The Nordics, the UK and the Ukrainian Crisis


In our co-authored book on the return of direct defense in Europe, we highlighted the importance of enhanced Nordic defense cooperation and NORDEFCO as a coordinating forum, and the high probability that the UK post-Brexit would deepened its relationship with the Nordics as they, in turn, deepened their defense cooperation.

The Nordic cooperation piece was highlighted in the 21 January 2022 declaration Nordic declaration on the Ukrainian situation:

The Nordic Ministers of Defence met virtually on 21 January to discuss the deteriorating situation in and around Ukraine. The ministers monitor the security situation in Ukraine closely, and continue to consult with each other through the NORDEFCO Crisis Consultation Mechanism.

The ministers agree on the gravity of the situation, and the need to seek a diplomatic solution to the current situation. The ministers call on Russia to de-escalate through halting and reversing their ongoing military build-up in the region, and engage in dialogue.

The ministers reaffirm their support to Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and its right to decide its own foreign and security policy, free from outside interference. The fundamental principles underpinning the European security order remain non-negotiable.

The Nordic countries welcome dialogue on European security issues in relevant fora, including the EU, NATO, OSCE and the UN. The Nordic countries welcome the United States’ efforts in engaging Russia in resolving the current crisis.

And the recent visit by the UK Minister of Defence, Ben Wallace, to the Nordic region highlighted the UK engagement with those states as well.

In a UK MoD press release from 15 January 2022, those discussions with regard to Ukraine and European defense were highlighted:

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace meets Nordic partners amid backdrop of aggressive Russian behaviour on the border of Ukraine. 

The Defence Secretary reaffirmed the UK’s determination to support European allies and uphold international stability on a three-day visit to Scandinavia this week.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace met with ministers in Sweden, Finland and Norway to discuss Russia’s continued aggression and military build-up on Ukraine’s border.

The ministers also discussed increasing competition in the High North and how access to the region can be managed responsibly.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace MP said:

“The UK and our Nordic partners are united in our approach to upholding European security.

“My discussions this week have been directly about deepening bilateral relations, shared security and the consequences of Russian aggression towards Ukraine.

“Our discussions were clear that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a strategic mistake, violating the most basic freedoms and sovereignty.

“Britain and the Nordic countries have a long and shared history. Our European neighbours and allies remain vital partners as we work together to defend our common values, counter shared threats and build resilience in our neighbourhood – the UK will always stand with them.”

In Sweden, the Defence Secretary met with his counterpart Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist.

The Defence Secretary then travelled to Finland where he met with President Sauli Niinistö, Foreign Minister Haavisto and Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen.

Finally, the Defence Secretary met with his Norwegian counterpart Odd Roger Enoksen.

The UK’s Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper set out the UK’s commitment to the High North.

As a close neighbour to the Arctic, the UK is committed to working with partners such as Sweden, Finland and Norway to ensure that increasing access to the region and its resources is managed safely, sustainably and responsibly.

Sweden, Finland and Norway are all members of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) – 10 nations working together to deliver forces at high readiness, across a range of roles, complementing NATO and European security.

Featured Photo: Defence Secretary Ben Wallace MP and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. Credit: UK MoD

This is what we wrote about the impact of Nordic defense cooperation in shaping a way ahead for the direct defense of Europe in our co-authored book on European defense:

Nordic defense and security cooperation are part of a broader global trend in which clusters of states are working together to enhance their ability to enhance their defense and security against the return of Russia and the rise of China. Clusterization is the next phase whereby liberal democracies do more for themselves in their joint defense rather than simply relying on diplomatic globalization initiatives through organizations like the EU or NATO to do that for them.

“Clusterization” is key to generating enhanced capabilities that can work interdependently with key allies outside of a regional cluster to reinforce the capabilities in a realistic and effective way to deter core adversaries. In the case of the Nordics, clearly the United States is the key outside power, with Brexit Britain and those states within continental Europe which have capabilities which can show up effectively to bolster the underbelly of the Nordic region are the key players that can reinforce Nordic defense.

But at its heart, the Nordics need to bolster their own capabilities as well to work more effectively with their offshore allies and their continental European partners.

But to be blunt: this requires looking more realistically at what the defense of the Nordic region means against the evolution of Russian policies, strategies, and capabilities rather than simply to assume that NATO as a multimember alliance will simply show up.

The Trident Juncture 2018 exercise in Norway is a good example of how a leading Nordic nation is rethinking its policies. On the one hand, Norway is working their national mobilization approach, and on the other hand, they hosted several allies within Norway, and in part, it is a question of what capabilities can be brought in a timely manner that would really make a difference in a crisis.

It is not simply a question of showing up; it is about blending those domestic and allied capabilities into an effective crisis management force against specific and targeted Russian threats.

But providing for enhanced Nordic capability within a broader transatlantic framework remains a work in progress, notably when measured against Russian activities, behavior, and evolving capabilities.