HELSINKI — The destabilizing impact of Russia's aggression in Ukraine, coupled with its continuing militarization in the High North and Baltic Sea region, will lead to a significant increase in the level of strategic ambition driving future Nordic defense cooperation.
This more dynamic and deepened collaboration is set to fundamentally change the direction of Nordic cooperation, from being an interstate interaction based largely on aspirational goals, to a more functional military union that will focus more on building joint capabilities and sharing land, air and naval capacities to offer a credible and collective deterrence against regional threats.
The degree to which Nordic military cooperation can in future provide a serious deterrence capability on a regional scale is directly linked to the capital intensive and capacity strengthening investment programs that will be run in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland up to 2030.
Combined, these core programs are expected to cost between $30 billion to $40 billion, and will include the replacement of frontline fighter fleets, the bolstering of air defenses, the modernization of armored brigades and mobile artillery systems, and as well as the procurement and modernization of submarines for both the Swedish and Norwegian navies.
"These investments are being made at a time when government finances are stretched, but they are essential to national and regional security," said Carl Haglund, Finland's defense minister. "The new defense agreement also has a stronger industrial side, and there will be more focus on including the Nordic defense industry in project planning and future joint procurements."
To emphasize the elevated regional security dimension, the new Nordic defense agreement is being extended to include Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the three NATO-aligned Baltic states that are also planning to step up defense spending on their defense systems and capabilities.
The Nordic governments, during a meeting of defense ministers in Sweden, committed their countries to pooling resources and operational tasks, sharing military bases, raising the level of joint exchange of intelligence and increasing collective regional surveillance.
Moreover, the Nordic and Baltic armed forces will are to actively increase the scale and range of joint multi-branch exercises between their militaries.
The meeting of Nordic defense ministers identified Russia as the primary destabilizing force in the region, and the reason behind their need to reinforce Nordic-Baltic military collaboration.
"The Russian aggression against the Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea are violations of international law and other international agreements. Russia's conduct represents the gravest challenge to European security. As a consequence, the security situation in the Nordic countries' adjacent areas has become significantly worsened during the past year; we must be prepared to face possible crises or incidents," read a joint statement issued by the Nordic defense ministers and Iceland defense ministers said in a statement.
The Nordic countries must meet this situation with solidarity and a deepened cooperation, said the statement said. "We are also introducing a program to develop defense capacities, where we in cooperation with the Baltic nations can contribute to reforming the defense sectors of our cooperating countries," the statement added.
The clear objective of the new agreement, said Swedish Sweden's Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist, is to harness Nordic military capacities as part of stronger regional defense collaboration that also covers the Baltic Sea area.
"A credible joint defense relationship provides strength, security and improves predictability. Through commitments and cooperation, such as regular exercises between our militaries, it also offers a firmer form of deterrence," said Hultqvist said.
Moscow will view the strengthened Nordic defense agreement as further evidence of NATO at work to entice neutral Finland and Sweden to join the alliance at some point, said Lucas Cavens, a Brussels-based political analyst.
"The Kremlin sees this new era of Nordic cooperation as being expressly directed against Russia. It will look at the detail and worry about Finland and Sweden drifting towards NATO," Cavens said. "Moscow will interpret their militaries acquiring NATO-compatible equipment and adopting NATO standards as further proof. Neither Finland nor Sweden have explicitly said they want to join NATO, but this will count for little in Moscow."
The military connection to NATO remains a thorn in the side of Russia's relations with Nordic countries. Sweden and Finland, which are members of the NATO Partnership for Peace initiative, now routinely participate in NATO-led joint exercises and operations.
The major capital investment programs being run by all Nordic militaries will help underpin the regional threat deterrence dynamic in the new defense agreement, said Allan Widman (Liberal Party), chairman of Sweden's Parliamentary Defense Committee.
"A lot of money is being spent on advanced military hardware and systems by Nordic governments," Widman said. 'These, collectively, will give Nordic defense cooperation a much greater overall credibility heading in to the future. This is strength in numbers."
Sweden's big-ticket acquisitions will include new warships, the purchase of a new A26-class submarine type as part of a general sub fleet modernization; the procurement of a new-generation Gripen; and the re-establishment of a strong military presence on Gotland, Sweden's most southerly outpost in the Baltic Sea. Sweden is expected to invest more than $15 billion on these and other defense strengthening core projects by 2030.
Of the Nordic countries, Norway is likely to be the biggest spender on defense. It is replacing its aging F-16s with 52 F-35As, including four trainer aircraft. This project alone is estimated to cost around $40 billion (Norway MoD estimate 2011), or $769 million per aircraft based on a 30 year life-cycle cost. Norway is also expected to procure a new submarine type to replace its the aging Ula-class vessels in its fleet.
Norway is spending a total of $500 million on a new anti-aircraft battery system for the Army's Artillery Battalion, and on the modernization of the Army's German-made Leopard 2 tanks. These two programs await final capital funding approval from the Norwegian Parliament.
Capital investment projects, which are being funded as part of the Norwegian Defense Force's long-term investment plans, are also ongoing to modernize facilities at the Norwegian Air Force's bases in the Arctic and sub-Arctic. The Army is also procuring and modernizing new combat CV90-type combat vehicles as part of a $1.32 billion program.
Finland's biggest acquisition program remains the replacement of the Finnish Air Force's (FAF) 60 ageing F/A-18 Hornets. Following mid-life upgrades costing $2.2 billion, the Hornets FAF's fleet of F-18s can continue to fly up to 2030. A new fighter replacement competition is expected to run after a new center-right government led by the Center Party takes office at the end of May.
The replacement program, which will cover the acquisition of 50 to 60 aircraft, will cost carries an estimated cost of between $4.2 billion to $4.5 billion. Finland is also modernizing its naval surface warships' capacity and air-defenses.
The Danish government is expected to advance the Danish Air Force's (DAF) fighter replacement program in the second half of 2015. The original proposal was to acquire 48 aircraft on an estimated budget of $4.5 billion. However, with parliamentary elections pending in September, and the Social People's Party expected to be part of a new center-left coalition, this number could fall as low as 18 or 24. The Air Force DAF currently operates a fleet of 30 F-16s.
Denmark will also strengthen the Army's armored combat and mobility units. To this end, the Army is to acquire a minimum of 206 MOWAG Piranha 5 8x8 (General Dynamics) personnel carriers APCs with an option to purchase up to 450 vehicles.