U.S. Power in the Nordic-Baltic


Pe 11.9.2015 klo 15:00-17:00
Nordic Hotel Forum
Viru Väljäk 3, Tallinn

The events in Ukraine have demonstrated that security in the Nordic and Baltic region is dependent on wider dynamics of international order. The events have catalyzed debates about the shape of the international order, U.S. leadership, transatlantic relations, the future of small states, and the nature of rising illiberal actors. Interdependence increasingly takes the form of a competition, not only in military or geopolitical terms, but also in geo-economic - for markets, resources and technology. U.S. geostrategy has come to focus on the management of the key institutions and securing global critical infrastructure and flows. How have the events in Ukraine changed the security policy orientations of the states in the region? How is the relationship defined with the U.S.? What is the future role of NATO in the region?

The seminar is organized as a part of the 2nd CUSPP Summer session on "Smarter Forms of Hard and Soft global power” organized by the Center for U.S. Politics and Power at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. The Summer session, now organized for the second time, is an interdisciplinary event, convening researchers and policy experts from Europe and the United States.

Opening remarks: Mika Aaltola, Programme Director, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Professor, Tallinn University


Pauli Järvenpää, Ambassador (ret.), Senior Research Fellow, International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS), Tallinn

Andres Kasekamp, Professor, University of Tartu

Renatas Norkus, Ambassador, Director, Transatlantic Cooperation & Security Policy Department, Lithuanian Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Toms Rostoks, Researcher, Centre for Security and Strategic Research, National Defence Academy of Latvia

Michael Haltzel, Visiting Senior Fellow, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Chair & Comments: Anna Kronlund, Senior Research Fellow, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Summary of the seminar:

In his opening remarks Mika Aaltola, Programme Director at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs and Professor at the University of Tallinn, highlighted the topicality of the themes of power transformation and hard and soft power, as well as the relationship between the U.S. and the Nordic-Baltic region. Anna Kronlund, Senior Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, gave a brief introduction to the topic, and after introducing the speakers opened the seminar. 

Pauli Järvenpää, Ambassador (ret.) and Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for Defence and Security in Tallinn, began his remarks by pointing out that the United States sees the Nordic-Baltic region as an area of critical importance. Järvenpää remarked that by trying to delegitimize and undermine the EU and isolate Germany, Russia has actually drawn U.S. attention back to Europe. He also touched upon the issue of concrete actions of the U.S. in the Nordic-Baltic region, and noted that the U.S. and NATO are indeed able to bring elements of hard power in the area. He also brought up the symbolic importance of actions such as the Baltic air policing, military exercises, and bringing U.S. Army personnel to the area. 

Although the public support for NATO has recently grown in both Sweden and Finland, Järvenpää stated that it is still unlikely for the countries to join NATO in the near future. According to him, the problem with the current public discussion is that while NATO is well-known in both countries, there are lots of myths and beliefs concerning what the alliance actually does and does not do. Järvenpää concluded with the notion that Russia needs to decide whether it will contribute to peace and stability in Europe.

Renatas Norkus, Ambassador and Director of the Transatlantic Cooperation & Security Policy Department at the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, focused on the mutual importance of the U.S. and Nordic-Baltic cooperation and reminded also of the historical foundations of the relationship between the countries. Norkus commented that the importance of the U.S. engagement in the Baltic states lies especially in the security and the military elements of defense, mentioning the presence of the allied forces in the area as an example of the first measures of readiness and alignment. He also acknowledged that as the leading member of NATO the U.S. has often been very forward-looking and paving way for the important developments.

On the importance of the Baltic states to the U.S., Norkus noted that the countries have become transatlantic allies, and for example Lithuania has been playing an important role in the UN Security Council. According to Norkus, the U.S. particularly appreciates the democratic pluralistic development of the Baltic states. He concluded his remarks by stating that it is only natural that there is a mutual understanding between the U.S. and the Nordic and Baltic states, and that the Nordic-Baltic can be a great regional democratic partner to the U.S.

Andres Kasekamp, professor at the University of Tartu, focused in his talk on the importance of societal security but commented also on the role of the Nordic countries in the Baltic states’ accession to NATO and the European Union. He also highlighted the significance of Sweden and Finland’s promise to allow NATO to use their airspaces, which would be crucial to any of the alliance’s efforts in the area.

Kasekamp pointed out that it is also essential for the Baltic countries to ensure their internal security, especially by integrating the Russian minority better. He referred to a newly established Estonian public broadcast channel directed to the Russian speaking minority which, although being an important step, is facing the challenge of competing with the expensive and entertaining Russian broadcasts while trying not to look like counter-propaganda. Kasekamp also argued that it would be wrong to assume that for instance northeastern Estonia could somehow resemble eastern Ukraine or Crimea, which was a specific case made possible by specific circumstances. His conclusion underlined the fact that apart from the military efforts, both the U.S. and the European partners expect the Baltic states to do their best in minimizing also the domestic risks.

Toms Rostoks, Researcher at the Centre for Security and Strategic Research at the National Defence Academy of Latvia, agreed with Andres Kasekamp that disseminating negative information on Russia or its leadership would generally not help assimilating the Russian-speaking minorities. Rostoks focused on the conflicting public views on the U.S., Russia and the EU, and remarked that Russia seemed to be ahead in the polls both before and after the conflict in Georgia. According to Rostoks, during the conflict in Ukraine the positive views on both Russia and the U.S. decreased, while the favorable views on the EU increased.

Referring to the relationship between U.S. and Latvian foreign policies, Rostoks explained that the problematic aspect has often been Latvian foreign policy following the U.S. example also in the cases where the U.S. foreign policy thinking has made mistakes. When the U.S. has been hostile towards non-democratic states, so has Latvia, Rostoks stated and used the current Latvian relations with Belarus as an example.

Visiting Senior Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Michael Haltzel began his talk with emphasizing the importance of the Nordic-Baltic region to the U.S. He pointed out that common values are the leading policy driver, and that so far the liberal western democracy has proved to be the best system also for creating wealth. He then went on to look at the European and American markets, and stated that despite the economic turbulence the U.S. has a massive existing economic stake in Europe. This has also impelled some American planners to look more closely to the affluent Nordic-Baltic area.

Touching also upon bilateral cooperation, Haltzel stressed the importance of the credibility of U.S. support to the Nordic-Baltic. He mentioned that he is not so much worried about successful hybrid warfare against the Nordic and Baltic countries as possible new takeovers. He indicated that the U.S. would have to bolster its presence in the Nordic-Baltic region to make it clear that any kind of threat against a NATO country will not be accepted. Haltzel concluded by stating that he is after all very optimistic about the future developments in the Nordic-Baltic area.

The floor was then opened for discussion. There were questions for example on the revival of the U.S. initiative on engaging with new democracies, as well as on the continuation of the U.S. policy towards the Nordic-Baltic after the 2016 presidential election. Other issues brought up were related to Finland’s role in Baltic defense and possible gains from NATO, obligations of the EU members under the Lisbon Treaty and the possibility of even greater NATO presence and readiness in the Nordic-Baltic region.