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Step forward...Nordic Solidarity

On the 5th of April the foreign ministers of the five Nordic countries met in Helsinki to sign the 'Nordic declaration of solidarity'. The Ministers emphasised the strong community of values that exist between Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and that efforts to promote democracy, international law (including human rights), gender equality and sustainable development are integral parts of the foreign policies of the Nordic countries.

On the basis of common interest and geographical proximity it is natural for the Nordic countries to cooperate in meeting challenges arising in the area of foreign and security policy in a spirit of solidarity. In this context potential risks such as natural and man-made disasters, cyber and terrorist attacks etc., were discussed. Should a Nordic country be affected, the others will, upon request from that country, assist with relevant means.

This intensified Nordic cooperation will however remain fully in line with each country's current security and defence policy and is designed to complement not replace existing European and Euro-Atlantic cooperation.

Thus far there has however been little real public debate on the declaration although the process began as far back as June 2008 when Thorvald Stoltenberg the ex-Foreign Minister of Norway was asked by the Nordic foreign ministers to draw up proposals for closer foreign and security policy cooperation between the Nordic countries.

At the current time of writing it was rather the participation of Denmark, Norway and Sweden in the 'coalition forces' enforcing UN resolution 1973 in Libya, and of course the continuing discussions over the Nordic 'engagement' in Afghanistan that dominated the security debate, particularly in these three countries.

After the signing the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Jonas Gahr Støre underlined that: "This political declaration must now be translated into concrete measures, for example by building up a Nordic resource network against cyber attacks."

It is unlikely that anyone will object to this but, given current commitments, there are perhaps other more pressing issues on the Nordic defence and security agenda with a direct impact on Nordic cooperation.

Finland, for instance, is alone in having a long external EU border with a large and powerful non-EU neighbour. For this reason it seeks to maintain a military establishment that is rather traditional in character and thus increasingly different from the other three Nordic countries with military establishments. The 'threat perceptions' that worry Finland then are, in reality, rather more 'traditional' in nature than those highlighted in the solidarity declaration. Will this pose a problem for Nordic assistance in the broader security area?
Furthermore, Iceland is an island in the middle of a vast ocean, with a small population and no military forces of its own. The Americans have gone but they promise to return if required. What impact does this have on the mutually binding Nordic solidarity initiative?

It is also worth mentioning here the various aircraft renewal projects currently ongoing, primarily the Norwegian and Danish plans to replace their now ageing F-16 fleets. Denmark would like to replace its American F-16s with the new F-35, however this will not be available until 2018. In the interim Denmark is paying a lot to simply keep its planes in the air, and realistically it cannot wait until 2018 before replacing them – even if the defence budget allowed. A Swedish offer is still on the table for the much cheaper JAS- 39 'Gripen' as is a separate offer for the Eurofighter, but it seems likely that Denmark will stick with the Americans as indeed will the Norwegians. Again, one has to ask, what price Nordic defence cooperation?

In short, many unsolved traditional defence and security issues remain on the Nordic agenda. The Nordic solidarity initiative, dealing primarily with the impact of non-traditional security threats, is thus an interesting development but in a difficult period for the public finances it remains unclear how both traditional and non-traditional threats can be adequately addressed or indeed whether there is a new hierarchy developing between them.

Lacking European energy-solidarity

In this issue of the Journal of Nordregio we also draw attention to Europe's energy challenges and the possible scenarios that flow from them. The analysis here was undertaken on a regional basis and includes reference to a number of social constraints. The challenges can be summarised as follows:

Urgent measures are needed to help the most vulnerable regional economies, mainly located in the Eastern part of Europe, to cope with rising energy prices. Remote regions will have to prepare for higher prices for long-distance travel and air transport. This could easily have a negative impact on overall price levels and tourism, which is often important for local employment. Further, the European coordination of policy instruments on the local, regional, national and EU level to enhance access to energy efficiency measures should be improved.

From both a European and a global point of view, the main challenge seems to be to mobilise the considerable potential to generate renewable energy in regions that lack the financial resources to do this themselves. What then is the best way ahead here?

Odd Iglebaek, Editor