Are the famously pacifist Scandinavians rediscovering their Viking heritage? They don’t have the longboats out yet, but, worried by Russian aggression, they are taking defense more seriously. The Financial Times reports:
The defence ministers of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden and the foreign minister of Iceland on Friday published a declaration in a Norwegian newspaper that seeks to increase the number of joint exercises, intelligence sharing and processing of cyber material.
Separately, the prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania said they would explore joint arms procurement as they look to increase the efficiency of their defence spending.
The odds are that Russia is not going to invade Sweden anytime soon. But analysts and the Swedish government increasingly are worried about Moscow making a move on the strategic Swedish island of Gotland if it decides to attack the Baltic states. And Russia has been serially interfering with Swedish airspace (and, if the submarine reports were correct, territorial waters). So it’s not surprising that the Scandinavian countries, as well as the Baltic states, are starting to take defense more seriously.
This move is of a piece with other news breaking this week on the European military scene, where there are signs that the Continent is starting to get serious about the Russian threat. NATO ran drills testing its newly expanded “rapid reaction” force, part of which is supposed to be ready to go into action on 48 hours’ notice (up from 2 weeks). And the Germans announced plans to buy one hundred new Leopard 2 tanks.
But there’s a long way to go. On the German tank deal, Reuters notes that:
Just before the end of the Cold War, in the 1980s, the then West Germany had more than 3,500 tanks. Now, seventy years after World War Two, it has just 225. As a result soldiers have to share tanks and heavy equipment across different units.
As Andrew Michta noted in his most recent essay for TAI, the main problem Europe has when it comes to defense is will, not ways. In finances, population, and prospects for the future, it vastly outstrips Russia. There is no question that, for instance, Germany could acquire and deploy a tank corps with real deterrent capabilities—if it were serious about rebuilding its military.
European opinion seems to be shifting toward a more realistic attitude on defense, as both these governmental moves and recent polls indicate. Whether it will move far enough, fast enough to produce the real world results that could deter Vladmir Putin remains to be seen.