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With Eyes on Russia, Nordic Countries Share Defense

“Why can’t friendly countries share defense equipment?” a friend asked me the other day. “It would be much cheaper and more efficient.” Dream on, I thought. As every dorm kitchen shows, pooling resources ends with some taking advantage of others’ possessions.

But on January 14, Denmark and Sweden took a small step towards military burden-sharing. The two neighbors signed a military cooperation treaty that will allow them to share information as well as military infrastructure such as airports. While that may not seem like a lot of sharing, it’s a significant step for Sweden in particular. “The treaty is more important for Sweden than for Denmark, since Sweden has maintained its neutrality policy for such a long time,” Johannes Riber Nordby, deputy director of the Institute for Strategy at the Danish Defense College, told me.

Sweden recently signed a similar treaty with Finland. But unlike Finland, Denmark is a member of NATO. How do you have a burden-sharing arrangement with a country that in turn belongs to an alliance you have long resisted joining? In reality, NATO already collaborates with Sweden, for example using its airspace and conducting joint exercises with Swedish armed forces on Swedish territory. And while Sweden may not be ready to join NATO, its government is preparing legislation that would formalize the arrangement. Indeed, according to Sweden’s defense minister, Peter Hultqvist, such a treaty is the next step following the Danish agreement.

The developments are unwelcome news in the Kremlin, which for the past year has targeted the energetic Hultqvist. In February last year, a social media source later traced to St. Petersburg spread an English-language letter from Hultqvist congratulating the CEO of Swedish arms manufacturer BAE Systems Bofors on Ukraine’s interest in its artillery pieces. But the letter was fake. And on September 16, somebody opened a false Twitter account in Hultqvist’s name under the handle @defencesweden. In this case, the information war wasn’t very cleverly fought, as Hultqvist’s letter was written in English even though the recipient is Swedish, and the recipient had at any rate left BAE Systems Bofors several years previous. In addition, the very first word–Welcome–on Hulqvist’s alleged Twitter feed was missing a Swedish umlaut. Nevertheless, the clumsy attempts proved a distraction to Hultqvist’s defense ministry–just as they were intended.

As for Sweden’s treaty with Denmark, it has more than symbolic value. “The main reason to have the treaty is that information-sharing has become very important, which the incident involving a Russian military plane and an airliner near Copenhagen showed.” In the December 2014 incident, the Russian plane nearly struck a SAS airliner in mid-air en route from Copenhagen to the Polish city of Poznan while flying in international airspace near southern Sweden.

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