Minister Jan-Erik Enestam: The changing security environment of the Nordic and Baltic states

Address by Jan-Erik Enestam, Minister of Defence and Minister for Nordic Cooperation and Neighbouring Areas, at the Nordic-Baltic Student Conference in Helsinki on 5 November, 2002

Ladies and gentlemen, dear students,

I am pleased to address this conference which provides an excellent stage for discussions on visions for the future of the Nordic-Baltic region.

We are in the wake of a new era in the Nordic-Baltic cooperation and security situation in the Baltic Sea region. The security environment of the region has been going through tremendous changes in the last few years. The Baltic states are to join the EU and NATO. Simultaneously, Russia and NATO have approached each other in a manner unthinkable a decade ago. All these processes in the post-Cold War era have positively affected the soft and hard security environment of the Baltic Sea region, and there are currently no serious security related tensions in the area. The various Baltic Sea states have selected different security policy alternatives ranging from non-participation in military alliances to NATO membership depending on their security needs.

Even though the topic of this speech refers specifically to the Nordic and Baltic countries, my presentation will on certain issues embrace the entire Baltic Sea region. This is due to the fact that many relevant cooperation arrangements go well beyond the borders of the Nordic-Baltic region.

EU and NATO enlargement towards the Baltic states

Finland warmly welcomes the ever closer integration of the Baltic states to the European and international economic, political and security architecture through their EU and NATO membership. The enlargement of NATO is commonly understood as a stabilising factor in the region.

However, the NATO membership of the Baltic states will not have any immediate impact on Finland's relationship with NATO. Due to differing historical backgrounds, the security needs and political situation of Finland cannot be compared to those of the Baltic states. Finland has thus decided to maintain the position of military non-alliance for the time being.

Regional cooperation

Regional cooperation at its best is beneficial to all participants. It creates forms of cooperation and helps defend common interests. However, regional and subregional cooperation are not alternative to larger cooperation arrangements but rather complementary to them. Thus, the Baltic Sea and Nordic-Baltic cooperation and security arrangements complement the wider European cooperation framework without replacing it.

The Baltic Sea cooperation is, indeed, a good example of a multi-dimensional regional cooperation framework. The framework which has emerged during the post-Cold War era consists of a wide range of players and activities, such as the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), the Nordic-Baltic "NB-8" cooperation, bilateral relations and the wide network of relationships among private enterprises and citizens.

The traditional and established cooperation among the five Nordic countries has served as an engine for regional cooperation among the Nordic and Baltic states. First called the group of "five-plus-three" and nowadays the group of "eight" or NB-8, the eight Nordic and Baltic countries have included in their cooperation a wide variety of issues including foreign and security policy. This cooperation has constituted an ever closer partnership among the eight countries.

As a regional body established ten years ago, the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) has joined these eight smaller states with Russia, Poland and Germany, with the participation of the European Commission, in practical cooperation aimed at favourable economic and democratic development. The CBSS has developed into a political framework and government-level structure promoting a broad agenda of issues such as the environment, energy, nuclear safety, transport, information society, education and prevention of organised crime and communicable diseases.

As complementary and mutually reinforcing institutions, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Arctic Council bring forth the particular Northern perspectives into the broader European context and link the Nordic countries to Russia and the United States.

All these linkages provide fora for discussing various security related and other issues. The Baltic Sea region can even be considered as a model for overcoming some of the most demanding challenges to European unification based on comprehensive security.

European and international cooperation

In addition to regional and bilateral cooperation, the Nordic and Baltic states cooperate in several fora in the European and international level. As mentioned earlier, the regional cooperation and security frameworks complement the European security structures.

Finland, Sweden and Denmark being members of the European Union, and Norway and Iceland being part of the European Economic Area, all Nordic countries are strongly affected by and involved in the EU. The upcoming EU enlargement will thus bring the Baltic states increasingly close to the Nordic countries as a whole.

Finland's initiative for the Northern Dimension presented five years ago constitutes a framework for close cooperation among the EU member states, the non-EU Nordic countries, the Baltic states, Poland and Russia. The Northern Dimension addresses a wide range of aspects such as cross-border challenges, energy issues and nuclear safety, the environment, information society and public health.

