Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 06/2008

POST-NEUTRAL OR PRE-ALLIED? Finnish and Swedish Policies on the EU and NATO as Security Organisations

Tuomas Forsberg, Tapani Vaahtoranta

January 2000

Finnish Institute for International Affairs


At the beginning of the 21st century – a decade after the end of the Cold War – two major developments characterise the transformation of the European security landscape. The first development is the NATO enlargement and its evolving strategic concept that was applied in the Kosovo conflict. The second is the EU enlargement and the construction of the European security and defence policy (ESDP) for the European Union in close contact with NATO. Each and every country in Europe is forced to outline their interests and stance towards these developments.

The developments are of a great significance to Finland and Sweden. These two Nordic countries that were neutral during the Cold War, but joined the European Union in 1995, have had to ask themselves how to influence and adjust to the development of the common security and defence policy of the European Union and whether or not to join NATO. Since the Cold War many changes in their policies have already taken place. Both countries participate actively in the decision making within the Union, cooperate with NATO, and are adjusting their military forces to face the increased cooperation in the field of crisis management and to create interoperability with NATO. However, they have remained militarily non-aligned. Despite the fact that both countries have a positive view of NATO as a security organisation, they have not been willing to join the Alliance.

Neither Sweden nor Finland are often considered the main candidates of the next enlargement of NATO. However, the question of NATO membership is publicly debated in both countries and as members of the European Union, they would most likely be swiftly taken into the alliance if they so wished. Joining NATO would not only change the status of Finland and Sweden, but it would affect the entire security political constellation in Northern Europe and create a new long land boundary between the Alliance and Russia. It would increase NATO’s presence in the north and bring in two countries whose security political thinking and interests are not always seen as identical with the Alliance. The bolstering of the EU’s defence policy, in turn, raises the question to what extent these non-aligned countries can participate in the key functions without blurring the distinction between military alignment and nonalignment.