"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Swedes, Finns eye defence options, NATO

A Finnish machine gun crew during the Winter War.

An Eye on Russia
  • After Russia's seizure of Crimea both Sweden and Finland are considering there defense options including joining NATO.

STOCKHOLM / HELSINKI  (Reuters News)  -  When Russian warplanes staged a mock bombing run on Sweden last year, air defences were caught napping. It was the middle of the night and no Swedish planes were scrambled.

Instead, Danish jets belonging to NATO's Baltic mission based in Lithuania, took to the air to shadow the Russians.

The discussion that incident triggered over Sweden's ability to defend itself has grown with Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. As in neighbour and fellow EU member Finland, Swedes wonder whether to seek shelter in the U.S.-led NATO alliance, abandoning Stockholm's two centuries of formal neutrality.
Major Soviet offensives against Finland 
from 30 November – 22 December 1939.
The Winter War

Sweden has talked of a "doctrinal shift" in defence policy. In Helsinki, where "Finlandisation" became a Cold War byword for self-imposed neutrality driven by fear of a powerful neighbour, the government has talked of an "open debate" on joining NATO.

Talk of NATO underscores anxieties that feed calls for more defence cooperation and spending. But membership seems distant, with voters in both countries sceptical of the benefits, and wary of the costs of taking on new international commitments.

Both nations have a history of dealing with Moscow in their own particular ways. Sweden's loss of Finland to Russia in the time of Napoleon prompted it to give up on war and armed pacts.

Finland, which won independence during Russia's revolution of 1917 but nearly lost it fighting the Soviet Union in World War Two, kept close to the West economically and politically during the Cold War but avoided confrontation with Moscow.

Like Sweden, it joined the European Union only in 1995.

For all the scepticism about NATO, however, worries have been growing in Scandinavia since Russia's action in Crimea.

Russian troops held exercises on the Finnish border this month. A former aide to Vladimir Putin made waves by saying that, after ex-Soviet Ukraine, the president might eye Finland next.

Both Nordic nations may bolster defence spending and forge a closer military partnership between themselves as they face Russia across the Baltic and along Finland's long land border.

So far neither has risked finding out what Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev meant when he said last year that Finnish or Swedish NATO membership would force Moscow to "respond".

Both Swedish and Finnish armed forces cooperate with the other three Nordic states which are in NATO - Denmark, Norway and Iceland - and both have cooperated with NATO in Afghanistan.
Swedish jets helped Libyan rebels in 2011 and in March joined a NATO exercise in Norway, near the Russian border.

Still, some politicians are already making noises they may one day have to go further.

"I think it would be good to have an open debate about NATO already now and I hope that everyone would participate in it, even those who oppose the membership," Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen told online newspaper Verkkouutiset last week.

The Winter War of Finland and Russia

Standing alone against Communism
In the Winter War Finland stood alone; other countries offered only sympathy and modest assistance. Finnish ski troops inflicted heavy casualties on the Russian army. Finland's survival against overwhelming Russian forces became legendary all over the world.
The Finns lost 26,000 dead and had 44,000 wounded in the war.  But they killed 127,000 Soviets and wounded 188,671 more.

Red Army soldiers display a captured Finnish banner, March 1940.

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