Finland, Sweden offer edge to NATO as rivalry moves north

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Washington — The first surprise for Finnish soldiers and officers participating in military exercises conducted by NATO in the Arctic this spring: the sudden roar of a US maritime helicopter assault force, touching down in an area right next to the Finns. command post.

Second surprise: Leaving their field headquarters, Finnish Signal Corps communications crews and others fired off US Marines—the Finns’ designated adversaries in NATO exercises—and members of America’s professional and major expeditionary force in simulated fire. ,

Finnish commander Lieutenant Colonel Mikko Kuoka suspected that Finnish camouflage for Arctic ice, scrub and scree prevented the Americans from sensing the command post when they landed. “For those who will doubt it years from now,” Cuoca, moderately stunned by the outcome of the random skirmish, wrote while recording the results in an infantry-focused blog, one episode later he told The Associated Press. confirmed for. “It actually happened.”

As the exercise made clear, the addition of Finland and Sweden to NATO – which President Joe Biden calls “our allies of the High North” – will bring military and territorial benefits to the Western Defense Coalition. This is especially because the rapid melting of the Arctic from climate change sparks a strategic rivalry over the top of the world.

Unlike the NATO expansion of former Soviet states, which needed a massive boost in the decades following the Cold War, the alliance would bring two sophisticated armies and, in the case of Finland, a country with a remarkable tradition of national defense. Both Finland and Sweden are on one of Europe’s front lines and rendezvous with Russia.

Finland, defending against the invasion of Soviet Russia on the eve of World War II, relied on snowshoes and skis, fighters on specialist snow and forest camouflage, and reindeer transporting weapons.

With Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, his reminder of the Kremlin’s nuclear arsenal, and his repeated calls for broad territorial claims stemming from the days of the Russian Empire, the current NATO nations should be able to build their collective Motivated to strengthen and bring security. New members to the board.

Finland – a grand duchy in that empire until 1917 – and Sweden abandoned its long-standing national policies of military non-alignment. They applied to come under the nuclear and conventional umbrella of NATO and joined the now 30 other member states in a powerful mutual defense agreement, stipulating that an attack on one member is an attack on all.

Putin justified his invasion of West-looking Ukraine as a push back against NATO and the West, which, he said, never encroached upon Russia. A NATO that includes Finland and Sweden would come as a final rebuke to Putin’s war, bolstering a defensive alliance in a strategically important region, around Russia in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean, and more than 800 additional Rushing NATO against Russia’s western border for miles (1,300 km).

“I spent four years, my term, trying to persuade Sweden and Finland to join NATO,” Lord George Robertson, former NATO Secretary General, said this summer. “Vladimir Putin managed it in four weeks.”

Biden has been a part of bipartisan US and international cheerleading for candidates from both countries. Reservations expressed by Turkey and Hungary prevent NATO approval from locking up.

In recent years Russia has been “moving again in the north with advanced nuclear weapons, hypersonic missiles and multiple bases,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this month. “Russian threats and Russia’s military build-up mean that NATO is strengthening its presence in the north.”

Finland and Sweden will bring a lot to that mix. But they are not without flaws.

Following fears of a Cold War era following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the two countries reduced their armies, cut defense funding and closed bases. One critic said that just five years ago, Sweden’s entire small national defense force could fit in one of Stockholm’s football stadiums.

But as the confrontation between Putin escalated, Sweden reinstated the army and otherwise proceeded to rebuild its army. Sweden has a capable navy and a high-tech air force. Like Finland, Sweden has a valuable domestic defense industry; Sweden is one of the smallest countries in the world to have built its own fighter planes.

Meanwhile, Finland’s defense force is the stuff of legend.

In 1939 and 1940, Finland’s small, poorly equipped army, fighting alone in what became known as the Winter War, made the nation one of the few to survive a full attack with independence by the Soviet Union. made. During an exceptional, deadly cold, Finnish fighters, sometimes clad in white bedsheets for camouflage and usually unseen on foot, snowshoes and skis, lost some territory to Russia but pushed out the invaders.

Iskander Rahman, a fellow at Johns Hopkins’ Henry A Kissinger Center for Global Affairs, reported that the Finns were responsible for 200,000 fatalities among the invading forces, while an estimated 25,000 Finns were lost.

This helped promote the Finnish national proof of “sisu” or grit. Rahman said Finnish Winter War veterans were recruited for US Army Winter War training.

The Constitution of Finland makes it an obligation of every citizen to rally for national defence. Finland says it can mobilize a 280,000-strong combat force, built on a nearly-universal men’s army and a large, well-trained reserve, armed with modern artillery, warplanes and tanks, among which Most of the U.S.

The US and NATO are likely to increase their presence in the Baltic and around the Arctic with the merger of the two Scandinavian countries.

“Looking at the map, if you add in Finland and Sweden, you essentially turn the entire Baltic Sea into a NATO lake,” said Zachary Seldon, former director of the NATO parliamentary assembly, with only two smaller pieces of Russia. Told. Defense and Security Committee who is now a national security expert at the University of Florida.

Similarly, Russia would become the only non-NATO member among countries with claims to the Arctic region, and the only non-NATO member of the Atlantic Council, an eight-member international forum created for Arctic issues.

Seldon foresees a major NATO presence in the Baltics, perhaps with a new NATO regional command, with US military rotation, although possibly no permanent base.

Analysts say Russia sees its military presence in the Arctic as critical to its European strategy, including ballistic missile submarines that give it the capability of a second strike in any conflict with NATO.

The Arctic is warming much faster under climate change than Earth as a whole, opening up competition for Arctic resources and access as Arctic ice disappears.

Russia is building its own fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers aimed at escorting future commercial shipping traffic through the melting Arctic “as a way to build this toll road for transit,” said Sherri Goodman. Said, who is the former US Deputy Secretary of Defense. , now at the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute and Center for Climate & Security.

Goodman points to the future threats NATO will need to be able to deal with the opening up of the melting Arctic, such as the kind of shadowy, informal forces Russia has used in Crimea and Africa and elsewhere, and The risk of a difficult risk has risen – the handling of the Russian nuclear maritime accident.

Analysts said NATO’s strategy would increasingly incorporate the strategic advantage Finland and Sweden would bring to such scenarios.

Kuoka’s US counterpart in NATO Arctic exercises this spring, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Ryan Gordinier, wrote in an email provided via Marine spokesmen that he and his Marines were in otherwise impassable conditions by foot, snowshoe and ski of Finnish infantry. were “impressed” by their ability to reach. , and to move undetected on ice.

It “gave us pause”—and would likely have any real adversaries, Gordinier wrote.

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Associated Press writer Lolita C. Lorne Cooke in Baldor, Brussels, Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this report.

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