Log ind

The Nordic Tribes on the European Scene - Some Historical and Contemporary Options and Choices


Denne artikel er skrevet af general Frederik Bull-Hansen, tidligere norsk forsvarschef. Årtikelen er skrevet på baggrund afen tale, som generalen holdt februar 1994.

The Theme

I have been honored by a request to provide what, demanding enough, has been termed "a scene-setting, after dinner speech". I might attempt to sketch some historical and contemporary strategic devolopements and some options and choices within the Nordic realm as they derive from geography, economic parameters, experience and from our tribal peculiarties.

The Impact of History

Allow me first to recall that experience has taught us that history has considerable stamina. It is, however, never easy to determine when we with reasonable accuracy may project historical experiences and lessons on to the future and, on the other hand, when conditions might have changed to a degree making specific projections questionable. The revolutionary technological breakthroughs to the blessing or not for humanity, the application of nuclear technology being a most challenging part of this, are among such qualitative changes. The ecological results of materialistic vandalism and the dramatically increasing overpopulation in the least developed parts of this world, resulting in a Hkely mass exodus towards a better life, are other determinative developments. That physical borders no longer can serve to isolate people in mental or economic reservations is a next noteworthy, new condition. A prerequisite for sound human action in times of determinative changes is, of course, that they are perceived and understood as such. But then, and not as something new, we continue to find that ethnic, religious and other tribal roots go deep and that the civilizing gloss is rather thin on the human race. A little too often we seem to be the least rational animal on earth.

The Grand Scenario

Within the Grand Scenario we observe in our vicinity yet another empire disintegration, as previously only in our century were the Ottoman Empire, the Austrian-Habsburg Empire, the Russian Tzarist Empire, the "Third Reich", the Japanese, the French Indo-Chinese and African Empire and The British Empire. That empires achived and kept by force sooner or later run into problems unless force is replaced by a more common wish to unite, is a lesson anyone might draw from history. But the circumstances under which it this time happened were unique. Not war, but a deceased and doomed system produced the economic, ecological and social disasters which again triggered the surfacing of ethnic, cultural and nationalistic sentiments previously suppressed by the Tzarist Cheka and by the Chekas conmiunist successors. As when earlier empires disintegrated, the "imperial peace" is for a time substituted by confusion and uncertainty. But Russia's long term potentials are vast. There are in the Russian Federal Republic alone in the order of 150 million, acceptably well educated people, nearly twice the population of United Germany. The Republic stretches from the Caspian Sea to the Polar Basin, from the Pacific to the North Atlantic. There are enormous deposits of oil and other strategic materials, the largest on the Euro-Asian landmass. In whatever future architecture of the Euro-Asian land, Russia will play a significant role. May be that we in this connection should also remember that the time span between when large powers are in shambles and their reawakening in the one or the other configuration may be short. A Tzarist Russia i decay in 1917-18 reentered Caucasian land 4-5 years later, in parenteses mentioned, roughly the same timespan as between the Soviet disintegration and a revewed wstablishment og Russian troops on both sides of Russian-Caucasian borders. With no further comparison, the time between a Germany in chaos in the early thirties and Anschluss in 1938 with all that followed, was a mere 5 years. But in the Caucasian case we may, of cource, ask what the alternative is when insane ethnic-religious violence threatens to spread into your garden? New constellations appear on the European and world scene. Centra of gravity are shifting. Where in the more developed parts of this world aggressive use of military force failed, new strategies and new means were applied. All by a sudden potencies were measured in dollars, marks and yen, only. But also this has come to be questioned, including the notion that a so called " market economy" would solve all human problems. It provides, clearly, no answer to any existential question. I hasten to narrow the scope to a sketch of the Nordic tribes on the European scene.

