Back on the block
From The Economist print edition
Sweden's growing worries about Russia fuel a love-in with Norway
WHEN the cold war ended, Sweden felt able to turn a furtive friendship with its fellow neutral Finland into a close economic, political and security one. Now it wants also to cosy up to its western neighbour and NATO member, Norway. Again, the motivation is Russia—but fear, not rapprochement, is the spur.
The Swedes' immediate worry is a planned Russian-German gas pipeline on the Baltic seabed. That is littered with dumped chemical weapons and other munitions dating from the second world war, and home to sensitive submarine defences built during the cold war. A planned pumping station (see map) close to the Swedish shore has infuriated the country's defence establishment, which fears it will be used for Russian electronic espionage or other mischief-making. Such concerns give Sweden no legal basis for blocking the pipeline, but it is trying to delay it on environmental grounds.
A combative radio interview by the Russian ambassador to Sweden, Alexander Kadakin, has failed to allay fears. He repeatedly described critics of the pipeline as “idiots”, arguing: “why should we need [another] spy station when we already have the real-time capability to read the number plates of every car in Stockholm?”
Last week Mats Engman, head of Sweden's influential MUST military intelligence and security service, publicly gave warning of the “Russian bear's...greater self-confidence and increased freedom of action.” In the same week another top military thinker, Stefan Gustafsson, said: “the strategic map has changed. We must now analyse what resources are required at home if tension in the north were to grow.” He noted that Russia's economic prosperity was financing a sharp rise in defence spending.
Sweden and Norway are the military heavyweights of Scandinavia (Finland maintains a well-trained army with a stellar record, but has only a vestigial navy and air force). General Håken Syrén, commander of the Swedish armed forces, said recently that “Swedish and Norwegian security and defence interests are running closer than ever...and often shared.” Sweden already shares its radar surveillance data closely with Finland and is discussing other military monitoring projects. It now hopes to match these by similar co-operation with Norway.
However much diplomats may wince, there is no disguising that all this aimed at only one country: Russia. The hottest issue is energy. Norway hopes that a newly hawkish Sweden will be supportive in its long-running dispute with Russia over the two countries' northern sea border (see map). At stake are the “High North's” lucrative, and still largely unexploited, oil and gas reserves.
A big sign of intensified co-operation would be if Norway chose to upgrade its air force with the Gripen JAS-39 fighter, made by Sweden's Saab. A Swedish television investigation this week claimed to have unearthed evidence of bribes of 1 billion kronor ($142m) paid to support the sale of 24 Gripen jets to the Czech Republic. A second programme next week will make similar allegations about sales in Norway. That may hold things up a bit.
Unlearning the trusting habits of the past decade will be hard: Sweden's security establishment was run down in years when trade promotion and haggling in Brussels outweighed Russia-watching. Hawks are cheered by the foreign minister, Carl Bildt, a tough-minded and eloquent figure who as prime minister from 1991 to 1994 threw Sweden's weight behind the freedom of the Baltic states.
All this is uncomfortable for Finland, forced by geography into a more cautious stance towards Russia. Finns have never forgotten that they learned of Sweden's decision to apply for membership of the European Union only when they read it in the newspapers. Some wonder if they might get the same nasty surprise about Sweden and NATO.