Protecting Asgard, or the Ragnarök beneat the Northern Lights (Conclusions).
Three are the sons of Loki: Hel, Fenrir and Jörmundgandr. Three are the corners of the High North Strategic Triangle: Finland, The Arctic/High North and the Baltic region. The three sons can unleash the Ragnarök and make the terrible Naglfar and Garmr appear. A lack of capacity in Sweden to secure all three corners of the high north strategic triangle might encourage Russia to exert political and military pressure, to release its own Naglfar and Garmr, on the aforementioned areas or even the core of the triangle, Sweden. And such problems in the High North will have consequences for Sweden’s neighbours in Finland and even in the Baltics. The renewed aggressive and expansionistic actions made recently towards Ukraine by a Russia adopting an openly confrontational behaviour towards the West, has made the possibility of confrontation in the arctic region a highly likely scenario.
The Baltic countries and the Swedish interests that lie there are the most vulnerable of all, not only because of their proximity to Russia but also because of the Russian minorities who reside there that might be used as an alibi for a potential invasion and annexation just as what happened in Crimea. If this were to happen not only would Sweden lose its buffer zone but also most of its economic investments and revenues in the region.
Finland also has the problem of sharing a large border with Russia and is therefore also vulnerable to any attack from Russia. Finland does not have any significant Russian minority but it was part of the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1917 following an invasion against the then Swedish territory. And it seems that such a history could be used as a possible argument for Russia to invade the country as a whole; according to Withnall (2014), a former advisor of President Putin has warned of a possible intention to argue that the grant of Finland’s independence was a way to repair the mistakes that the Bolsheviks and the Communists made against the country[i]. Even if such intentions are not totally accurate, they, along with the aggression from the Soviet Union against Finland in the late 30’s and the relationships both nations had after the World War II, might provide a hint of what is to come. To make matters worse, for Russia Finland occupies an important strategic position when it comes to preventing invasion and protecting St Petersburg (Puheloinen, 1999)[ii].
The High North/Arctic has the potential to become the next geopolitical hotspot of the 21st century, if it has not become so already. Russia clearly wants to secure by any means (military mostly) its interests and the High North/Arctic, especially when it is considered the resources that could be exploited or invested in there (along with other economic activities) that the Russian economy desperately needs. And it must be reiterated that Russia perceives the High North/Arctic as a strategic zone to keep any western “intrusion” away, meaning that Russia will wage in a very assertive way the contest for the control of the aforementioned resources.
If Russia dared to invade a sovereign country simply because it began to stray off the track of its intended interests (and to harm the interest of the West, mostly that of the European Union), the possibility of Russia invading or attacking a Scandinavian nation just because of a tension regarding the Arctic or because it wants to level-up its political strength is not so unimaginable. And even if Russia threatens the Baltic States instead of Scandinavia, Finland and Sweden inevitably will end up involved due to the proximity of the area to their own territory[iii]. To hold the idea of an Arctic as a stable and peaceful place where institutions, dialogue and cooperation will mark the pace of relations is at this point a wishful and unrealistic perspective, and Sweden must assess the situation in order to realise the extent of the threat lurking nearby.
The fact that Sweden has been shrinking and reshaping its armed forces to perform missions that belong to a world in which the strategic mind-set is based upon the idea that the era of contest between great powers has become a thing of the past, and where small conflicts and humanitarian operations are the main tasks of European militaries, is proving to be a mistake in a world that it is witnessing the renewal of such Great Powers competing. And this resurgence of national interest based behaviour puts the Arctic squarely on the map as a future region for conflict [iv]. Moreover, the recent actions of Russia have simply blunted the idea of a cooperative Russia contributing at keeping the stable and peaceful environment on the continent. Both the Georgia war in 2008 and the Ukraine crisis in 2014 show that the Russian threat was and still is a reality and will be a reality whether the West wants to accept it or not.
Following this, the first step that Sweden must take in order to secure the High North/Arctic area along with the Triangle as a whole and the integrity of its core is to implement a re-armament program that reinforces not only the quality of the Swedish armed forces but also its quantity to a reasonable level to defend its national territory and secure the corners of the Triangle, as well as to provide a credible and strong cooperation with and to the neighbouring nations, either Scandinavian or Baltic.