Nordic Perceptions of Options and Choices

The term the "Nordic Region", "Nordic Family", and the like is rightly portraying a realm within which the cultural, social, legalistic and many other traditions are very close, indeed. This is in spite of earlier confrontations when also the sword spoke. Variations in geographic positions, economy, population and experience have, however, also led to differing perceptions of which strategic options and choices were avaiable to the one and the other. Most clearly this proved to be so in the field of security, when the family glue often appeared to be rather weak. Our Finnish brethren have their mixed experiences from the more than 600 years as a part of the Swedish realm, when Swedish kings "fought to the last Finn", as some Finns like to put it. But the Swedish period also inserted seeds for a most constructive development within all fields of life. Indeed, this opening towards the west may explain why the Finnish tribes, ethnically and linguistically of other parentage than the other Nordic peoples, became Nordic and Western in thoughts and life. Then followed a 100 years as a Tzarist grand duchy. This was in Finland not neccesarily perceived as a bad period, at least not until Russian governors towards the last quarter of the 19th century and beyond frenatically attempted to russify the contry. The disintegration of the Tzarist empire in 1917 opened for an independance which then and later was vigorously defended. To Finland the overruling strategic factor was, as it is and will remain, her exposed position next to a very much larger power. The historic experience of being in the forward line towards the east in service of ambitious Swedish kings was not particularly pleasant. The later similar endeavours under Finnish flag were no less traumatic. It came all strongly to influence Finnish strategic thinking. Today, the 5 million Finns share with their big neighbour to the east an approximately 1300 km border. They also find themselves disturbingly close to the vulnerable St. Petersburg to the south and to the vital Kola complex in the north. They are no less aware that Finland constitutes a two-way transit route between Russia and the strategically attractive Norwegian coastline towards the Atlantic. After the Second World War the Finns have with cool, selfcentered pragmatism optimized their position. Finland is now again looking to the west and to the south for ways of balancing the weight of her eastern neighbour, this time hoping to find a more mature Europe. Simultanously, the Finns wait for Russia to obtain som order so that Finlands eastern trade may again bloom. The loss of Finlands previous, very preferential trade arrangements with the USSR has significantly contributed to her current, economis and industrial instability. But Finlands basic physical- and intellectual infrastructure is sound enough. Our Swedish Nordic brothers have throughout the expansive and less expansive periods of their history enjoyed the advantage of a strategically fairly safe haven in the western Baltic. From this position, and as opportunities emerged, the Swedish kings could exploit what was to be exploited to the south and to the east in Europe. When exhausted, they could withdraw, lick their wounds and wait for the next opportunity, which, in a slightly different configuration, is now. Neither in our time has the intrinsic, strategic value of Swedens main territory or resources unduly tempted anyone to undertake serious adventures en her direction. The Swedish "Non-alliance in peace, aiming at neutrality in war" was hardly ever solely founded on a moral ideological conviction. Neutrality visa-vis decisive human issues seldom is. For Sweden this policy was strategically and politically a possible one, and her continous interpretation of options and choices was cool, flexible and, we may add, politically professional. With historical implications for Sweden, for the entire Nordic region and for Europe as a whole, the 8 million Swedes now seem to move towards membership in the EEC. But the people has not yet spoken, and referanda are unpredictable, even in well diciplined Sweden. Also the Swedes have their share of the current, general economic problems around. But they also harvest the results of their common vision of a stateplanned, protected life from the cradle to the grave within their "Folks-Home", it all to be paid for by the State, which here, as elsewhere, at inflated costs proved to be themselves. The industrial stamina in Sweden is, however, what we used to call "germanistically" solid. They are blessed by not having oil as a camuflaging remedy. Denmarks options during good and less fortunate periods of her history have been decisively influenced by her position on islands towards the high seas and on the northern peninsular of Continental Europe. Simulatanously, Denmark was geographically designated to be the doorman to the Baltic. While Denmark earlier in her history fully exploited this unique position, she later became exposed to stronger neighbours, the Swedes, the British, the Germans. It is a blessing to our around 5,1 million Danish brothers and sisters that their big neighbours to the south now has changed strategies as well as weaponry and thus made it possible for these, most pragmatic Scandinavians to join the larger European family - almost. Naturally, Danish antennas are particularly sensitive when turned southwards. One should expect the Danes to applaud any arrangement which might serve to incorporate German potentials in a well coordinated Europe. However, many Danes came to fear that very little might be left to the individual nation. The Danes "no", which later became a conditioned yes, intruduced considerable disturbances in the European process. A sound disturbance was that it served as a most timely wameing against the building of a European house which few in the long run would like to live in. It also reminded some, who needed to be reminded, that within democracies it is sound policy to Usten to the people, even if they are believed to be wrong. In spite of Shakespares warnings in Hamlet, Denmark has usually landed on her feet. Our Icelandic, 256.000 close relatives are in strategic terms riding a solid aircraft carrier situated most centrally en The North Atlantic, traversing inportant sea lines of communication. With this position and with her limited population and very vulnerable economy, it would be impossible for Iceland in case of conflict, and hard in time of peace to survive