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To the Arctic via NATO

09.05.2014 | By Oleh Potapenko

The annexation of Crimea allowed Finland and Sweden to start a long-awaited preparation to abandonment of neutrality. Scandinavians will use military policy as an instrument in commercial projects

Investment rush about control over navigation in the international waters in the Arctic region generated by the global climate change has a new, military aspect. Neutral Scandinavian countries Sweden and Finland hoped to get their share of the Arctic race individually. The collapse of the system of contractual international security resulting from the Russian military intervention in Ukraine buried such hopes. Being de facto fully integrated with the NATO the countries readily initiated domestic political discourses on the need to abandon their military neutrality and achieving membership in the defense organization.


Until recently, only Norway could enjoy the perks of common strategic security to achieve its goals in the Arctic. This country, which has been a NATO member since the day one, has been able to use to its support to the hilt to consolidate and extend its economic and political positions in the Arctic. To name a few: Svalbard, which Russia lost in a long-term diplomatic and economic struggle solely through Norways membership in the NATO. And Russian Norwegian agreement on delimitation of shelf signed in 2010 allowed Oslo to outrun Moscow in mining in this border region. If Norway was not a NATO member, it would have zero chances to land such a deal.

Sweden and Finland have no polar coasts. Their hopes to earn on trade on the North Sea coast are based, first of all, on warming of relations between the US, EU and Russia, which would allow the Swedish and Finnish to hope to get access and establish themselves in the Russian ports of Murmansk and Kandalaksha. Another option is to team up with Norway to the maximum and jointly carry the weight of military and environmental security in the Arctic waters and get access to Norwegian ports.

The Ukrainian-Russian crisis which broke out in early 2014 did not leave neutral Scandinavian countries any choice. On April 3 Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Jan Bjrklund called for revision of the existing defense doctrine and abandonment of neutrality, to set the goal of joining the NATO within the next few years. A similar official statement was made in Finland. Along with the statements from Stockholm Helsinki started a similar debate the main point of which was the fact that for the sparsely populated Finland that shares a long border with Russia, neutrality was a costly affair, requiring huge, and most importantly, independent defense spending. In case of extension of the already wide integration with the NATO and achievement of membership in the organization, Finlands defense will become a joint effort. And it promises Helsinki substantial cost-effectiveness.


By all appearances, the special Finnish way into the ranks of the Atlantic community will be paved with the considerations of saving. For the greater clarity, the Finnish government rejected the biggest defense import deal of 20102014 purchasing from the US of 70 upgraded ballistic short-range missiles worth over US $150 mn. The upgraded missiles with a range of 300 km, were intended for 22 tactical multiple rocket launchers M270 MLRS. Medium and short range missile forces are extremely important if not the main in tough Finnish geographical conditions. Therefore, the rejection from further re-equipment of the Finnish missile forces, which took place at the height of the UkrainianRussian crisis, would seem unclear. Officially, it was justified by the EUR 2.2 bn. sequestration of the Finnish national budget. Unofficially, the media gossiped that Helsinki has firmly embarked on the path of accession to the NATO collective defense, and backed out of the deal to save money.

In January 2014 the Finnish government decided to unfreeze the Arctic program, which was adopted in 2010, but frozen due to lack of funds. Finnish Ambassador to the Arctic Council Hannu Halinen commenting on restart of the program said that within its framework the country intends to build a new railway line from the Arctic Ocean to the Baltic Sea to profit from cutting Arctic transit to the EU ports. Will this line pass through the territory of Norway, Sweden and Russia? This issue is under examination, said the Finnish Ambassador, and added that the key area of the Arctic program for Finland is to achieve access to the Arctic Ocean, which will open lucrative trade routes of the North path.


According to forecasts, the icebreaking passage of merchant vessels via the Northern Sea Route may become year-round close to 2020. The shorter distance will make the NSR a strong competitor for the traditional way past Singapore and Suez. Besides transit revenues, it is expected that the construction of the railway would cheapen several Finnish mining projects in the Arctic Lapland. Another key area in Finlands thawed Arctic program is the strategy of provision of additional chances to profit from prevention of abundant environmental hazards concurrent to extraction of oil and gas on the Arctic shelf in Russia, Norway, the US and Canada to the national shipbuilding and electronic corporations. Helsinki has recently demonstrated a strong desire to get into the environmental business. In 2008 Finland became the home country for the Nordic Investment Bank. In 2010 the EU Arctic Information Center opened in Rovaniemi, the home town of Santa. Later, the Finns have initiated an international program for creation of demilitarized and wildlife areas in the cold waters of the Arctic. It turns out that without joining the system of collective defense, it will be extremely difficult and expensive for Helsinki to achieve success in these endeavors.

It is no wonder then that Russias unpredictability again demonstrated by the attack on Ukraine has played into the hands of the Finns, and gave the perfect excuse to turn to Washington and Brussels for protection. So far, there is a formal opposition on this way Finnish shipbuilding lobby. This industry is afraid that a new round of the cold war would force Russia into an arms race and hence cut the nations Arctic budgets. Most of them are on the verge of collapse anyway. Finland, the country that has built 23 of all 45 Russian icebreakers, has a reason to be concerned. So far, prior to additional spending on weapons, Moscow declares its plans to purchase for the Arctic projects 1,800 merchant vessels by 2030, of which at least 300 by 2020. Some of these orders make impressive loot for Finland. And Finnish corporations expect that like in the past 50 years they will have at least 30% of Russian Arctic shipbuilding contracts in future. However, apparently, the new global crisis is able to make adjustments to ambitions of Finnish shipyards. For more than two decades, that have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of them have not been able to change their strategy. The most conservative enterprises were eventually taken over by the new owners and lost their independence in the 2000s. Finnish politicians were left no choice but to cast their glances to the Arctic, where the struggle for resources rapidly deprives neutrality of its relevance.

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