Dr. Alpo Rusi:
Together or Separately- Finland’s and Sweden’s Security Policy at the Crossroads
Swedish Atlantic Council, April 4th, 2017, Parliament House
” The one who controls Gotland, controls the entire Baltic sea region”
- Alexander I, 1808
Thank you for inviting me to discuss with you the security policies of Finland and Sweden. History and geopolitics are back in Europe. The issue is, do we need to reconsider the reason d’être of non-alignment and join Nato instead: together or separately.
This presentation is based on my two books. The first one The Grip of the Sphere of Influence covered the Finnish-Russian relations from 1700 to 2014 but also dealt with Finnish-Swedish relations during the same period. The second one Together or Separately- Finland’s and Sweden’s Security Policy at the Crossroads covered a period from 2000 to 2016. Of course I have taking into consideration the developments during the recent months and published articles on these issues quite recently.
Firstly, I will assess the security policies of our two countries in light of the changes of our security environment from 2000 to 2014. Why didn’t we understand the big picture of security changes correctly or realistically? Were we sleepwalkers or wise statesmen predicting the future better than the members of Nato, because we were producers not consumers of security?
Secondly, I will have a look at the impact of the annexation of Crimea and the break out of war in Ukraine in 2014 on our security. Is non-alignment part of the problem solving or increasingly part of the problem in the Baltic Sea region?
Thirdly, I will have a look at the ongoing non-linear warfare by Russia in the Baltic Sea region and at the implications of the forthcoming military exercise ”Zapad 2017” in September.
And finally, I try to analyze the question: what next? On the one hand should we join Nato together or separately or should we stay outside together or separately? In brief: do we have to wait for joining of Nato until we must to join or would it be too late anyway. Or are we already having different kind of ties with Nato: Sweden having a secret guarantee with the United States dating back to 1960 and Finland having a secret gentleman’s agreement with Russia not to join Nato does not matter what the Swedes do? In case this is the real situation, geopolitics has separated us even after the cold war.
However, my last question: what to do in case Nato is counting on our de facto membership for a crisis situation anyway?
Maintaining Non-alignment and the status quo 2000-2014
A strategic culture of Finland and Sweden play a role when explaining their commitment to ”non-alignment”. Finland was part of Sweden from 1157 to 1809 and was annexed by Russia based on the Treaty of Tilsit between Russia and France in July 1807. Finland was part of the sphere of interest of Russia and the Soviet union until 1992. Sweden was able to stay outside military conflicts 200 years and during the cold war had a secret deal with the US (den Dolda allianssen). Nils Bruzelius in his study "Unilaterally if necessary: One motive behind the American Security guarantee to Sweden" (Tidskrift i Sjöväsendet no. 1/2008, Kungliga Örlogsmannasällskapet) has clarified that NSC granted in 1960 the security guarantees to Sweden. The role of this deal should be transparent. There are experts in Finland who believe these guarantees are still valid today. Finland pretended long time neutrality while nailed down with the Treaty with Soviet Union on Friendship, Mutual Assistance and Co-operation. One of the most worrisome examples was revealed in the late 1990s. President Urho Kekkonen ordered our top military officers to hold secret consultations about military co-operation with the Soviet Union 1972-74. Jan Lejonhielm revealed early 2016 that the Swedish military intelligence had received information about these consultations through the Warsaw Pact sources at the outset of the talks in 1972. In brief: during the cold war geopolitics separated us.
After the cold war ” an opportunity emerged for Finland and Sweden to launch a deepening of security policy co- operation between themselves for the first time during the modern times”, as Prime Minister Carl Bildt stated on June 4th, 1992. It was believed that old geopolitical threat perceptions were disappearing and military conflicts were not anymore possible in Europe. The Social Democrats led foreign policies in both countries most of the time but the almost pacifist foreign policy line was supported by other parties too. Perhaps too little attention was paid to the considerations of the former socialist countries and the Baltic states. They did not trust Russia and wanted Nato for their defense guarantee.
