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Estonia welcomes Sweden and Finland into Nato

Estonia welcomes Sweden and Finland into Nato

| Text: Bengt Östling, photo: Jürgen Randma

One year after Finland joined Nato, Sweden has also become part of the Nato family. This brings them together with Norway, Iceland and Denmark, members since the start in 1949.

Security policy is now a top issue in Nordic cooperation. Very few Nordic speeches fail to mention the fact that the Nordic family is now gathered in the same defence alliance. So too at the Nordic Council’s theme session in the Faroe Islands in April. The theme was the Nordic countries’ strong defence policy cooperation in the North Atlantic and the Arctic.

The three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania hope that cooperation across the Baltic Sea will not be forgotten.

Estonia welcomes the rest of the Nordic region

As Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas met a group of Finnish journalists recently, she expressed satisfaction that Estonia this time could be the big brother in its relationship with Sweden and Finland.

Kaja Kallas and journalists

Kaja Kallas, Estonia's Prime Minister, meets a group of Finnish journalists.

Now, the Estonian Prime Minister could welcome the new member states. Estonia has been a Nato member for 20 years already and can be beneficial to Finland and Sweden, she pointed out. 

It was also a kind of thank you for the last time. The Nordic countries invested a lot in the Baltic states which regained their independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. That is when the different Nordic information offices opened in the Baltics, making major commitments in labour markets, on environmental issues and social politics.

Estonia no longer an isolated Nato peninsula

Nato’s centre of gravity is moving further north, a fact that is welcomed by Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. She explains how Estonia used to be an isolated Nato peninsula in the north, with Russia as its closest, threatening neighbour. 

Her country has had different experiences with Russia than the Nordics have. Estonia lost its freedom, independence and one-fifth of its population during the Soviet occupation. That is why Kallas is keen to point out that every centimetre of Estonia must be defended by the entire defence alliance from the very start if there should be an attack on her country. 

Estonia’s defence strategy includes Nato exercises against attack. The experiences from Russia’s war in Ukraine – the Prime Minister explicitly mentions the Butcha massacre – make it clear that they do not want to allow the enemy to settle on the Estonian side of the border not even for a moment. Then there would be nothing left. 

“Estonia is not helpless”

Kallas does not like the suggestion that Estonia will now need more help from new Nato member Finland’s conscription army.

“We are not helpless. Estonia also has general conscription and a strong army,” she points out. The country spends 3 per cent of its GDP on defence, considerably more than Nato's minimum ask for national defence spending. 

So what does Estonia expect from the new member states? Kaja Kallas points out that they have no expectations of individual member states but of the defence alliance as a whole. She hopes for good cooperation with the Nordics which can now be deepened with joint defence planning. 

Kallas clearly expresses her hope that Finland will look south and not only north. The threat to the Arctic has been taking up a lot of space in Finnish discourse.

“I understand the need to look north as part of being Nordic. But if you think about defence and security, the threat against Finland is coming from the east and south. Cooperation with the Baltics is good for you too, as the threats from the Baltic Sea region and from the east is something we share,” says Kaja Kallas.

“Nato gives you big friends against bullies”

Kaja Kallas explains how she presents Nato to school students: If someone is big and bullies you for being small, it is important to have big friends. Then the bully will not dare to bother you. That is how Nato works, explains Kallas.

This is about demonstrating your defensive strength and readiness to use it; it is not a provocation, according to Kaja Kallas. 

She detects caution in the new Nato countries, for instance when it emerged that the gas and data cable between Finland and Estonia in the Gulf of Finland had been damaged. 

Nato wanted military vessels to go there, but Finland was reluctant out of fear of provoking Russia, according to Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. Her view is that showing weakness provokes Russia. Keeping quiet does not help. 

Similar arguments can be found in the new report “The Newest Allies” from the International Centre for Defence and Security, headquartered in Tallinn.

Tony Lawrence and Tomas Jermalavičius

Tony Lawrence and Tomas Jermalavičius have written the Estonian report that warns against too much Nordic focus in the new Nato countries.

Do not underestimate Russian naval strength. The researchers warn against referencing complacently to the Baltic Sea as Nato’s inner sea. Russia still has a presence at the tip of the Gulf of Finland through the province of Kaliningrad.

A regionalisation of the Nato alliance might be inevitable. It could be beneficial to the Nordic-Baltic region. But there is also a risk that Nordic regional identity, amplified by the new Nato members, may leave the Baltic states somewhat excluded, according to the report.

Sweden in particular tends to fall back on Nordic solidarity and common solutions.

Geographically, Finland and Sweden are both Arctic and Baltic, situated in the Arctic and on the Baltic Sea. This has also been pointed out in official Swedish and Finnish documents. 

Still, Nordic defence interests seem to focus more on the north than on the Baltic Sea region, according to the authors. Through Nordefco – the Nordic Defence Cooperation – the five Nordic countries talk a lot about defending their Arctic “cold areas”. 

The tension regarding Finland's and Sweden's identity has already been seen in the discussion about Nato’s military command structures, where the Nordic and Baltic countries do not fall under the same headquarters.

The authors point out that Sweden and Finland joining Nato means great leaps forward for the security situation in Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea region. The risk remains, however, that this cannot be fully exploited if the Nordic dimension remains dominating.

“Nato not without problems for the Nordics”

The Nato membership will still not be problem-free. There might be practical issues, but mainly cultural ones in terms of mindset and strategic culture – from neutrality and non-alignment to collective membership in the Alliance, according to the two authors. 

Finland's people and leadership have been used to managing their defence independently and must now adapt to collective defence models, which may require adjustments. Finland also needs to learn to articulate the threats to Nato's common security interests, where the threats explicitly come from Russia, it is pointed out by Estonia.

For Sweden, neutrality and non-alignment have not only been the practical security norm but also part of the country’s identity and the precondition for a unique, thriving democracy.

As a result, it could be even more difficult and might take longer for Sweden than Finland to accept the new situation, according to the report. Sweden must get used to both having joined Nato and to its new status as an ally.

A military and political alliance

The report from Estonia recommends subtle information campaigns to deal with existing Nordic reluctance against the USA and nuclear weapons (on the countries’ own soil). The report points out that Nato is not only a military alliance but also a political one.  

Finland has a long border to defend, while Sweden can be expected to contribute with help outside of its own borders – especially in terms of naval defence. Sometimes obligations to Nato take precedence over Nordic commitments, point out Tony Lawrence and Tomas Jermalavičius.

Nordic-Baltic cooperation about more than defence

The Baltics hope for more security policy cooperation with the five Nordic countries. But there is more than security policy on the table. Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas sees many opportunities for cooperation beyond defence.

She refers to her time serving as an MEP when she saw big opportunities for innovation and development in AI, digitalisation, green technology and deep tech.

Kaja Kallas with Finnish journalists

Estonia’s view is that smaller nations need to cooperate both on defence and in other areas. A Nordic-Baltic collaboration could gain more heft and speed and economic success, believes Kallas.

She is advocating for a project to make reporting linked to EU regulation easier, an issue that mainly affects smaller companies.

"Let the employees who handle detailed reporting to the EU do something useful instead, and let AI take care of the routine reporting; it saves money," says Kaja Kallas.

"Our region has a lot to offer to make the European economy competitive so that no one is left behind. It is something the Nordic and Baltic countries could fight for and highlight after the EU election," says Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.

Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas

says Nato is the strong friend that protects you against bullies.

Photo: Jürgen Randma


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