Cablegate: Nordic Defense Cooperation: A Rorschach Test


DE RUEHNY #0594/01 3081511
R 031511Z NOV 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L OSLO 000594


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/31/2018

Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Kevin M. Johnson
for reasons 1.4 b and d

1. (C) Summary: The old idea of Nordic Defense cooperation
(NDC) has had new life breathed into it, bringing with it
uncertain implications for NATO and the region's
transatlantic ties. The momentum for this stems from a 2007
joint report on potential areas of defense cooperation issued
by Norway and Sweden's Chiefs of Defense. Politicians in
Norway, Sweden and Finland have taken this report as an
excuse to promote differnet agendas, including Nordic
solidarity, NATO membership for Sweden and Finland, or
weakening Norway's ties to NATO. Denmark has largely chosen
to remain outside while Iceland is an interested but marginal
observer given its lack of a military. The initiative could
enable cost savings and maintained or increased Nordic
defense capabilities as well as improved coordination and
involvement in NATO and UN operations. Alternatively and
more worryingly, this initiative could result in further
reductions in defense spending, a "hollowing out" of defense
capabilities on a national basis, Norway drifting away from
its traditional strong transatlantic ties, and reductions in
operational flexibility. Norway's December 19 announcement
on which fighter aircraft they will purchase is the first
major decision with a significant impact on the Nordic
Cooperation idea. At a meeting of Nordic emboffs to review
NDC, we concluded that continued engagement by the U.S. in
the region is needed to encourage the positive aspects of NDC
while reducing the likelihood of the more negative
implications. End Summary

2. (C) Embassy Oslo hosted our State and DOD colleagues from
Embassies Stockholm, Helsinki, and Reykjavik for a discussion
of NDC on October 10. This cable reports our overall
assessments and points a way towards developing a USG

Re-Birth of the NDC: Practical Beginnings
3. (C) Norway has long looked for partners and the previous
GON in a grandly titled "North Sea Strategy" approached the
Netherlands, UK, Denmark and Germany for NDC-like
cooperation. This initiative was not successful and the
current GON (elected in 2005) looked eastward. Building on
their personal friendship and sharing concerns over declining
budgets and increasing costs, Norway and Sweden's CHODs
developed a joint report (later joined by Finland)
identifying 140 areas in which cooperation would result in
synergies and cost savings. Forty of these areas were
identified as able to be implemented in 2009 with the defense
chiefs scheduled to sign an MOU on cooperation on these
projects on November 11. The areas identified focus on joint
training and equipment purchases, joint monitoring and
surveillance of the region's maritime and air picture, joint
units for deployment in international operations, and
harmonization of logistical and other high-demand specialist

4. (C) This study is not the first effort to achieve
synergies among the Nordics in defense. Most previous
efforts have had only marginal success. NORDCAPS (Nordic
Coordinated Arrangement for Peace Support) was established in
1997 with the purpose of coordinating Nordic participation in
peacekeeping operations and capability building efforts.
NORDAC (Nordic Armaments Cooperation) established in 1994 is
intended to function as the mechanism for joint equipment
purchases. Both initiatives continue to exist but have been

The Shimmering Ideal of Nordic Cooperation
5. (C) Seizing on the CHOD's joint initiative, Norway's
idealist and active Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Stoere,
initiated a series of joint Nordic FM meetings. These gave
what was a technical and practical MOD study a much more
political tone and have helped revitalize the Nordic Council
and the broader ideal of Nordic Cooperation. Personal
relationships play a role, particularly Stoere's close
friendship with Sweden's FM Carl Bildt. The December 4, 2007
Summary Report by the Swedish Defense Commission and the
February 13, 2008 Statement of Government Policy, delivered
by Carl Bildt before Parliament, stating that "Sweden will
not remain passive should another EU Member State or Nordic
country be struck by disaster or attack" was noted with great
interest as a possible sign of a shift in Sweden,s military
non-alignment. One offshoot of this momentum is the
commissioning of Thorvald Stoltenberg, former Norwegian FM
and Minister of Defense (and father of Norway's current PM
Jens Stoltenberg) to write a report on the possibilities for
broader Nordic Cooperation encompassing defense cooperation,
monitoring of maritime areas (including climate, search and
rescue operations, and situational awareness), energy and IT
security and potential joint diplomatic missions. The
Stoltenberg report will be released December 18. The Nordic
countries all approach these ideas quite differently, making
realization of the ideal difficult to achieve, something
Stoltenberg has noted in meetings with Embassy Oslo.

