Why is Finland not in NATO

The end of Nordic neutrality

The Vice Commander of the Swedish Air Force Anders Persson could hardly have been clearer last Tuesday. At a press conference organized by the Saab armaments company, he underlined the advantages of a hoped-for Finnish purchase decision for the Saab Gripen E / F series fighter jets.

The Finnish Air Force will decide later this year which manufacturer will replace the outdated F / A-18 Hornet. Around ten billion euros will be made available to buy up to 64 new multi-role combat aircraft - five western manufacturers were involved in the application process. The US Superhornet and the Swedish JAS 39 Gripen (Swedish for "Greif") are said to have the greatest opportunities. A possible future Swedish-Finnish air force would, according to Persson, be "like a single one, with two commanders." The armed forces of the countries have never been so closely interlinked as they are today, and interoperability has never been so advanced.

Persson's friendly support for the Swedish defense industry follows the common thread in the security policy of the two countries. The neighboring countries are the only ones in the Nordic countries that are not members of NATO, but are instead linked in a strategic partnership with the transatlantic alliance. In addition, the Nordic defense cooperation Nordefco created its own framework organization in 2009, which aims to bring together projects with Iceland, Denmark and Norway under one roof. In early 2015, the defense ministries of both countries published a report calling for the creation of a joint standing naval reaction force by 2023, the improvement of cooperation between the two air forces and the creation of a Swedish-Finnish brigade.

With regular bilateral anti-submarine exercises in the Baltic Sea, participation in the NATO naval maneuver Baltops and the dispatch of troops of all branches to “Trident Juncture 2018” in Norway, it is already clear where the focus is. The major maneuver Trident Juncture was NATO’s largest since 1993. More than 50,000 soldiers from 29 NATO countries, Sweden and Finland took part. In the exercise, the alliance case, i.e. the attack by enemy armed forces on a NATO member state, was simulated.

In December of last year, a majority of conservatives, liberals and right-wing populists in Riksdag, Sweden, voted for the »NATO option«. Ultimately, this is not an application for membership, but only the theoretical-legal possibility of being able to join at all. This option has existed in Finland since 1995. But alongside the majority of Swedish parliamentarians, the public is also increasingly open to joining. According to the SOM Institute at the University of Gothenburg, only 32 percent of those surveyed consider joining a bad idea and 29 percent a good idea. In the first survey in 1994, 48 percent were against and only 15 percent were in favor of joining. After the Crimean crisis in 2014, a survey by the same polling institute even showed a thin majority in favor of joining for the first time. Sweden had reintroduced compulsory military service and, after almost ten years of absence, had again stationed troops on the island of Gotland. At the beginning of September there was even a partial mobilization on the Baltic Sea island after three Russian naval ships approached the island.

Also in the animated promotional video of the new Saab fighter planes, the enemy forces come from the east and threaten to attack Gotland. The fighter jet is presented as a kind of “I-Phone” among fighter aircraft, with quantum leaps in the field of avionics. The entirety of all electronic and electrical devices on board an aircraft is known as avionics and is a measure of the effectiveness of new fighter jets. It is no longer a question of producing an even faster aircraft with even larger cargo capacities. Rather, as much data as possible should be evaluated at the same time in the aircraft itself in order to enable the pilot to make faster decisions.

The purchase decision of the Finnish armed forces is extremely interesting in the context of developments in recent years - the possible decision in favor of the Swedish producers appears to be a logical continuation of the ever-deepening cooperation. For the Finnish military, closer cooperation with Sweden within the common EU security and defense policy and Nordefco is more tangible than joining the North Atlantic Pact.

Even if the Finnish public's attitude towards their eastern neighbor has become more critical, the majority of Finns do not want to join. In the last survey in October 2020, only 22 percent of those questioned were in favor of NATO membership, 45 percent rejected this step.

For Anna Wieslander, Northern Europe expert at the American think tank »Atlantic Council«, the development of the past 30 years has been a remarkable change: »At the end of the Cold War, Sweden and Finland were neutral, Nordic states. Today they are EU members, closest NATO partners and their armed forces are almost completely interoperable with NATO forces. "

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