Aviation is an area that has been well looked after by Sweden during the last two decades and the SAAB JAS 39 Gripen is a very good platform to execute defence missions. However it could be optimised further to take a more aggressive role that could improve its deterrence function helping to prevent or deter intrusions into Swedish airspace. Very recently an airliner operated by Scandinavian Airlines nearly collided with an intrusive Russian Il – 20 intelligence aircraft near Malmö, in southwest Sweden[v]. The good news is that such a move is actually being untertaken, with the Gripen being modified to deploy cruise missiles increasing the strike capacities of the multi-mission aircraft and their deterrence capacities too[vi]. In addition, if Sweden were to join NATO, the cruise missiles could be armed with non-conventional warheads under special NATO policies and instances for non-conventional weaponry.
Sweden’s navy could also be reinforced with the introduction of more Visby class stealth corvettes or similar models, along with the overhauling of the very effective and famous Swedish submarine fleet to deny Russian vessels the possibility of sailing in Swedish and its friend nations’ territorial waters or block any attempt by the Russian fleet to raid the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland. However the problems regarding political decisions and technical issues on the new submarines needs to be cleared if Sweden really wants to have a powerful submarine branch to face the Russian surface fleet[vii].
Sweden’s army could also enhance its winter & arctic warfare preparation and develop new land combat systems in order to prepare the country to repel any Russian incursion on either Finnish or Swedish soil.
Sweden is already seeking to deepen its cooperation with Norway, Denmark, Finland and Estonia under the Nordic Defence Cooperation but further cooperation with countries such as Poland would be smart [viii].
Sweden must take a decisive role in the task of defending the High North/Arctic and Scandinavia against any aggressive Russian attitude, even at the slight political threat. By doing so it can promote the integration of the Scandinavian Defence Industries and other related industries as well as of the respective nations’ Armed Forces, pushing for an efficient supply of material and the development of different combat systems in the sea, land and aerospace realms. If this is made, Scandinavia can even supply the Baltic armies under NATO frameworks with military hardware and training, thus the need to enhance the cooperation between Scandinavia and the Baltics.
In the face of the renewed Russian threat, Sweden must consider along with Finland the very serious possibility of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization[ix]. Neutrality for both nations is no longer feasible and given the fact that the balance of power is firmly with Russia, to remain so would just decrease the possibility of both nations’ ability to defend themselves effectively. And now that there is a certainty of the future behaviour of Russia, political considerations should be discarded in favour of gaining a (collective) defence of Sweden and Finland. But Sweden especially must prove to NATO that it will be an important member as Norway has been, thus the aforementioned leading role and increasing of its armed forces in both quality and quantity are a must[x]. The Russian threat is a harsh but true reality that Sweden and other nations must face, especially when Russia simply mocks through a video the Swedish Military power and suggest by a “joke” that Sweden should join Russia instead of NATO[xi]. Such attitude and certain Russian activities are fostering great concern in Sweden[xii].
Following this, should Sweden then abandon the Nordic Defence Cooperation and other regional alliances schemes (like the ones it has with some Baltic nations)? The answer in such a case is certainly no.
Firstly, some NATO countries are also Arctic Nations and Scandinavian Nations. This means that the Nordic Defence Cooperation, instead of being discarded, could actually be integrated as a military region within the NATO operational and political structures. This would provide NATO with the advantage of covering the entire Scandinavian theatre of operations thus having a Nordic wing, making it much easier for the Alliance to deter Russia and to also have a more firm grounding in the Arctic region and have an integrated Artic/Scandinavian Command. In addition to this, the Alliance would also have full coverage from the Arctic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, covering completely the Russian and Belarussian borders.
Secondly, the Baltic Nations are also NATO nations and if Sweden and Finland decide to join NATO, things would be much easier when it comes to securing the corners of the Stategic Triangle and for the latter to guarantee its own integrity and avoid the nasty situations the country saw in 1809 and in the Winter of 1939 – 40[xiii].