Norway: NDC as supplement for NATO or partial substitution?
--------------------------------------------- --------------
6. (C) Norway has been in many ways the driving force behind
the NDC idea, both on the practical and political elements.
Norway's CHOD is driving the MOD engagement on this issue
with the bureaucracy somewhat skeptical over NDC's real
potential. The Norwegian MOD views NDC as only useful if it
results in cost savings, increased capacity, and ability to
jointly deploy. MOD leaders take pains in briefings to NATO
and with emboffs to stress that NDC will have only positive
impacts for NATO, both in increasing capabilities and in
bringing Sweden and Finland even closer to NATO.

7. (C) The Norwegian MFA also claims that their enthusiasm
for NDC is largely to help bring Sweden and Finland closer to
NATO, but this rings hollow. The left-leaning GON (including
the Socialist Left, an anti-NATO party in its ruling
coalition) has long been uncomfortable with U.S. foreign and
defense policy. It also has felt that its attempts to
interest the U.S. and NATO in issues of concern to Norway in
the Barents have been largely ignored. Norway's North Seas
Strategy, designed to increase cooperation between Norway,
Denmark, the UK, the Netherlands and Germany has not resulted
in anything significant. Barred by coalition politics (and
popular sentiment) from seeking EU membership, GON leaders
appear to have determined that Nordic Cooperation is a better
ideological fit and are trying to revive this long-dormant
movement. Socialist Left leaders are open about their desire
for Nordic Cooperation to replace or reduce the importance of
Norway's NATO membership. This attitude is not reflected by
any other party or the majority of the population, but the
combination of the appeal of Nordic Cooperation, frustration
with U.S. policies, and apparent neglect of Norway's concerns
could lead to a weakening of Norway's traditionally very
close ties to the U.S. in the defense and security areas.

8. (C) Norway's decision on which fighter aircraft to
purchase will be a crucial indicator of how far the GON is
willing to go on NDC. MOD officials believe that a choice of
the F-35 could delay implementation of NDC, subject to
Swedish reactions. Embassy Stockholm reports that Sweden
would like the Gripen to be part of NDC but the GOS is
committed to NDC with or without a favorable Gripen
decision. The Norwegian MOD has taken great pains to stress
that the decision between the F-35 and the Swedish Gripen
will be based on a strict technical study of the aircraft's
capabilities, price, and accompanying industrial package.
However, political factors could override this process.
Reports in the Norwegian press claiming that Swedish PM
Reinfeldt threatened consequences if the Gripen were not
chosen, Gripen's massive efforts to tie the purchase to
industrial cooperation in every province of Norway, and the
appeal of joint Nordic joint air operations remain factors
which could sway the decision.

Sweden: Costs Key, but Security and Industry Also Important
--------------------------------------------- --------------
9. (C) The Swedish MOD has a similar view of NDC as a
necessary response to declining budgets, especially in an
environment that sees expenses rising at 3.5 percent per
year. "The bottom line is more bang for the buck," MOD
reported in two separate presentations to Embassy Stockholm.
Like their Norwegian counterparts, the Swedes have only
conducted a preliminary analysis of what is possible both
militarily and politically at this point in time, resulting
in a focus for now on "low hanging fruit" that leads to
cost-savings: combined training, logistics, and perhaps

