Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from Professor Clive Archer


  1.1  This presentation will examine the role of the Northern European states in the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) of the European Union, especially in the recently-formed Nordic battle group.

  1.2  The "Northern European" states are here defined as the Nordic and Baltic states, that is Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In this short presentation, special reference will be made to the role of the UK in the relationship of these states to the ESDP and NATO.

  1.3  The Nordic and Baltic states are covered, and treated together, because of their closeness to each other, both geographically and in their general international cooperation, and because a number of these states have cooperated on security matters, not least in the setting up of the Nordic battle group.

  1.4  However, these eight states have differences in their security policies, especially with Finland and Sweden not being NATO members. Furthermore, Norway and Iceland are not European Union members. Nevertheless, Finland and Sweden have engaged closely with NATO, especially in operations in former-Yugoslavia; and Norway and Iceland are both tied closely to the EU through the European Economic Area (EEA) and by their membership of the Schengen agreement.

  1.5  The Petersberg tasks covered by the ESDP—"humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peace making"—include ones familiar to Nordic troops in their previous UN roles as peacekeepers. However, the mention of "combat forces" suggests a harder edge to these operations, as could the addition by the Brussels European Council in 2004 of the new tasks of "joint disarmament operations, the support for third countries combating terrorism and security sector reform."

  1.6  From the start of ESDP, Denmark has recused itself from the defence aspect of the Policy under the "Edinburgh opt-outs" it obtained from the Maastricht Treaty. It is involved in the more general aspects of the ESDP and in its increasing civilian crisis management aspects. The Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, after his re-election in November 2007, stated that he wanted a national referendum on dropping these opt-outs, including the defence one. The governing parties and a number of the opposition parties support an end to the Danish defence "opt-out".

  1.7  The UK has had a history of military cooperation within NATO with Denmark and Norway, both during the Cold War and after. In the wake of the end of Cold War, the UK also made an important contribution to the development of the defence of the three Baltic states. For example, Sir Garry Johnson led a team of retired officers from NATO states that advised the countries on security issues in the 1990s.


  2.1  The five Nordic and three Baltic states are all "small" in population terms, though clearly the Nordic states are also comparatively rich in GDP per capita terms, Norway topping the world lists (after Luxembourg) in those stakes.

  2.2  During the Cold War and even shortly after its end, Norway and Sweden were steadily ahead of Denmark and Finland in both dollars per capita and percentage of GNP spent on defence. This could be seen even in 1992 when Norway spent 3.3% of GNP on defence, whereas Denmark spent 2.0%, Sweden 2.5% and Finland 1.9%. However, the final years of the Cold War had seen Finland increase its figure from 1.5% in 1985, while Sweden's dropped from 3.3% in 1985. The starting figures for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1992 were, respectively, 0.6%, 0.5% and 0.7%. Since the end of the Cold War, all the figures for the percentage of GNP spent on defence have converged: Denmark 1.4, Estonia 1.6, Finland 1.4, Latvia 1.3, Lithuania 1.2, Norway 1.6, Sweden 1.6 (cf. UK 2.3; IISS figures for 2005; Iceland has no defence budget).

  2.3 These states have contributed their forces to a number of operations under a variety of "hats", some UN, some NATO, some multilateral ad hoc and some ESDP. The table below shows personnel contributions in 2006-07 as:
DenmarkFinland NorwaySweden EstoniaLatvia Lithuania
UN ops6577 1391582 00
UN obs5025 37282 00
Others5180 15438 11959
NATO731500 460688148 44162
EU3177 2267332 1
Total1,367 779673945 223165 222
(obs observer; ops operations; NATO: + 15 from Iceland; based on IISS figures)

  2.4  Finland and Estonia were the only Northern European states with more than 10% of their deployed forces devoted to ESDP operations in 2006-07. Most of the "other" operations were those in Iraq where Denmark was the greatest contributor. However, Denmark withdrew 470 ground troops (and its Iraqi interpreters) from Iraq in August 2007, leaving about 50 military there.


  3.1  In early 2004, the EU adopted the battle group (BG) concept as forming the basis for a rapid response operation, especially in situations where NATO was not involved. The Berlin-plus agreement has allowed for coordination with NATO over deployment, though Turkish-Cyprus disagreements seem to have over-shadowed these arrangements. Of the planned battle groups, one was to come from the Northern European region, though states there have decided to contribute to three of the battle groups (Finland will contribute to a German-led BG, as well as to the Nordic BG, and Latvia and Lithuania to a Polish-led BG).

  3.2  The "Nordic battle group" is to be on standby for six months from 1 January 2008 with contributions from Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden. This unit will consist of 2,800 soldiers with about 2,300 from Sweden, 200 from Finland, 150 from Norway, 80 from the Republic of Ireland and 50 from Estonia. The idea is that the force should be able to act in conflict areas within ten days of a decision to intervene and the intervention time is seen as 30 days with a possible extension to 120 days. The Nordic battle group is led by Sweden which provides a light mechanised rifle battalion as the core unit, with the other contributors providing support resources. For example, Ireland will contribute an Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Improvised Explosive Device Disposal contingent with its own security detail. In November 2007, the final exercise of the battle group took place in northern Sweden with a simulated crisis protecting an election process within a "nation in turmoil". The battle group could be one of those deployed to Chad and the Central African Republic as part of the support for the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission to Darfur.


  4.1  The UK's permanent joint headquarters at Northwood is to be used as the operational headquarters (OHQ) for the Nordic battle group. During the standby period, the MoD has promised that Northwood will provide the OHQ building, technical and administrative support with trained staff. It seems this will be the strategic HQ for any distant operations.


  5.1  A main concern about the battle groups, as with the ESDP more generally, is that of duplication, especially with NATO activity. If the ESDP competes with NATO for increasingly scarce resources, does it not detract from the Western defence effort?

  5.2  A counter-argument is that the ESDP undertakes operations where NATO either would not go or where NATO wishes to hand over. In some cases it may be more politically acceptable (both for providers and recipients) than NATO action. Furthermore it has further engaged non-NATO forces in a more leading role than they could take in NATO-led operations. For example, the Nordic BG has seen Sweden take a lead role and Finland & Ireland devote resources that would have been less readily available for NATO. Also it has stretched, in a positive way, the defence efforts of small states such as Estonia. The Nordic battle group has seen key Nordic states work more closely together on defence matters than before. Finally, the three Baltic states will soon be contributors to three battle groups. This will integrate them further into the Western defence system and also tie them more closely to the security policies of the European Union. Nevertheless, these basically political points do not resolve any questions of lack of resources.

  5.3  The proof of the battle groups will be in their use. There has been a precursor in Operation Artemis in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003 to which Sweden made a significant contribution, and which seemed to have some success. The next possible use is in Darfur as noted in 3.2 above. A hard test could come with Kosovo and this will be a trial of the Berlin-plus arrangement, NATO-ESDP relations generally, as well as the political cohesion of the Euro-Atlantic region. Another possible area for activity could be Cyprus, but deployment there would only come after a political agreement accepted by all parties and the UN. One aspect of the battle group concept is that it is supposed to be flexible enough to deal with "events", especially crises coming out of the blue. Its next task may well be of such an unpredictable nature.

Director, Manchester European Research Institute

Manchester Metropolitan University

3 December 2007

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