The conflict between Russia and the West deepened step by step for ”color revolutions” and other reasons, like the war in Iraq and a missile defense dispute during the years after 2003. President Vladimir Putin wanted to weaken the liberal international order and started promote an anti-American strategy in the international fora. He spoke about special rights of the big powers to their spheres of interest in 2007. However, we rejected this threatening narrative in our security decisions although not entirely in our comments.There were exceptions in the rule. Minister of Defense, Mikael Odenberg resigned due to a disagreement on the reductions of the military budget already in September 2007. His Finnish colleague Jyri Häkämies delivered a speech in Washington also in September and emphasized that geopolitical realities have not disappeared and our security problem can be therefore defined with three words;”Russia, Russia and Russia”. He was strongly criticized even in his own party, Kokoomus for unbalanced threat perceptions although the party had accepted Nato membership as an official goal in 2004.
The war in Georgia 2008 was finally a wake up call for the West but no counter-strategy of containment was taken by the EU or Nato. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen described the war as ”an individual” or ”unique case” and emphasized that no change to our security policy was necessary. This was a public statement for Moscow. However, in a more hidden way, Finland increased its military budget after the war. This was easier because the Social Democrats had left the government in 2007. However, president Tarja Halonen was worried about the weakening of the Swedish defense in her public comments which indicated that she was aware of the changes of the balance of power in the region as a result of which Finland was worse off.
Former Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, Social Democrat, announced a few days after the end of the war in Georgia that he had signed a lucrative deal with Nord Stream for consultancy ”in order to build a bridge between the EU and Russia”. Perhaps his aim was to continue the old Ostpolitik doctrine ”Annäherung durch Wandel” that was the thesis of Gerhard Schröder, former chancellor of Germany who had been the chair of Nord Stream governing council since 2005 . Nobody has asked seriously whether Lipponen’s action contained a conflict of interest from the point of view of our national security. Wolfgang Schäuble criticized Schröder for his deal with Gazprom quite recently. In light of the hearings in Washington on connections with Russia of the Trump campaign team reveals the basic problem. The bridge building with an authoritarian and war waging country needs two official negotiators. In Sweden Foreign Minister Carl Bildt condemned the invasion of Russia in 2008 with strong words but did not see any reason to stop reductions of the military budget.
In any way the Nordic defense co-operation (Nordefco) was intensified based on the Stoltenberg report in 2009. In particular Sweden but also to a certain extent Finland joined a kind of verbal solidarity community of the Nordic states in the field of military security. In Stockholm and Helsinki the analysis about changes in our security environment remained very much same. I noticed, however, that in 2009 foreign and security policy white book of the government, it was almost recommended Nato membership to guarantee security after geopolitical chafes in the Baltic Sea region. Anyway it was widely believed that economic interdependence will eliminate most of the political disputes in the long term. Defense issues were not forgotten but nothing special was done. At the same time Russia used increasingly energy policy for political purposes and pushed its historically big military reform forward.
During the Dmitri Medvedev presidency 2008-2012 it was widely believed that Russia would strengthen the rule of law and find increasingly co-operative solutions to political conflicts with neighboring countries. As a consequence, Nato did not have a special plan for the Baltic states, which had joined the Alliance 2004. A public debate about Nato membership was again over or became the secondary item. In Finland the Jyrki Katainen rainbow government 2011 confirmed in its program that ”Finland will not apply Nato during next four years”. In practical terms, Finland had ruled out one of the options in toolkit of its security policy.
One can say that Biznezz overruled the security considerations. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt visited Moscow in March 2010 and approved Nord Stream. The following year Sweden approved a special declaration of solidarity to the Baltic states in case of a military conflict, the background of which is not familiar to me. Finland has not followed the suit because she considers the task impossible without Nato although this has not been declared publicly. Sweden continued to reduce the size of its armed forces and dismantled obligatory military service in 2010 based on an old analysis about security developments. As a surprise to many, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt emphasized that Sweden will be defended primarily in the international crisis management operations.
Russia alarmed again the region in connection of the ”Ladoga 2012” exercise and the following Spring by exercising fake attacks with the bombers loaded with nuclear weapons against Stockholm. The tensions between Russia and the West intensified in the course of 2013: Edward Snowden landed Moscow in June and the US declared a pause in relations with Moscow. Finally the dispute on Ukraine led to the Euromaidan protests and the annexation of Crimea in March 2014 exploded the European security architecture. In 2014 there existed a real possibility of a military conflict between Russia and Nato . The Baltic Sea region was now covered by the geopolitical conflict between Russia and the West. Finland and Sweden were politically on the side of the West but without the military security guarantees of Nato they had rejected with determination.
