The idea itself goes back to the end of the Second World War and its atrocities. In 1948 and 1949, the Nordic countries Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland discussed the proposition of a Scandinavian defensive alliance. In the end, these efforts were to no avail. Respective views on how a defense alliance ought to position itself with the powers in the West and the East — seen by Denmark’s and Sweden’s addition to NATO soon after and Sweden’s and Finland’s refusal of it — differed significantly, particularly in issues regarding collective defense in the event of an attack.
A good 75 years later, a Nordic defense union is still not in existence. Despite the futile attempts to establish a defense union, the Nordic states have long attempted to cooperate more closely on security policy, though still not always with the same goals and commitment.
Growing Security Cooperation Between the Scandinavian States
However, Russian aggression and associated threats have continued to intensify security cooperation between the countries. Most recently this was seen with the signing of a joint declaration of intend by Norway, Finland, and Sweden. Although the meeting’s memorandum does not mention Russia explicitly, the wording clearly refers to the pressure from Moscow, reading: “we live in unpredictable times with new challenges and threats that contribute to a feeling of insecurity in our societies, an increasingly challenging security situation both globally and in our neighborhood.”
Despite these shared sentiments, geopolitics dictates — at least for realists — the prioritization of individual security policy paths not only with a view to its own geostrategic situation but also to its experiences with neighbors and other countries or its own political culture, size and strength. It also hinges on the interdependencies, from NATO to the European Union. Moreover, Finland and Norway also share a border with Russia and all three have in common that their territory would serve as an inseparable area of operations in the event of an EU conflict with Moscow.
What is Nordefco?
In 2009 Finland, Sweden, Norway joined forces with Denmark and Iceland to form the Nordic Defense Cooperation (Nordefco): the international war on terror cost strength, and the 2008 war in Georgia had aroused the fear of Russia, especially in Sweden and Finland. For years, however, the defense budget had not increased. Moreover, the NATO memberships of Denmark, Norway, and Iceland also sets limits to the project.
Success was nonetheless achieved, for example, with the joint training of the armed forces and military exercise. However various priorities such as the development of military capabilities and the coordination of defense plans did not come to fruition.
Nordefco’s focus has also changed. While the initial collaboration was focused on cost-effectiveness, the current phase, which began after the Ukraine war, is primarily dominated by security concerns. While Denmark relies primarily on NATO, Sweden increased its own defense budget significantly and reintroduced conscription. Stockholm also intensified cooperation with Finland and, in turn, both countries bonded together with NATO, which included participating in NATO exercises.
Security Cooperation Between Scandinavian Countries
Neither of them is striving for NATO membership. Instead, more attention is paid to Nordefco. Security cooperation between the Nordic countries is more important than ever due to Russia’s threat and due to China’s rise as an emerging power in the European part of the world and especially with a view to the Arctic region. In addition, there are uncertainties about the future of NATO under Trump’s presidency, should he manage to obtain a second term.
In 2018, Nordefco’s “Vision 2025” began, which asks for defense cooperation in peacetime and the event of a crisis or conflict. The memorandum just signed builds on the 2018 foundation but adds a layer to it via a joint strategic planning group that will be set up to coordinate cooperation satisfactorily.
However, this cooperation does not represent a legal obligation, especially not for assistance in an emergency. Instead, it is stated that Norway plans to hand over command to NATO. Therefore, the declaration is not a game-changer, but is still at least an attempt to proceed together for a desperately needed heightened security policy.