Sweden and Finland to deepen ties with NATO
Both Sweden and Finland are to sign 'host nation support agreements' allowing assistance from NATO in emergency situations, officials said earlier this week.
The move comes as NATO prepares for a summit next week in Wales amid heightened tensions with Russia over the crisis in Ukraine. Finland shares a 1,300km border with Russia.
The Finnish government said the host nation support agreement applies to situations which include "disasters, disruptions and threats to security". It also enables joint training exercises and military cooperation.
Finnish defence ministry senior adviser Mika Varvikko said Finland intended to sign the agreement at next week's summit. Sweden is also expected to do so.
Swedish Defence Minister Karin Enström told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper that the decision could be approved by the Swedish government this week. The move follows months of conjecture after the Swedish military requested the government to discuss the matter with NATO last autumn.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistoe and Prime Minister Alexander Stubb decided to sign the pact on August 22, according to a statement earlier in the week. Stubb also criticized Russia in a speech in Helsinki for actions he said constituted a violation of international justice. “Russia did wrong,” he said, “We have seen enough of the justice of the strong on this continent”. Niinistoe, speaking at the same event, urged Europe to step up its focus on defence spending as relations with Russia deteriorate.
Finland is expected to implement the agreement by 2016 and has prepared the deal in coordination with Sweden, which is thought to have a similar timetable and goals. The two countries agreed in May to study ways to pool defence resources and the findings are due in October.
Both countries, which already train and work closely with NATO in international operations, insisted the agreement did not mean they were moving closer to joining the alliance. "There is a very sharp difference between being a member and not being a member," the Swedish defence minister, Karin Enström, told the Associated Press. "We are an active partner with NATO and we want to deepen our partnership".
Election favourites in Sweden the Social Democrats have long been opposed to joining the military alliance. Sweden has participated in NATO operations since the Bosnian war in the early 1990s and in March this year over a thousand Swedish troops participated in a NATO training exercise close to the Russian border. Similarly, Finland has worked with NATO since 1994 as a member of the Partnership for Peace programme and its military equipment is also NATO-compliant.
Opinion polls in Finland and Sweden show majority opposition to NATO membership. Both countries were officially neutral during the cold war.
Is Finland taking a step closer to NATO membership? NATO Watch Briefing Paper No.51, May 2014