Did we analyze the pig picture of security correctly between 2000 and 2014? My answer is yes and no. We recognized the negative trends but trusted on the durability of status quo in the Baltic Sea region. We forgot that Russia of Vladimir Putin was not a status quo power in Europe compared with the Soviet Union after the Cuban missile crisis 1962.
Maintaining Non-alignment but debating Nato membership after the Annexation of Crimea
After the annexation of Crimea the political elite in Sweden - and to a certain extent in Finland- started changing its mind on non-alignment. ”The defense of Sweden begins from Sweden”, as Swedish minister of Defense Karin Enström stated in 2014 Sälen conference . In the report Swedish National Security beyond 2014 by Sven-Christer Nilsson and Göran Larsbrink (2013) it was concluded that ”Swedish national defense shows signs of serious deficiencies and both in the defense area and in the security of our society. ”Sweden has to choose a path: either having a national existential defense or seeking an alliance” and ”our defense policies must not be marked by wishful thinking and short-term decisions”.
We live within the Baltic Sea Region Security System that constitutes a strategic whole. Martin Kragh and Sebastian Åberg conclude in their recent paper Russia’s strategy for influence through public diplomacy and active measures.The Swedish case that ”the overarching goal of Russian policy towards Sweden- and why not also Finland- and the wider Baltic Sea region is to preserve the geostrategic status quo, which is identified with a security order minimising NATO presence in the region”. Russia certainly wants to minimize NATO presence in the region but one can question whether Russia is honestly pursuing a policy of status quo in the Baltic Sea region.
The geostrategic status quo in the region is becoming more fragile as a result of three developments: (1) the build up of Russia’s military fortress, Kaliningrad, changing the balance of power in the region since 2014, (2) The non-aligned states in the region are crucial for the defense of Nato but are becoming increasingly ”buffer-states” between an aggressive Russia and Nato, (3) the ongoing non-linear warfare by Russia is aimed at creating political splits and instabilities in targeted countries.
The ultimate question is: Are the non-aligned countries stabilizing or de-stabilizing factors in the Baltic Sea Region in particular after 2014? The intensity with which Russia has militarised the Kaliningrad in recent years has dispelled any remaining illusions about oblast becoming a bridge of cooperation with the West, as many of us once hoped. Kaliningrad is in a bad shape economically and is not important for the defense of Russia but is relevant for offensive purposes. Kaliningrad is like a huge aircraft carrier equipped with tactical nuclear weapons and missile defense in the Baltic Sea region.
Our Prime Ministers published in January 2016 a joint article in which non-alignment was still stressed and strengthening of bilateral military co-operation was confirmed. In both countries more or less official reports on Nato memberships were prepared later on that year, but no alternatives to non-aligment were discussed seriously. In June 2016 in Kultaranta Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven ruled out any Finnish-Swedish military alliance which, of course, was meant to remind the audience that at the end of the road Sweden is free to choice but a military alliance with Finland is not an option among these choices.In real terms, militarily Sweden can provide crucial information about the developments in the south of the Baltic Sea but otherwise the real benefits are limited.
Towards Zapad 2017 military exercise - what to do next?
Finland has rejected systematically Nato membership until now .It was predicted at least in the Finnish Social Democratic party that the EU would become a strategic player and a federal union replacing the transatlantic military needs and national defense doctrines in the longer term. I have to make one special remark concerning the Soviet and Russian overt and covert operations in Finland. The anti-American sentiments have been strong in the Finnish leftist and centrist parties since the 1970s that have been key navigators of foreign policy last 40 years. Either you like it or not, finlandisation was part of the story. In the 1990s the pressure of Moscow ceased permitting Finland to join the EU as well as to approach NATO. Since 2000, however, Finland has kept distance to Nato membership and deepened bilateral relations with Putin’s Russia. One can sake whether the active measures and propaganda of the Russian security apparatus has played a role?