Current security concerns and responses

I have now reviewed some of the existing cooperation frameworks involving the Nordic and Baltic countries. As the concept of "security" is nowadays understood in its wide sense, encompassing not only military but also "soft" aspects, all the above mentioned means of cooperation can be considered as security frameworks.

As widely understood after the September 11th terrorist attacks, soft security issues, such as human welfare, as well as so called "asymmetric" security threats, such as terrorism, constitute risks to our societies.

I will now look at the military and non-military security concerns in the Baltic Sea region as well as the responses available for tackling them.

"Soft" security issues

In the absence of serious military threats, the most stringent security concerns in the Baltic Sea region are currently "soft" security issues, such as environmental concerns, HIV/AIDS, drugs, organised crime, trade on human beings, etc.

These concerns are responded to with a vast range of cooperation among the authorities of the Baltic Sea states. From the point of view of the Nordic and Baltic countries, the major fora for responding to the soft security risks are the EU, the CBSS, the NB-8 and the Nordic cooperation.

Whereas the Nordic countries have heavily supported the Baltic states in activities such as environmental protection and the development of their border guard capabilities, the NB-8 and CBSS frameworks have provided discussion fora for finding solutions to common soft security concerns.

The EU is responding to the soft security concerns with the Community policies, Justice and Home Affairs cooperation, and with various funding schemes open for both EU member states and non-EU countries. The Northern Dimension plays an important role in tackling these issues.

The upcoming EU enlargement will positively contribute to the soft security in the Baltic Sea region as the Baltic states become fully involved in the EU policies. In effect, the pre-accession preparations and EU assistance have already improved the soft security environment in the applicant countries. The economic welfare promoted by the EU membership will have a positive effect on human security in the Baltic states.

"Asymmetric" security threats

We should not ignore the so called "asymmetric" security risks such as terrorism, information threats or proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons either. Even though these issues are considered distant in the Nordic and Baltic countries, they do have a relevance even in Northern Europe. Regional and international cooperation in numerous military and non-military fora, such as the dismantlement of weapons of mass destruction and dangerous materials in the former Soviet Union, attempts to reduce these risks.

"Hard" security issues

As for "hard" security, the NATO accession of the Baltic states will contribute positively to the stability in the Baltic Sea region. As the Baltic states will join the three Nordic NATO members in a common security regime, military Nordic-Baltic cooperation will become increasingly tight. The Baltic NATO accession will not build new dividing lines between the Nordic and Baltic states as Finland and Sweden continue their close cooperation with NATO under the Partnership for Peace umbrella.

Furthermore, the EU accession will bring the Baltic states into the sphere of the emerging European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). The ESDP is an integral part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union. The ESDP does not, however, affect the specific nature of the security and defence policies of certain member states. It is also compatible with the policy conducted in the framework of NATO.

As of today, crisis management tasks are at the core of the ESDP, covering the so called "Petersberg tasks" which include humanitarian and rescue operations, peace keeping tasks and combat-force tasks in crisis management. The EU has decided to put up military capacities of up to 60,000 persons capable of carrying out the Petersberg tasks by the year 2003. However, the achievement of this goal does not involve the establishment of a European army. The commitment and deployment of national troops will be based on sovereign decisions taken by member states.

The European Union has also established permanent political and military structures, the Political and Security Committee and the Military Committee, within the Council.

The Union has defined arrangements for the possible participation of third countries, such as Norway and Iceland, in the ESDP activities. Permanent arrangements have also been agreed for EU-NATO consultation and cooperation. Thus, the ESDP is a transparent project open to all Nordic countries. However, as the EU is currently developing multi-faceted crisis management and conflict resolution capacities rather than common defence, NATO remains as an option for those looking for defence guarantees.

Military cooperation

A credible military capacity being an essential element of a sovereign state, the Nordic countries have actively supported the reconstitution of the Baltic national defence establishments and forces during the last decade. Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark have been among the main military supporters of the Baltic states even though assistance has also been received from numerous other EU and NATO countries. The versatile Nordic defence related support has taken the form of material and technical assistance. In addition to assistance for the development of the Baltic defence forces, the Nordic countries have assisted the Baltic states in developing their border guard systems.

