Nato needs Sweden and Finland in its fold and the UK must work better with its partners

Swedish and Finnish troops on exercise together in an icy and muddy environment
Finnish and Swedish troops on exercise together; photo © Nato used under fair use policy for non-profits https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/68162.htm

In my article, Nato’s Dilemma, I suggested a no-fly zone over Moldova and Western Ukraine to create safe corridors for refugees to escape atrocities. Nato was paralysed to act for fear of escalation to nuclear war. Atrocities followed. Nato now has a second dilemma – expand further or not? It’s a no-brainer. Here’s why.

Putin’s world view

The end of the Cold War was a humiliating defeat for Russia, compounded by Nato and EU enlargement to the east. Vladimir Putin described this as the West “changing the facts on the ground”. His response was to create coercion and destabilisation to threaten weaker states, such as those in the Black Sea and Baltic Sea regions – with a view to regaining former Soviet-controlled lands at a time and place of his choosing.

Neither Nato nor Europe heeded the pending threat of this in the Black Sea region and Putin used it to mask his annexation of Crimea in 2014. In one stroke, he consolidated Russia’s sphere of influence and boosted his regime’s popularity at home: crucial as he gets older.

Russia’s actions backfire

Backfire was the Nato designation for the Russian Tupolev TU-22M supersonic bomber operational in the 1970s and 1980s for potential war against Nato members. Three months after the invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s strategy has backfired. The EU’s and Nato’s resolve has strengthened because of the brave resistance of the Ukrainians. Finland and Sweden are now on the verge of joining Nato.

Finland will more than double the length of the border between Nato states and Russia at a stroke. They can expand their army to a wartime military strength of 280,000. Their Air Force has 55 F18 Hornet multirole aircraft, due to be replaced from 2026 by 64 F35A Lightning stealth combat aircraft (the F35A is the USAF version; UK RN and RAF has the F35B shipborne version). Sweden controls Gotland, a strategic island in the Baltic close to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Its military aviation industry, SAAB, enjoys world-wide renown. 

Finnish F-18 fighter aircraft
An F-18 of the Finnish Air Force; Photo © Nato used under fair use policy for non-profits

With a Russian economy damaged by sanctions and the cost of their ‘special military operation’ in the Black Sea region, it will be difficult for Putin to pursue his ambitions in the northern and Arctic regions. Is Putin’s regime coming to an end? Welcome aboard Finland and Sweden.

UK’s position

What is Boris Johnson doing, diving into Sweden and Finland single handed to make “agreements”? For his personal benefit or the UK’s? Both nations already train regularly with Nato forces. As partners they are included in a series of Nato exercises planned before the invasion of Ukraine. These include a Finnish battlegroup working with the UK, US, Latvian and Estonian forces as part of the Nato Joint Expeditionary Force.

Johnson is a loose cannon who should be working alongside Jens Stoltenberg and Ursula von der Leyen, not trying to grab every photo opportunity and headline to, supposedly, show he is the leader of the pack.

NATO troops preparing to exit aeroplane
Nato troops from 20 countries taking part in preparedness exercises together; photo © Copyright Nato used under fair use policy for non-profits

UK’s betrayal of AUKUS

When I heard of AUKUS – the secret deal between Australia, UK and the US to scrap a major €56bn Australian contract to buy French submarines and buy eight American nuclear submarines instead – I was appalled. UK had upset a Commonwealth ally and an EU state to curry favour with the US in a global role, as if the British Empire still existed. Especially when, in 2015, France blocked the sale of two French Mistral amphibious ships to Russia because of the annexation of Crimea. Had they been available now, the threat to the Black Sea ports of Odessa (Ukraine) and Giurgiulești (Moldova) would be significantly greater. France subsequently re-sold the ships to Egypt.

Russia is now building, in Crimea, two amphibious ships of its own, based on the Mistral design. They are the Priboy class, 40,000 tonnes equipped with helicopters, four airborne drones for surface strike and targeting of hypersonic Zircon missiles and mine warfare surface drones. They are due for delivery in 2026/7, unless delayed for whatever reason.

Future UK/EU security cooperation

Are there other areas for potential, closer cooperation of UK and EU forces? Macron’s re-election for a further five years as president of France may be the key. He is a prime supporter of Europe, taking greater responsibility for its security. UK and French maritime forces have a long history of joint training exercises. France has the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. We now have HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales. Could we share joint assets with France to give the US limited support in the Far East in the future?

‘Five Eyes’ is the name of a multilateral agreement for cooperation in signals intelligence between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Australia holds an exercise, Talisman Sabre, every two years with the participation of South Korea and Japan. USMC F35Bs have also joined the exercise. The RAAF is forming three squadrons of F35A.

Could combined UK/French assets be added to show an occasional European presence in the Pacific, to counter China’s ambitions in the South China Sea and interest in establishing a naval base in the Solomon Islands? Such cooperation will only be possible when limited GDPs can allow. Over the next two to three years, both the UK and France face a period of great domestic and financial pressure and will need to balance health and social priorities against security and defence issues. 

Conclusion – dilemma or not?

Ukraine has highlighted the folly of the UK and EU ploughing separate furrows for the security of Europe. The UK population must wake up to the reality that their future is working with their European allies. And we need a government prepared to redevelop that close alignment instead of increasing friction with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol and trying to divert British media from the issues of partygate. The cost of living increases are integrally connected with price rises due to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

This is an opportunity, not a dilemma. First, to develop an integrated exit plan to assist Ukraine in the restoration of its infrastructure. That plan must also consider the special needs of Moldova.

A ship at berth in Moldova's Giurgiulesti Harbour
Giurgiulești Harbour, Moldova – photo: Spiridon Ion Cepleanu; CC BY-Share-Alike 3.0 licence

Second, jointly with Nato and its new partners, Finland and Sweden, to work together to provide a greater, credible deterrent against 5D warfare for the security of all Western European people and democracy.

Beyond that, Europe and Nato need to develop a new European defence innovation partnership, including defence-industrial prime contractors and consortia with governments, to take advantage of AI-enhanced emerging military technologies. But that’s a subject for a future article.