My considered view is that human intelligence and active measures of the Russian security services became more influential in Finland since late 1990s. The concepts active measures (aktivnye meropriyatiya) and disinformation (dezinformatsiya) herald from the Soviet KGB lexicon on political warfare. One of their first aims was to block any serious debate on Nato membership and even try to get Finland to block the Baltic states to join too. I have my own opinion about the blocking of president Martti Ahtisaari to get for him the second term, but it will be discussed in a forthcoming book in detail next autumn. One of the active measures is to discredit or compromise persons who are considered enemies or problems to Russian interests or politicians in the target countries that are supported by Russia. In France Marine Le Pen is supported and Emmanuel Macron discredited by Russia.
Mark Galeotti has stressed in his studies that Russia has already won the first Battle in a non-linear war against the West with the help of the ”useful idiots”, like former ambassadors, politicians, lobbyists and consultants who are well paid or otherwise supported to speak for the Russian agenda in the West. The case of Paul Manafort in the US is one of the recent examples about these practices. Russia aims at manipulate elections in a number of European countries. Why not in Finland and Sweden? Based on several archives, the KGB had in high positions ”confidential contacts” in Finland in the 1970s and 1980 who influenced foreign and domestic politics. Based on published diaries some of them continued to maintain confidential contact work with the Russian diplomats working for the security services of Russia in the 1990s and afterwards. They consider this contact work useful for Finnish-Russian relations but one can blame them of being collaborators who exercised conspirative co-operation instead.
In our both countries official Nato reports were made in 2016 without any concrete conclusions. In Finland it was stressed that application for membership would cause a ”crude” reaction by Russia. Of course the comment was only a speculative one but one can say that the political bill of the membership is in the rise. I am personally critical with respect to the political elite of Finland and because no serious debate on Nato membership did take place before 2014 when it seems to be politically a more expensive solution for Finland’s security.
The future of Belarus is a case in point. The Kremlin has been systematically putting political and diplomatic pressure on Belarus since the beginning of the conflict with Ukraine and the West. Putin seems to urge Minsk to take sides in the conflict, attempting to establish a Russian military presence on the territory of Belarus, thus transforming it into a military outpost for Russia. This Russian economic pressure contributes significantly to undermining social and economic stability. In the Baltic wargaming simulation scenario, the conflict between Russia and NATO begins with Belarus, with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko refusing to establish a large-scale permanent military presence of Russian troops on the territory of Belarus.The forthcoming Zapad 2017 may become a test in this respect.
A new study Project 1721 by Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press contained a couple of important aspects for Finland and Sweden about Russian threat and the Baltic states:
The stance of non-NATO countries in the region (Sweden and Finland) matters. The uncertainty surrounding their decisions and actions—with regard to both Russia and the Alliance—complicates NATO’s plans and response options in the Baltics. Without these two countries in NATO or having very close cooperation with the Alliance in the context of collective defense, NATO lacks strategic and operational depth in the region. Should Russia compel Stockholm and Helsinki to stay out of conflict, NATO’s response options , particularly given the A2/AD threat, would be limited even further.
The Alliance’s planning should be coordinated with the possible contribution of Sweden and Finland, as well as of the EU as a whole. It will be necessary to work with Sweden and Finland to secure overflight permissions, gain access to the use of their air bases, and develop Host Nation Support arrangements already in peacetime. The Alliance should also conduct prudent planning for defending Sweden and Finland, as a way of reassuring them that their support to the Alliance would not leave them exposed to Russia’s punitive military action.
Russia has already began to generate hybrid threats to the Baltic countries,Poland and the non-aligned Nordic states. An Estonian security officer was kidnapped by FSB in September 2014 inside Estonia. Latvia has been drawn into a serious information war, where anything it does to safeguard its security and independence is constantly being attacked through information. Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics mentioned Lithuania as an example, where just this past February a false news story was circulated about supposed crimes committed by German soldiers. Senator Bernie Sanders stated last week that Russia is influencing many countries with covert and overt operations and active measures.
Last week the Finnish Security Police (SUPO) published its annual report 2016. It emphasized that the Finnish political elite is a target of foreign intelligence in particular on Nato membership, EU sanctions, energy policy, the chairmanship of the Arctic Council and efforts to defend against non-linear warfare. The shadow of finlandisation is an additional problem because no real analysis about the depth of the penetration of the KGB into the Finnish institutions ever was prepared. The refugee problems in the northern stations of the Finnish-Russian border a year ago was an active measure of FSB.
