Finland and Sweden are ready to join NATO if Russia does not behave properly. That is the essence of the New Theory of a Nordic Balance.
President Niinistö of Finland told Dagens Nyheter (the leading Swedish daily) on 17 June 2016 that Finland can apply for membership in NATO if the security situation in the Baltic-Nordic region worsens. This was also the key message of the Finnish Government’s Report on Foreign and Security Policy that was published on the same day.
Finland’s message is directed to Russia. Translated into normal parlance it means “if you behave nicely we will stay outside of NATO. If you don’t, we will join.” Sweden’s policy regarding NATO is similar. Together Finland’s and Sweden’s policies amount to a new theory of Nordic Balance.
The old Nordic Balance was a Cold War concept. It consisted of three parts. First: Norway and Denmark did not allow NATO bases and nuclear weapons on their territory in peacetime. Second: Sweden acted as a neutral balancer in the middle. Third: Finland had a Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance Treaty with the Soviet Union but Finland did not engage in peacetime military exercises with the Red Army.
The mechanism of the Cold War Nordic Balance was simple: if the Soviet Union were to tighten its grip on Finland, Norway and Denmark would welcome permanent NATO bases and nuclear weapons on their territory. And vice versa: if NATO were to increase its presence in Norway and Denmark, Moscow would tighten its grip on Finland. Both sides refrained from making such moves.
The theory was developed by Arne Olav Brundtland in the 1960s. In his view it expressed “the notion that the stability of the Northern European area is a result of reduced great power involvement”. He further noted that “Northern European area may be regarded as a thinned-out zone… an example of partial disengagement”. (Cooperation and Conflict XVII: 43-56, 1966)
Russia has dramatically increased its military activities in the Baltic Sea region. It has conducted aggressive military manoeuvres. It has engaged in threatening rhetoric. As a result, the New Nordic Balance is being tilted toward Finland and Sweden seriously considering membership in NATO. If Russia wants to halt this development it must tone down its rhetoric and become more measured in its military activities. If it continues with the present trajectory, Finland’s and Sweden’s membership in NATO becomes all but inevitable.
It will be up to Moscow whether the New Nordic Balance will turn into Finland’s and Sweden’s membership in NATO. Moscow has been warned.