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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Norway greets new Nordic defense

Norway, one of the 12 founding members of NATO back in 1949, could finally welcome neighbouring Sweden into the defense alliance this week. Now all the Nordic countries are NATO members, with plans already well underway for a new era of security cooperation in the entire region.

NATO soldiers taking part in winter exercises in Northern Norway will now be greeting Swedish soldiers as fellow NATO members for the first time. The exercises have been renamed “Nordic Response 2024” in honour of NATO’s new Swedish and Finnish members, and their joint commitment to defend NATO’s northern flank. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Kristian Bjerkeset Solerød

Both the Swedish and Norwegian prime ministers dubbed Sweden’s entry into NATO this week “historic,” while the Norwegian NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg claimed Swedish membership “will make us all stronger and safer.” There’s already been lots of defense cooperation among Norway, Finland and Sweden for years, but now it can be taken to an entirely new level, also with fellow NATO founding members Iceland and Denmark, the Baltic nations Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that joined in 2004 and Poland in 1999.

“This all now means that Sweden is unequivocally part of the fellowship,” Karsten Friis, senior researcher at the Norwegian foreign policy institute PRIO, told newspaper Aftenposten after Hungary became the last of the now-32 NATO members to approve Sweden’s entry. The leaders of both Hungary and Turkey had dragged the process out in what Friis called “misuse” of their power to do so for their own gain.

It was Sweden’s former prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, who launched the process of joining NATO right after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. Her successor and current Swedish prime minister, Ulf Kristersson (right), carried on the process that finally concluded this week. They’re shown here while visiting a NATO winter exercise in Norway in March 2022. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Torbjørn Kjosvold

Now NATO leaders are looking forward to all the advantages Sweden and Finland bring to the alliance: Strong military forces and the ability to show Russia how NATO is a large new bloc without, claims Friis, “any cracks in the facade.” Russian President Vladimir Putin unwittingly jolted both Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership after he ordered the invasion of Ukraine in Februay 2022. He wound up with an expanded and stronger NATO along Russia’s own border to Finland.

Friis stressed how the addition of Finland and Sweden “opens many opportunities” in the Nordic area:

***Air defense forces in the Nordic area will cooperate closely and have a large combined air force of around 250 fighter jets alone. Norway has recently renewed and expanded its fleet of US-produced F35 fighter jets and Sweden brings 94 of its own Jas Gripen jets.

***The countries’ Total Defense, combining both military- and civil defense forces, can now cooperate much better on how they can work together in a crisis, in terms of logistics and supplies.

***New transport routes can be built to better connect Finland, Sweden and Norway for moving troops, equipment and supplies. That can include new or improved highways and rail lines, for example, from coastal areas of Northern Norway into Sweden and from Trondheim east into Sweden. Swedish broadcaster SVT has reported on specific projects including upgrading of the rail line from Narvik into nearby Sweden, new lines from Trondheim and the E14 highway east to Sundsvall on the Baltic coast.

Sweden, which has long had strong independent defense forces of its own, has also been dramatically increasing its defense spending and will bring new resources to NATO. Sweden may already meet NATO’s goal for individual members (of spending at least 2 percent of GNP on defense) during its first year as a member.

“I’m extremely glad that the path for Sweden’s NATO membership has been cleared,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told news bureau NTB shortly after Hungary’s long-awaited nod on Monday. Norwegian Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram has already been working closely with his Swedish and Finnish counterparts, and now Sweden will be taking part in the major NATO winter exercises known as Cold Response, renamed “Nordic Response 2024” for the occasion.

More than 20,000 soldiers will be taking part in the exercises that run from March 3-14 in northern Norway, Sweden and Finland, also in the Nordic countries’ airspace and at sea. This year’s exercises will include more than 50 submarines, frigates, corvettes, aircraft carriers and amphibious vessels, along with more than 100 fighter jets, transport aircraft, maritime surveillance flights and helicopters.

There’s likely to be many more meetings like this one between Norwegian and Swedish soldiers at the border just east of Narvik. Plans for a new Nordic defense within the framework of NATO were well underway even before Sweden was approved as NATO’s 32nd member this week. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Ingvild Ekrol

“With Finland and soon Sweden as allied neighbours, the exercises will contribute to tighter Nordic integration within the framework of NATO,” stated Norway’s defense department.

It’s all aimed at sending a clear message to Russia’s Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine two years backfired in the sense that it resulted in his perceived enemy’s expansion. NATO and its new Nordic members also remain firmly committed to helping Ukraine defend itself, backed also by broad public support in Norway.

“Ukraine’s fight against Russia is a fight for all of Europe’s security,” editorialized newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Tuesday. “The outcome of the war will have huge impact on more countries than Ukraine. A Russian victory will make our part of the world a more dangerous place, with all that means in terms of costs for the state, business and the public.

“It is, as NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, not a moral question of helping Ukraine, but an investment in our own security.”

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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