Monday, October 31, 2016

Nordic Saviors?

Traditionally neutral Sweden and Finland are growing closer to NATO in the face of Russian aggressiveness. But let's not get carried away by thinking their military contributions significantly exceed the liability of more terrain for NATO to defend.

On the whole, I think it is good that NATO is gaining friends with Sweden and Finland who share NATO's worry about Russian actions.

But what?

Sweden and Finland boast sizable army forces, and their shift toward the alliance could give it a much-needed capacity boost in the Baltic area, where Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and even Poland have limited firepower.

Please define "sizable."

Because Sweden's active army (in 2012, from my Military Balance) stands at less than 7,000 troops built around 10 maneuver battalions. Add in a navy amphibious battalion. In addition to that naval infantry, the Swedish navy has about 2,000 personnel while the air force has 3,000 personnel.

Sweden's army and air force are of good quality in equipment and training, to be sure. But there are darned few of them. Remember, it is big news that Sweden is planning to defend Gotland Island in the Baltic with a single battalion.

Yes, Sweden has 200,000 reservists, but these are not power projection forces and I don't know how confident I should be about their capacity for defending Swedish soil.

The Finns (again, from 2012 data) have an active army of 16,000, with a lot of reserves to flesh out their 11 brigades on mobilization. The active navy has 3,500 and the active air force 2,600 with a core of about 50 F-18C fighter-bombers.

The Finns are oriented toward territorial defense. Although their existence will tie down Russian forces along their border to defend Russian territory, if nothing else.

So other than a bit of air power these two states aren't going to contribute much of significance to NATO nations on the south side of the Baltic Sea.

Yes, their territory would provide some additional bases and depth of defense. This is valuable.

And Russia would have to use troops otherwise available to hit NATO if the Russians want to deal with Finland and/or Sweden.

As I've written, I'd want to see Sweden's military capabilities expanded before granting NATO membership.

But that path seems unlikely in the near future, at least. So increased cooperation will be what we have. This is good, don't get me wrong. But don't pretend that the Nordic cavalry is riding to the rescue of NATO states that have the misfortune of bordering Russia.