Thirdly, such integration can help both NATO and the EU guarantee their own defence (their own continental defence) against the Russian threat, and might even provide the EU with enough teeth to secure its interest at the Arctic and also to deter Russia.
And last but not least, the preservation of the frameworks provided by the Nordic Defence Cooperation can help not only Sweden but all of Scandinavia to boost their own economies by enhancing the defence sectors and even allowing them to create a Porter’s cluster economy model that can include indirect sectors and activities to defence, an important aspect to bear in mind given the stormy conditions of the European economy as a whole. Such a cluster can also act in benefit of NATO by simply having a selected and ample branch of hardware and technology, not to mention the potential collaboration between Sweden and the European members of the alliance[xiv].
In conclusion, the three corners of the Triangle are to be protected and secured by Sweden through enhanced alliances with both Scandinavian and Baltic countries, as well as a full overhauling and expansion of the Armed Forces (plus the introduction of more and new assets capable to deter and defeat the Russian threat) and by joining – with Finland – NATO. The integration of the Nordic Defence Cooperation is a good possibility to do so and can help both NATO and Sweden in meeting their strategic interest in Scandinavia, the High North/Arctic and its vicinities. Cooperation could also go beyond Scandinavia and the Baltics and include Poland, a nation that will be a strategically important in deterring Russia and to address any tension that the later wants to exert following a conflict at the Arctic, and against the West in general. Also, a cooperation of that kind can strengthen the local economies via the defence sector, where the gains can include the development of assets needed to patrol the skies over the Baltics, Finland, the Arctic Ocean and Lapland, as well as the waters at the Baltic Sea, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Svalbard and the Arctic Ocean against any intruding Russian naval and aerial assets. But it is clear that Sweden must increase and strengthen its armed forces to secure its strategic interests and secure its High North/Arctic interests as well, not to mention to avoid the Ragnarök by one of the mentioned three corners of the Triangle, which are clearly interconnected.
Only through a military build-up at the same scale of the Cold War plus a joining of NATO can help Sweden to secure other priorities and objectives that are non-military related in the High North/Arctic, not to mention the integrity of the country itself. This, of course needs overall a change of mentality where reliance on an obsolete neutrality policy and a wishful approach based on cooperation and institutions are to be changed by a more assertive and realist approach within an area that is going to be a very important source of international tensions and competition.
The Russians are coming. The Ragnarök is waiting. Sweden must be prepared.
Cenciotti, D (2014). A SAS Boeing 737 had to change its course at the last moment so as not to collide with a Russian Il-20 off Malmö, Sweden. Retrieved from: http://theaviationist.com/2014/05/09/il-20-near-collides-with-sas-flight/ on 09.05.2014.
Defensenews (2014). Sweden to Arm Fighter Jets With Cruise Missile ‘Deterrent’. Retrieved from: http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140424/DEFREG01/304240023 on 24.04.2014.
O’Dwyer, G (2014). Finland Builds Multiple Defense Partnerships With NATO, Sweden. Retrieved from: http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140510/DEFREG01/305100024 on 10.05.2014.
Puheloinen, A (1999). Russia’s Geopolitical Interests in the Baltic Area (Ruhala, K; Ed.). Finnish Defence Studies, (12). National Defence College: Helsinki, Finland.
The Local (2013). Report confirms ‘one – week defence’ analysis. Retrieved from: http://www.thelocal.se/20130215/46212 on 20.05.2014.
The Local (2013). Russia mocks Sweden’s lack of military might. Retrieved from: http://www.thelocal.se/20130301/46476 on 05.04.2014.
The Local (2014). ‘Russian plans for war on Sweden’ cause concern. Retrieved from: http://www.thelocal.se/20140407/russia-ups-spy-numbers-in-sweden on 10.04.2014.
Turnbul, G (2014). Sink or swim: Sweden’s new A -26 next – gen submarine in doubt. Retrieved from: http://www.naval-technology.com/features/featuresink-or-swim-swedens-new-a-26-next-gen-submarine-in-doubt-4180729/ on 17.05.2014.