10. (C) The MOD civilian leadership makes the point that
Nordic cooperation remains very sensitive politically because
of Sweden,s policy of military non-alignment. "To discuss
joint patrols of, for example, Arctic regions does not serve
the political process" in Sweden or other Nordics, they tell
us. But Swedish (and other Nordic) defense planners speak of
shared security challenges in the region and shared strategic
assessments, which require all three nations to increase
operational capabilities -- both regionally for territorial
defense, and internationally for "flexible and durable"
overseas deployments. When asked whether activities like
joint patrols would therefore make sense in the future,
senior MOD officials reply that "if you look carefully at
what we have said, they are nowhere excluded." Asked about
the possibility that NDC could help provide political cover
for unpopular on controversial international missions, our
contacts have agreed that it could be easier, in some cases,
to deploy a joint Nordic battalion than one that is only

11. (C) Outside the Swedish MOD, it is clear that many actors
also see NDC as a means of support for Sweden,s defense
industries. Saab,s Gripen aircraft are perhaps the most
prominent example, though Visby Corvette naval vessels,
submarines and CV90 armored personnel carriers are also big
ticket items that Sweden would like to sell to its NDC

12. (C) Finally, although some Swedish security planners may
see NDC as a "possible military road" towards eventual
Swedish membership in NATO through the back door of closer
cooperation with Norway, this is an unlikely development in
the near future. Elements in the current Swedish governing
coalition favor eventual NATO membership, but because popular
support for such a step is low and other governing coalition
partners are not on board, the Government has made clear that
the question will not be on the table until at least after
the elections of 2010.

Finland: Serious, practical, moving towards NATO?
--------------------------------------------- ----
13. (C) Finnish defense and security policy is governed by
strong consensus which at present wants to maintain the
option of NATO membership but not join. In addition, the
Finnish President has made it clear that she will not allow
Finnish NATO membership during her term in office (which
expires in 2012). Thus the Atlanticist FM Stubb's positive
public comments about NATO last August caused a stir in
political circles, and he later stressed before Parliament
that they signaled no change in the current consensus. His
comments should not be viewed as indicative of any NDC
impact. Finland is seriously interested in NDC, but only to
the extent it does not impact their ability to defend
themselves and if it could be applied to international crisis
management. Territorial defense remains the key concept of
Finnish defense planning, and thus puts into question any of
the grander ideas about joint Nordic units or support
responsibilities which could potentially limit Finland's
freedom of action. Although it is clear that some political
parties in favor of NATO membership will use NDC to pursue
their agenda, Finnish interest in the concept seems most
concentrated on the practical aspects.

Iceland: Vulnerability leading to increased interest
--------------------------------------------- -------
14. (C) The 2006 closure of the Keflavik air base forced
Iceland to start taking some responsibility for its own
defense. This has been a painful process which created some
ill will towards the U.S. and to a lesser extent NATO. In
2007 Iceland passed its first defense budget ($20 million)
and has taken over responsibility for air radars and for
support of NATO air policing deployments to Iceland. This
year Iceland established a Defense Department, within the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, another important development.
Iceland is currently working on bilateral security agreements
with the U.S., Norway, Denmark, and Canada and is being much
more active in security dialogues, including Nordic Defense
meetings. Given its lack of military forces Iceland's
participation in NDC is limited, but they have joined some
equipment purchases, such as helicopters, and would be
interested in future joint buys. Iceland looks to Norway for
leadership on political questions and thus would strongly
support more Nordic (and NATO) engagement in the North

Denmark: Looking elsewhere
15. (C) Denmark has been the least active of the Nordic
countries on NDC. This stems from a different political
outlook, resistance to the idea of cooperation with Sweden
and possibly even to Norway's FM personal dislike of
Denmark's FM. Denmark appears to have structured its defense
to prioritize cooperation with the U.S., the UK, the
Netherlands and Germany. Denmark is also an awkward partner
within the EU, as its EU defense "opt-out" precludes it from
taking part in ESDP military (but not civilian) missions with
other EU member states. Denmark's government tends to be
less focused on the Nordic region, making Nordic cooperation
less appealing to the Danes and cooperation with Denmark less
appealing to other Nordics. When it looks northward these
days, Danish security policy is more likely to be focused on
the Danish territory of Greenland. The Danes last May
convened a conference of polar states to tamp down what they
saw as an increasingly competitive streak in the Arctic,
punctuated by the Russian flag planting on the North Pole sea
bed. The Danes are thus more likely to view Nordic defense
issues through a particularly Arctic lens, with an emphasis
on more prosaic matters like Arctic search and rescue and
protection of sea routes and fishing beds. Another potential
issue which may be affected by NDC is Denmark's ongoing
competition for a follow-on fighter aircraft (Denmark is
choosing among the F-35, F-18 Super Hornet, and the Gripen to
replace its aging fleet of F-16s). Norway's decision could
be influential for Denmark's decision.