Increasingly since 2014, Sweden has been the target of a wide array of active measures: Disinformation, forged telegrams and fake news items have surfaced in the information landscape. There exists examples of actors in Sweden, such as politicians, academics and newspapers, who wittingly or unwittingly perform a role as agents of influence or interlocutors of disinformation. Minister of Defense Peter Hultqvist was connected to a forgery case. The claim that Sweden was planning to export the advanced Archer artillery system to Ukraine surfaced on a German news website and reappeared on pro-Kremlin websites and social media.No need to list other examples but to realize that the Nordic non-aligned countries have not been able to escape a Russian non-linear war despite staying outside NATO.
Putin may have shot its own goal in Washington in case Russia has used active measures to influence the US elections last year. Furthermore, on 26th of March we witnessed that ”a Russian Spring” can happen one day. In the short term Putin has to eliminate any Russian color revolution which does not pacify Russian foreign policy. The conflict between Russia and the West does not disappear overnight although with respect to the history of Russia, ”anything can change abruptly”, as an expert of Russian affairs Keith Gessen has stressed.
The developments in Syria,Turkey and the United States but also Brexit are further complicating the big picture of security. The possibility of a military conflict in the Baltic Sea region cannot be ruled out although the intensifying of a non-linear warfare by Russia against all other countries in region is most probably the reality in the near future. NATO has strengthened its presence in the Baltic states and Russia is preparing a huge military exercise Zapad 2017. It may become perhaps the biggest military exercise ever after the cold war.
Finland and Sweden are obliged to reconsider their security policies for the first time since the end of the cold war. At Wales Nato Summit 2105 they further broadened the scope of co-operation with the Alliance and have participated more demonstratively in joint Nato-led military exercises. Both countries have signed a number of new treaties with member states of Nato about defense co-operation. The Lisbon Treaty and its article 42/7 contains paragraphs of solidarity that has been used in the late Autumn 2015 on the basis of the request of France. The non-aligned countries approved the request but not participation to the military campaign by France in Syria.
A Nordic defense alliance, or a military alliance between Sweden and Finland are not realistic alternatives. The domestic opinion on NATO membership in Sweden has changed more than in Finland. The traditional consensus on security policy is gone in both countries. All parties are split on the issue although the conservative parties are basically for membership and the Social Democrats and the Greens against.
Without a new thaw between Russia and the West Finland and Sweden have to decide on Nato membership either together or separately. This process cannot be halted in case the opinion polls would turn for membership. The only thing we know is that we have been outside important decision- making processes even when we have taken part under the NATO flag. NATO today is not the NATO that was established just over 60 years ago. The problems related to Turkey are shaking NATO but not breaking it. NATO is the only security organisation available to command military missions around the world to prevent/manage crises.
Nato would be strengthened as a result of the enlargement of the alliance with two non-aligned states of Northern Europe. For them the membership would give the security guarantees of the article 5 and other benefits of the alliance. As the Project 1721 states NATO could plan a strategic role for Finland and Sweden during the serious crisis related to the Baltic states. It is quite clear that such a situation would be finally the moment of truth for the doctrine of non-alignment and, furthermore, ”The Alliance should also conduct prudent planning for defending Sweden and Finland, as a way of reassuring them that their support to the Alliance would not leave them exposed to Russia’s punitive military action”. The question concerning membership would be solved accordingly. For Finland it would be like a second Ryti-Ribbentrop Treaty.
Both Finland and Sweden are obliged to openly discuss security threats and the possibility to join Nato before 2020. The military co-operation within the EU has been intensified but no defense alliance can be developed as a substitute to Nato membership. The present drift on financing of Nato may halt some projects but nothing else. The enlargement will continue as the case of Montenegro shows. The worst case scenario is that only Sweden would join Nato and
Finland would stay outside for its special relationship with Russia. Finland would nor become a bridge between the West and Russia but a buffer state instead. Therefore, in case Sweden would join, Finland would probably join too.
And what would be the reaction of Russia in case Finland and Sweden would apply for Nato membership? This question concerning Estonia was raised to President Lennart Meri in a press conference in Marseilles. ”Perhaps I have misunderstood and please correct me if I am wrong,but I thought that Russia is not a member of NATO”.
We can speculate about the reaction of Russia concerning the situation when we apply for membership, but we should not let it to rule our decision.
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