Whitnall, A (2014). Vladimir Putin ‘wants to regain Finland’ for Russia, adviser says. Retrieved from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/vladimir-putin-wants-to-regain-finland-for-russia-adviser-says-9224273.html on 17.05.2014.
Yla (2014). Finland to sign off on NATO assistance deal. Retrieved from: http://yle.fi/uutiset/finland_to_sign_off_on_nato_assistance_deal/7201393 on 23.04.2014.
[i] See: Whitnall, A (2014). Vladimir Putin ‘wants to regain Finland’ for Russia, adviser says. Retrieved from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/vladimir-putin-wants-to-regain-finland-for-russia-adviser-says-9224273.html on 17.05.2014.
[ii] Even if the core interest is the securing of the Gulf of Finland in order to support the interests that Russia has at the Baltics, to do so the whole country (Finland) might be involved, if not threatened and attacked. In the worst of the situations, a double sided move by Russian troops against the Baltic States would put the control of the southern areas of Finland as a priority, and involving also a sea and air control over the area.
[iii] Just remember also the Göteborg Islands factor as both a source of conflict and a strategic asset that Sweden must protect if it want to neutralize the advantages that Russia would obtain by seizing the place a la Crimea.
[iv] And the consequences of such wishful thinking are being reflected by the fact that Sweden can fight ‘only for one week’. See: The Local (2013). Report confirms ‘one – week defence’ analysis. Retrieved from: http://www.thelocal.se/20130215/46212 on 20.05.2014.
[v] See: Cenciotti, D (2014). A SAS Boeing 737 had to change its course at the last moment so as not to collide with a Russian Il-20 off Malmö, Sweden. Retrieved from: http://theaviationist.com/2014/05/09/il-20-near-collides-with-sas-flight/ on 09.05.2014.
[vi] See: AGENCE FRANCE – PRESSE (2014). Sweden to Arm Fighter Jets With Cruise Missile ‘Deterrent’. Retrieved from: http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140424/DEFREG01/304240023 on 24.04.2014.
[vii] See: Turnbul, G (2014). Sink or swim: Sweden’s new A-26 next-gen submarine in doubt. Retrieved from: http://www.naval-technology.com/features/featuresink-or-swim-swedens-new-a-26-next-gen-submarine-in-doubt-4180729/ on 17.05.2014.
[viii] As a matter of fact, the effectiveness of Poland as a watch of the East depends not only on a strengthened Sweden but also on a more decided and proactive Germany. Its attitude might make the difference between a Europe able to guarantee its own integrity before Russia or Europe being unable to deter and neutralize any threat made by Putin.
[ix] Finland has been making some moves in that sense, by signing off a NATO assistance deal and partnerships with NATO (and Sweden). See: Finland to sign off on NATO assistance deal. Retrieved from: http://yle.fi/uutiset/finland_to_sign_off_on_nato_assistance_deal/7201393 on 23.04.2014. And: O’Dwyer, G (2014). Finland Builds Multiple Defense Partnerships With NATO, Sweden. Retrieved from: http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140510/DEFREG01/305100024 on 10.05.2014.
[x] Even the dilemma of quantity versus quality can be solved by reaching an optimum equilibrium where hi-tech and professional forces can see an increase that can provide a good complement to the quality.
[xi] See: The Local (2013). Russia mocks Sweden’s lack of military might. Retrieved from: http://www.thelocal.se/20130301/46476 on 05.04.2014. The link of the video where Russia mocks (and threatens) Sweden is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyPsqsH8I4M
[xii] See: The Local (2014). ‘Russian plans for war on Sweden’ cause concern. Retrieved from: http://www.thelocal.se/20140407/russia-ups-spy-numbers-in-sweden on 10.04.2014
[xiii] And also for the Baltic States in the sense that along with the current NATO members, it can receive the reinforcement of the Kingdom of the North.
[xiv] Czech Republic and Hungary, for example, have within their ranks the JAS 39 multirole jet fighters. This cluster model can even place the Swedish and other Nordic Defence industries in a very competitive stance regarding other military – industrial complexes.
*Cover image ‘57mm_stealth_swedish_navy‘ by Times Asi