Starting from different points of departure, the Nordic countries are coming closer together regarding their outlook on security, due to a perceived Russian threat and lack of American leadership. Multilateral forums like NATO, the EU and the UN remain their best chance of contributing to defining and addressing threats to their own and global stability.
This article was originally published by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) in 2018.
Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) was originally about cost-effectiveness. The Nordic states sought to work together when training and educating their soldiers, procuring new equipment, and logistically supporting their forces. Faced with a relevantly benign security situation at home, with Russia regarded in principle as a partner, operational military cooperation was primarily about expeditionary operations far from northern Europe. Even if NORDEFCO never became the beacon of Nordic cooperation that some political speeches sought to paint it as, it nonetheless provided the Nordics with a flexible and non-bureaucratic framework through which various forms of defence cooperation could be pursued.
Democracy’s resilience into the 21st century is rightly questioned. In 2017, a host of countries worldwide saw threats to civil and political liberties, popular participation, and fundamental human rights. Corruption and state capture by predatory political elites led the news in old and new democracies alike. Verbal and physical attacks on civil society, the press, and minorities were reported in virtually all world regions. And new virulent, nationalist ideologies threaten human rights and the carefully crafted post-World War II international liberal order.
A video that Moscow used as key piece of evidence that its ally President Bashar al-Assad had nothing to do with the chemical attack in Idlib which killed more than 80 people, including many children and women one month ago, was in fact released two years ago and first cited a month before the attack actually took place.
The video was pushed out across Russian state-controlled airwaves and on social media shortly after President Donald J. Trump launched the first direct U.S. military strike on Syrian government forces.
It showed what looks like a makeshift emergency room: doctors working frantically around the small bodies of limp, half-naked children, their eyes rolling back and noses foaming. A girl in pink underwear lies on top of an elderly woman who seems to have already died. One bed over, a doctor injects a long needle deep into a small child’s chest.
The Swedish counter-intelligence service’s latest annual assessments highlight the growing interest of Russian intelligence in Sweden’s national security issues. Soon after the publication of the unclassified version of the report, a series of cyberattacks on Swedish media took place. The increase in hostile Russian intelligence activities has been seen as connected to a public debate about the prospects for closer relations between Sweden and NATO. The U.S. perception of the Russian threats presented by Sweden’s counter-intelligence services does not deviate from public assessments by other Scandinavian countries’ assessments. This might suggest that the increased Russian activities are part of some broader strategy concerning Northern Europe.
On 17 March 2016, the Swedish Security Service (Säkerhetspolisen, or SÄPO) published an unclassified version of its annual assessment of intelligence and terrorist threats. The chapter on Russian disinformation and psychological operations stirred public interest and was followed by a series of coordinated and massive cyberattacks (DDoS-style, or “distributed denial of service”) on a number of websites in Sweden. A DDoS attack on 19 March resulted in seven of the main Swedish newspapers’ internet portals being unavailable.