Whereas Sweden has heavily supported all three Baltic states for instance through large scale material donations, Finland has so far mostly focused on Estonia. The newly gained independence of Estonia was less than one year old when the first Estonian cadets and non-commissioned officer -students (opistoupseeri) commenced their studies in Finnish military schools. Today more than 100 of them have graduated. Furthermore, the first weapons donations to the Baltics came from Finland. In 1998, we donated one field artillery battalion to Estonia and quite soon other countries, such as the USA, Sweden and Germany, followed suit.

Even though the political and legal basis of bilateral cooperation will change and the direct assistance programmes will come to an end upon the NATO enlargement, defence related cooperation between Finland and the Baltic states will continue. The relationship will, however, become one of equal partners rather than one of a donor and beneficiaries.

In addition to military cooperation between the Nordic and Baltic countries, numerous multilateral projects have been established. Many of these projects, however, started as Nordic-Baltic cooperation. Today, we talk about "The Friends of the Baltics". This group of nations is working under an umbrella called BALTSEA, Baltic Security and Defence Related Assistance. Altogether 17 nations are working together in building the defence capability of the Baltic states. These countries are Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States.

As a result of the BALTSEA cooperation, we have today a common Baltic Peace Keeping Battalion BALTBAT, a naval unit BALTRON, a Baltic Military College BALTDEFCOL as well as a common Baltic Air Surveillance Network BALTNET. These institutions are unique in the whole world. For you as students, it would be interesting to visit BALTDEFCOL in Tarto, Estonia. Even though the school is small, with some 70 students, its students and teachers originate from more than ten countries, including not only "The Friends of the Baltics" but also Bosnia-Herzegovina and Georgia. The BALTDEFCOL officers are trained not only for their national armed forces but also for international duties in peace support activities and for NATO staff.

Despite the large variety of regional security arrangements listed above, I would like to recall that regional activities support the European security arrangements and NATO but do not replace them.

Future challenges: Wider Europe

It may be needless to point out that the upcoming borders of the enlarged EU will not be the borders of Europe. We need cooperation to promote security and stability also beyond the Schengen area.

One of the most important common security objectives of the Nordic and Baltic states is the inclusion of Russia in effective cooperation across the field of comprehensive security. The relationship between the European Union and Russia will determine the future of not only our own region but Europe as a whole. In the end of the day, a stable and affluent Russia benefits us all.

The current cooperation network between our countries and Russia is already tight, ranging from the Northern Dimension of the EU and the CBSS to the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the NATO-Russia Council. All these arrangements aim at reducing our common security risks, such as organised crime, human trafficking, narcotics smuggling and international terrorism. The Nordic and Baltic states and Russia are, and will always be, interdependent on these issues.

Cross-border cooperation with adjacent regions of Russia initiated by the direct parties - such as Finland and Russia - has proved successful. Such cooperation has also been supported by common EC funds for years already. Even after the next enlargement of the European Union, assistance and joint efforts in regional co-operation will maintain their significance.

Visions reach further, however. The core idea in Finland's initiative for the Northern Dimension is the future cooperative relationship between an enlarged Union and Russia. The Northern Dimension, covering a vast range of activities and topics, promotes mutual learning processes and further tightens the EU-Russian relationship.

Even though certain challenges remain in the EU-Russia relations, such as Kaliningrad, our trustful cooperation network with Russia will undoubtedly help in finding pragmatic and mutually beneficial solutions to all open questions.

Closing remarks

From the viewpoint of military security, political stability and democratic transition, the Baltic Sea region has witnessed a remarkably positive change during the post-Cold War era. The Nordic and Baltic countries are linked to each other with numerous bilateral, regional and international arrangements profoundly improving their security environment. These ties will become increasingly tight upon the upcoming EU and NATO enlargements.

Defending our common interests and taking our specific needs to the forefront in international fora will remain a challenge for the Nordic-Baltic cooperation and the Baltic Sea region as a whole.

Thank you.

Baltiska staterna
utrikes- och säkerhetspolitik