Implications for Russia and the Baltics
16. (C) Response to Russia is a sub-theme of NDC, although it
should not be viewed as the primary motivating factor.
Differing perspectives reduce any joint response to Russia.
Finland is primarily concerned with its land border with
Russia, Norway with Barents Sea issues and Swedish security
thinkers refocused on Russia only after the crisis in
Georgia. Iceland continues to be concerned with Russian
activities and may be the Nordic country most interested in
NDC due to Russian behavior. Expanding cooperation with the
Baltics through the NDC format is not in the cards right now,
though Swedish Defense Minister Tolgfors and others have
stated that they "could possibly be included in various
suitable cooperation projects in the future."

Potential Positives of NDC
17. (C) Despite a wide variety of national approaches to the
NDC concept there are some potential positive developments
which could result. The first is the obvious benefit of
getting more "bang for the kroner" in defense purchases.
Anything that improves the Nordic countries defense
capabilities is welcome. There is also a benefit if NDC
brings Sweden and Finland closer to NATO in softening public
opposition to NATO membership and in further integrating
Swedish and Finnish militaries into NATO standards and
procedures. Joint operations could result in better prepared
and more efficient units available for NATO or UN
international missions and could help increase public support
for such missions. Elements such as a common maritime or air
picture in the region would benefit NATO and reassure places
such as Reykjavik and Oslo.

Synergy without Guarantees: potential dangers
18. (C) NDC does contain a series of potential dangers,
primarily in its political aspects. It is important that
Norway does not drift further away from its traditionally
strong transatlantic ties and focus on NATO. This would
weaken NATO's northern flank, particularly if NDC is the
impetus for a Norwegian decision to purchase the inferior
Swedish Gripen fighter for political reasons. It is also
important the NDC is not used as an excuse to lower defense
budgets further or to reduce the number of troops available
for international operations. Finally, it is worth noting
that the NDC offers no formal or specific security guarantees
and no promise of mutual defense.

Keys to a positive NDC result and a way forward
--------------------------------------------- --
19. (C) We need to shape NDC in a positive direction:

--Norway should be supported in its efforts to develop
Swedish and Finnish interoperability with NATO, but also
reminded where its true security guarantee originates from.
Bringing NDC activities into the Partnership for Peace
framework would also ensure that NDC complements NATO.

--The USG should encourage Norway to purchase military
equipment, particularly vital elements such as fighter
planes, based on capabilities and NATO compatibility, not on
political desires for Nordic solidarity.

--To the extent that NDC enables the Nordics to strengthen
their capabilities and increase their deployments to global
hotspots -- either through contributions to NATO or to EU or
UN operations -- it should be encouraged.

--With these goals in mind, we recommend deeper USG
engagement with the Nordics, possibly starting with a mission
by EUCOM and others to the Nordics to offer engagement in
areas of mutual benefit, such as the development of a common
operating air/land/sea picture which is interoperable with
NATO; defense-related research; anti-submarine warfare
capabilities; or training amphibious units.

20. (C) Potential future impacts of NDC do bring up some
critical questions for policy makers in Washington and
Brussels. These could include:

--Does the USG desire Swedish and Finish NATO membership? On
the surface they would appear to be welcome, but there could
be some potentially negative implications of bringing more
skeptical and idealistic members into NATO.

--NDC also raises the issue of preparing contingency plans
for the region. Is NATO prepared to take such a step if

--What is our Arctic policy? Does NDC help or hinder it?

The answers to these questions will shape the U.S. reaction
to NDC and help us develop a path to influence it in the
right directions. Posts look forward to Department and
interagency responses to NDC.

© Scoop Media

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