Rain Kooli: In case of a Russian attack, Finland and Sweden would allow NATO access to their territory (16)

Rain Kooli, editor-in-chief of ERR's news portals (ERR)
By Rain Kooli
5/2/2016 8:43 PM
Category: Opinion

If Russia attacked the Baltic States, the crucial question wouldn’t be how many troops, armored vehicles or fighter jets Finland and Sweden could mobilize. They would allow NATO access to their territory, airspace and infrastructure, says ERR.ee’s editor-in-chief, Rain Kooli.

A small state like Estonia often does a lot of thinking about how others - people, nations, countries, societies - relate to us, as individuals as well as a country.

With such thinking it is often forgotten that other people and countries, bigger than us, but still relatively small to their neighbors and in history, can do just the same. Our northern neighbor, for example, Finland, is four times bigger than Estonia both in terms of its population and its economy.

Sometimes this thinking leads to exaggerations. I’ve come across the journalistic genre of “What might this visitor from abroad think of us” only in Finland and in Estonia, a genre that again has several nuances. What do they think of our country, our society, the behavior of our people, our food, our culture? And so on. And no visitor seems too unimportant to be asked.

It’s hard to imagine that a French, British or Spanish journalist would consider talking about this topic with an Estonian in their country.

At the same time, however, it’s of course good to know what people think of us elsewhere - for example in matters of defense policy and the military.

The report about a potential Finnish NATO membership and its effects that was published last weekend deals with such a “What do they think of us” type of analysis over dozens of pages. Immediately after its publication, it reverberated in the Estonian media as well.

But let’s have a look at what this report, commissioned by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and compiled by current and former diplomats and foreign and security policymakers, actually says about us Estonians and the Baltic States.

One sentence summarizes the most important points: “It is of strategic importance to Finland and Sweden that the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland and the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea remain free.” That’s Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Another sentence says that Finland and Sweden share a single Nordic and Baltic space, where they both face the same strategic challenges and insecurities. This particularly concerns the security of the Baltic States.

A third sentence states that assuring the security of the Baltic States by military means is in the interest of both Finland and Sweden.

Articles have been published in the Estonian media where one or the other source speculates how Finland or Sweden would behave in the case of a military conflict in the Baltic States. Would they come to our help?

It's apparent, after careful consideration and careful review of the new report, that this question isn't even important. If you consider the issue even more carefully, it isn't even of crucial importance whether, in the interest of our security, Finland and Sweden should be members of NATO.

The report states very pragmatically that the likelihood of Russia testing NATO’s willingness to invoke Article 5 and with it the alliance’s collective defense is small. But if it should happen, only the bigger NATO countries would have the resources for a military intervention. The best Finland could do in terms of direct military involvement, for example, would be to join NATO’s rapid reaction forces.

But hidden in the report is one much more important point, or rather, two points: to NATO, strengthening the defensive capabilities of the Baltic States is a challenge. One of the priorities of NATO is the capability to bring allied forced to the Baltic States - whether to do this through the so-called Suwalki corridor between Kaliningrad and Belarus, just 112 kilometers wide and thus vulnerable, or past Kaliningrad and potentially through Sweden and Finland.

And there it is: potentially through Sweden and Finland.

So let’s sum things up.

If Russia were to attack the Baltic States, it isn’t of crucial importance how many men, armored vehicles or fighter jets Finland and Sweden could contribute. Sweden and Finland, both of to whom the Baltic States are of strategic importance, would allow NATO access to their territory, airspace, and infrastructure. And that would be a crucial element to the defence of the Baltics.

And I dare say that this would happen even if Finland and Sweden weren’t NATO members. The basis for this was created two years ago, when both countries signed their Host Nation Support agreement.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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