development as well. Even a full membership at NATO is being considered (Rudd 2010).

According to Rudd (2010), the assets that Finland has are intended to be deployed only within Finnish territory and in Arctic operations, unless an EU neighbour is under threat such as with the mutual defence assistance between Finland and Sweden. Conscription is to be kept and the high level of those on compulsory service will be taken as an advantage for future training. Hardware is also to be re-capitalized on and is aimed at meeting NATO standards, though there is a presence of both Western and Soviet/Russian equipment within the ranks. Upgrades are to be done with an emphasis on ground-bases, reserve ground units and regular ground units.

The unit present at Lapland, the Jaeger Brigade, is tasked with the development and evaluation of tactics and weapons for Northern use. The navy won’t suffer any transformation and will keep its fast attack crafts, mine warfare and coastal defence ships. The air force has a squadron of F/A – 18 C/D at Lapland and it is receiving an upgrade of its air-to-air and air-to-ground capacities, given the fact that the F/A – 18 are a multirole assets optimized for air-to-air and ground attack operations. Exercises with tankers from partner countries have also taken place (Rudd 2010). Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge (2012) remark that Finland is aiming at acquiring a new aircraft and the F – 35 option has been on the table, and such desire is a mere manifestation of Finland’s growing concerns about the Arctic and what events might take place.

Finally, Finland states that for internal security issues, several similar models can be implemented within the framework of cooperation with other Arctic nations, such as cooperation in air and sea rescue operations. Finland, according to the same strategy, has expertise in that sort of operation and can export such knowledge to other Arctic areas. A project involving a Coast Guard cooperation mechanism is on the Finnish wish-list to enhance the internal security of its own waters and territory along with that of the neighbouring nations’.

What then should Finland do regarding its Arctic/Lapland policy? Indeed, Finland is placed in a undesirable strategic position in which it is almost surrounded by a Russia that can – and recently has – turn to aggressive behaviour, and a NATO and EU that, if anything, desires to expand to the East. Last but not least, all of the Finnish neighbours have aims and potential clashes in Arctic territories and resources. In any situation the security of Finland is tied between those three elements and a problem in one area means problems in the others. Finland might rely on the assumption that a conflict is very unlikely but that does not mean that it is an entirely impossible situation and a Russian re-awakening should be a fact that Finland and its Armed Forces should consider. The cooperation between NATO, the EU and Sweden are great steps in order to guarantee a certain degree of security, but Finland must also think to increase and update more of its assets and the presence of units not only in the North but in the whole territory – especially in the areas bordering Russia.

Enrolment with NATO might provoke a negative attitude from Moscow but it would also increase the deterrence of a Russian invasion like in the Winter War of 1939 – 1940. Also, Finland should work more closely with Sweden for the sake of its hardware if NATO equipment is unavailable, as it would allow both nations to secure themselves and their Northern regions from any geopolitical storm in the Arctic. They should also further their defence cooperation beyond consultancy and assistance in war-time to a closer and joint development of land combat systems, naval assets and even air assets, if those are to be upgraded[v]. This can also help Finland to continue to lead one of the Arctic economic sectors of navigation and ice-breakers. Besides Sweden, Norway, Denmark and other Western nations might be interested in Finnish products or Finnish technical assistance.

Finland has a lot of opportunities in the arctic area despite the fact that it does not have an Arctic Coast. But it must realise that a deeper and further procurement of security is a need not only for the economic development of Lapland and its safeguard, but of the whole country as well. And that may mean that a hard approach should be taken in a future.



Col. Aikio, H (2009). Finnish Defence Forces in Transformation. Military Power Revue der Schweizer Armee. N 2. 2009, pp. 44 – 55.

Huebert, R., Exner – Pirot, H., Lajeneusse, A., & Gulledge, J. (2012). Climate Change and International Security: the Arctic as a Bellwelther. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Prime Minister’s Office (2013). Finland’s Strategy for the Arctic Region 2013: Government resolution on 23 August 2013. Prime Minister’s Office Publications. Helsinki, Finland.

Prime Minister’s Office (2012). Finnish Security and Defence Policy 2012: Government Report. Prime Minister’s Office Publications. Helsinki, Finland.

Rudd, D (2010). Northern Europe’s Arctic Defence Agenda. Journal of Military and Strategic Studies. Vol. 12, N.13, spring 2010, pp. 45 – 71.



[i] Clients of Finland in this area are: Canada, Norway, Russia, the United States, and China. Also, there are several Finnish companies are involved in Arctic development projects.

[ii] The Saami – Lapland native people – and Finnish population are also an important aim whose welfare is to be provided by education, infrastructure and socio-economic opportunities.

[iii] Even Finnish troops took place in a NATO exercise hosted by Sweden in 2009, at the Swedish Lapland territory. See: Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge (2012), p. 20.

[iv] It is important to point out that the same Defence Strategy mentions the Swedish attitude of supporting and acting in favour of any EU or Nordic country suffering a disaster or being under attack, willing to provide and receive military assistance. Actually there are some security-related relations between Finland and Sweden which are strong and makes each other consult and express their own points of view when it comes to defence and security policies. See: Finnish Security and Defence Policy (2012), p. 71. One explanation might come from the fact that both nations share a close history, since Finland was part of the Swedish Empire until the Napoleonic Wars and there is a significant amount of Swedish population in Finland and Finnish population in Sweden.

[v] Col. Aikio (2009) points out some potential areas for defence and assets cooperation between Finland and other Scandinavian countries. See: p. 54.