Finland and Sweden offer NATO advantage as rivalry heats up in north
Finnish camouflage for snow, brush, and arctic scree had likely prevented the Americans from realizing the command post was there when they landed, Finnish commander Lt. Col. Mikko Kuoka suspected. “For those years from now who will doubt it,” Kuoka, modestly stunned by the outcome of the random skirmish, wrote in an infantry-focused blog post recording the outcome of an episode he later confirmed for l ‘Associated Press. “It really happened.”
As the exercise made clear, NATO’s addition of Finland and Sweden – what President Joe Biden calls “our allies in the High North” – would bring military and territorial advantages to the alliance. western defence. This is all the more true as the rapid melting of the Arctic due to climate change is reawakening strategic rivalries at the top of the world.
Unlike NATO’s expansion of former Soviet states that needed a big boost in the post-Cold War decades, the alliance would bring two sophisticated armies and, in the case of Finland, a country with a remarkable tradition of national defence. Both Finland and Sweden are in a region on one of Europe’s frontlines and meeting places with Russia.
Finland, defending itself against the invasion of Soviet Russia on the eve of World War II, relied on fighters on snowshoes and skis, expert camouflage in snow and forest, and reindeer carrying weapons .
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, along with his sharp recall of the Kremlin’s nuclear arsenal and repeated invocation of broad territorial claims from the days of the Russian Empire, have pushed existing NATO countries to strengthen their collective defenses and bring new members on board.
Finland – until 1917 a grand duchy within this empire – and Sweden abandoned long-standing national policies of military non-alignment. They demanded to come under NATO’s nuclear and conventional umbrella and join what are now 30 other member states in a powerful mutual defense pact, stipulating that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
Putin justified his invasion of Western-looking Ukraine as pushing back NATO and the West because, he said, they were increasingly encroaching on Russia. A NATO that included Finland and Sweden would be an ultimate rebuke to Putin’s war, strengthening the defensive alliance in a strategically important region, surrounding Russia in the Baltic Sea and Arctic Ocean, and tightening NATO against the western border of Russia for more than 800 miles (1,300 kilometers).
“I spent four years, my term, trying to persuade Sweden and Finland to join NATO,” former NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson said this summer. “Vladimir Putin achieved this in four weeks.”
Biden has been among the U.S. and international bipartisan cheerleaders for both countries’ nominations. The reservations expressed by Turkey and Hungary prevent the NATO approval from being a lock.
In recent years, Russia has “re-armed in the north, with advanced nuclear weapons, hypersonic missiles and multiple bases,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this month. “Threats from Russia and Russia’s military buildup mean that NATO is increasing its presence in the north.
Finland and Sweden would bring a lot to this mix. But they are not without flaws.
Both countries cut militaries, cut defense funding and closed bases after the collapse of the Soviet Union eased Cold War-era fears. Just five years ago, the entire small Swedish national defense force could fit in one of Stockholm’s football stadiums, noted one reviewer.
But as Putin grew more confrontational, Sweden reinstated conscription and otherwise moved to rebuild its military. Sweden has a capable navy and a high-tech air force. Like Finland, Sweden has a valued national defense industry; Sweden is one of the smallest countries in the world to build its own fighter jets.
The Finnish defense force, on the other hand, is a legend.
In 1939 and 1940, Finland’s tiny and ill-equipped forces, fighting alone in what became known as the Winter War, left the nation one of the few to survive an all-out assault from the Soviet Union with intact independence. During an exceptionally cold and deadly winter, Finnish fighters, sometimes dressed in white sheets for camouflage and generally moving unseen on foot, snowshoes and skis, lost territory to Russia but drove out the invaders.
The Finns were responsible for up to 200,000 dead among the invading forces compared to about 25,000 Finns lost, said Iskander Rehman, a fellow at Johns Hopkins’ Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs.
This helped fuel a Finnish national creed of “sisu”, or courage. Finnish Winter War veterans have been recruited for the US Army’s Winter War training, Rehman noted.
The Finnish constitution makes rallying to national defense an obligation for every citizen. Finland says it can muster a fighting force of 280,000, based on near-universal male conscription and a large, well-trained reserve, equipped with modern artillery, warplanes and tanks, much of it is American.
The United States and NATO are likely to increase their presence around the Baltic and the Arctic with the accession of the two Scandinavian countries.
“Just look at the map, if you add Finland and Sweden, you basically turn the whole Baltic Sea into a NATO lake,” with only two small chunks of Russia bordering it, said Zachary Selden, a former Director of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. defense and security committee who is now a national security expert at the University of Florida.
Likewise, Russia will become the only non-NATO member among countries with claims to Arctic territory, and the only non-NATO member of the Atlantic Council, an international forum for eight members created for arctic issues.
Selden predicts a larger NATO presence in the Baltics as a result, possibly with a new NATO regional command, as well as US military rotations, but probably not a permanent base.
Russia sees its military presence in the Arctic as vital to its European strategy, including ballistic missile submarines that give it a second-strike capability in any conflict with NATO, analysts say.
The Arctic is warming much faster as a result of climate change than the Earth as a whole, opening up competition for Arctic resources and access as Arctic ice disappears.
Russia has been building its fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers, with the aim of escorting expected future commercial maritime traffic through the molten Arctic, “to create this toll road for transit,” Sherri said. Goodman, former US Undersecretary of Defense. , now at the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute and the Center for Climate & Security.
Goodman points to future threats that NATO will need to be able to deal with as the melting Arctic opens up, such as the kind of dark, unofficial forces Russia has used in Crimea, Africa and elsewhere, and the increased risk of a – managing the Russian nuclear maritime accident.
NATO strategy will increasingly incorporate the strategic advantage that Finland and Sweden would bring to such scenarios, analysts said.
Kuoka’s American counterpart at NATO’s Arctic exercise this spring, Marine Lt. Col. Ryan Gordinier wrote in an email provided by Marine spokespersons that he and his Marines were “impressed “by the ability of the Finnish infantry to reach positions otherwise inaccessible on foot, snowshoes and skis. , and to move undetected on the snow.
It “gave us pause” — and probably any real opponent as well, Gordinier wrote.
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this report