Finnish-Swedish defence cooperation - a symbiotic relationship or just a symbolic gesture?
Basing their work on a close and committed analysis, the drafters of the report set forth several concrete proposals for cooperation targeted at improving the operational efficiency of both the Finnish and the Swedish Defence Forces. The report lists a number of across-the-board proposals addressing six separate areas: the Navy, the Air Force, the Army, protected communications (C2), logistics and procurement of material as well as joint crisis management units. The key question is whether this report and subsequent political decisions reflects a genuine will for cooperation between the two nations, deemed beneficial for both parties, or if it is just an example of political rhetoric, devoid of any real operational advantages.
Cooperation between Finland and Sweden already functions well and has been under way for years. Cooperation within the scope of NORDEFCO – Nordic Defence Cooperation – is carried out in the form of skills development, research and training, and by means of exercises and participation in international missions. The benefits are indisputable – individual countries that participate in cooperation will learn from each other, developing their operational skills together. The flagship of this cooperation is the Cross Border Training (CBT), within the scope of which predominantly Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian pilots train together in each other’s air space almost on a weekly basis year round. While this joint training improves the operational capabilities of the participating countries, it also sends a signal to our neighbouring areas: if we train together in peacetime, we will also be prepared to cooperate in times of a crisis. In addition, the Navies aim to establish a joint Finnish-Swedish navy detachment: Swedish-Finnish Navy Task Group 2023 (SFNTG 2023). Moreover, we have a long history of engaging in joint exercises, and our two nations participate in the Surveillance Co-operation Finland-Sweden (SUCFIS) in the Baltic Sea waters. We have successfully coordinated our mutual cooperation within the scope of multinational cooperation programmes. Finland and Sweden are both active NATO partners. We both recently signed a Host Nation Agreement with NATO. We are also active participants in the crisis management programmes of the European Union, and together we have formed three Nordic Battle Groups. We are ahead of most of the other EU member countries with regard to participation in various Crisis Management Operations (CMO:s).
Like so many other countries, Finland and Sweden face the problem of financing their defence budgets: salary costs are rising and material, which is becoming ever more technical, consumes an increasing proportion of the defence budget, weakening funding for operational activities. The Finnish Chief of Defence has stated in unequivocal terms that the Finnish Defence Forces will be unable to carry out their mission unless their funding is increased, and, to a certain degree, this is also true of Sweden. Naturally, an important further reason for taking steps towards deepening cooperation is the current situation in our neighbouring areas. Although measures to step up cooperation were already adopted as early as in 2013 – in other words, before the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and the onset of the Ukrainian crisis – Russia had already shown signs of awakening by its behaviour in the Georgian crisis in 2008 and by launching an extensive rearmament programme. The timing of the start of deepened cooperation is a result of several factors: earlier, there existed no need or opportunity for it; now, it is practically mandatory. That, however, in no way diminishes the usefulness or importance of the cooperation that we have now initiated.
Targets are set high, and achieving them requires political support, decision-making and, above all, mutual understanding between the countries, and a willingness of the two nations to march in step. Carl Haglund and Karin Enström, former Ministers of Defence in Finland and Sweden, described our relationship on several occasions using phrases such as “our countries are dating ” and “getting engaged is not excluded”. However, it should be recalled that the current Swedish government has demonstrated an attitude that is even more positive towards cooperation than that of its predecessor, and that it has already made a de facto decision concerning the next step: cooperation will also be continued in a conflict and crisis situation, not only in peacetime. Cooperation has broad popular support among citizens and politicians alike in both countries. The Swedish Defence White Paper (Försvarsberedningen) from 2014 states the following: “Sweden and Finland have similar premises with regard to their defensive policies. This Defence White Paper welcomes all plans that seek deepened defence cooperation between Finland and Sweden. It is important to single out opportunities for practical cooperation in those sectors that have already been identified as candidates for such cooperation, thereby improving results and achieving greater efficiency.”