in isolation. However, when the Icelanders present their peacetime economic realities and political hopes to their surroundings, there is reason to believe that they will be met with the same degree of understanding as when a recipé was found to cater for Icelands sevurity challenges so far. It is open to discussion to which degree the Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lihuania, individually or collectively quaUfy as members of the Nordic community. Nevertheless, there are strong voices emphasizing the historical relations and advocating a renewal of links over a wide spectrum between the Baltic and Fenno-Scandinavian contries. The Baltic states had legally acceptable and morally very solid arguments behind their drive for independance, somewhat comparable to the Norwegian arguments in 1905, when we split with Sweden. As far as I can see, the first peaceful split of a union in European history. But to the Russians Finland was lost in 1918, then the Polish and EastGerman coasts were gone. It is not easy for Moscow to withdraw from the occupied Baltic positions, strategically, economically or emotionally, but it is a must if relations westwards shall develop to the Russian advantage. But here, as elsewhere, the Russians leave behind some millions of former occupants and children of former occupants. The implications are already felt on Baltic territory internally, as well as in the relationship with Moscow. Now the "soft underbelly of Russia", St. Petersburg, is again strategically exposed. The implications of such an exposure have been felt on Russian, Baltic as well as on Finnish territory. But Peter the Great did also see St. Petersburg as a door to the western world, a door through which impulses should flow eastwards and goods flow in both directions. Holding on to this perception might help us all, east and west, to recreate the rich economic and cultural life which for long periods of history flourished within the Baltic realm. Looking further north, the vast naval, military and nuclear concentrations in the Kola-Murmansk area are a most serious concern to us all. But we should simultanously have in mind that Russians will also remember that here British as well as German forces entered Russian land in our Century. From the time when the first adventurers, whoever they were, som 10.000 years ago pursued the retreating ice the "Northern way", the Norsemen, named after the route they choose, have exploited the freedom of movement on the high seas and harvested the riches of the oceans. Till this day the Norwegian tribes have been dependant on a free access to the west and to the south where, in spite of periodic schisms, they found the economic and cultural centra needed and the partners whom they wished. To the now living 4.2 million Norwegians the overruling strategic factor is, as it was, the vast coastline towards the Arctic and the Atlantic Oceans west and south, the simultanous position as a borderstate on the Euro-Asian landmass and the exposed solitude at the northernmost periphery of Europe. Since the time when the Norwegians themselves no longer ruled their "Near Abroad", they have occasionally been caught in the midst of bigger powers politics. This has fostered a strong grass-root sceptisism towards being unduly influenced by anyone. Adding to this is a deep-rooted individualism, according to a British intelligence survey of 1947, making the Norwegian rather "unanemable to discipline". In an earlier Oberkommando der Wehrmacht Beurteilung der norwegischen Volks-Seele heiszt es: "Ein allgemeiner Zug des Norwegischen Volkscharakters ist ein ausgeprägtes Persönlichkeitsbewusztsein". "Aber es bleibt nicht aus, das dieses an sich gesunde Persönlichkeitsbewusztsein vielfach zu bedingungslosem Individualismus mit allen Formen einen anspruchsvollen Liberalismus ausartet". Well, not totally off the track. Today, those who most strongly resent an intermingling in national affairs do not seldom find support for their arguments in the diarrhoea of proposed rules and regulations from Brüsselers and other Continentals, initiatives which neither in content nor in timing all demonstrate particular social or political Fingerspitzengefühl. Neither is political sensitivity a Norwegian hallmark, unless possibly in cases not affecting ourselves. There are for Norway, indeed, som rather obvious economic, ecological, cultural, security and other arguments for joining the greater European Community. But to those who migth bother to understand the Norwegian mind, it is important to grasp that to the Norseman and woman along the northernmost coasts of Norway, "Brussels" is mentally and physically way beyond the already mentally and physically very distant Oslo. They do not feel convinced that the Continental prescription for happiness es necessarily the best. Simultantously, they see the resources at sea around them threatened by others with no historical or other traditions in those areas, resources upon which life under the Arctic harsh conditions for thousands of years have rested. They observe that those in the most distant Europes south, who akeady seemingly unashamed demand their ever increasing shares of other Europeans hard work, are the same who now demand their evergrowing lots at sea in the north. Fairly onesided reactions, of course, even emotional, but emotions count in life and politics. Well, a little strange we, the Norwegians, may be, but we are at least not insane. Looking around in this world, this seems to be a noteworthy virtue. Like som other sea-faring peoples situated on islands or peninsulars, the Norwegians have fostered a very special dualism, a "do not touch my circles" combined with a strong will to explore and exploit what is beyond the horizons. In its contemporary version it is illustrated on the one hand by the Norwegian sceptisism towards jumping to bed with others without being driven by an uncontrolled desire, on the other hand by the fact that we sail the fourth largest merchant fleet in the world, of which 90% will never see a Norwegian harbour. The presently oil-rich Norway has not been exluded from the current general economic recession. Here, as elsewhere within the Nordic realm, we observe the symptoms of the belief, with vigour inserted overa long time, that everybody shall be taken care of whatever blunders they may produce at whatever level. A certain awakening seems, however, to be in process, and the overall economic prospects are not at all bad. Will the Norwegians eventually join the EU? They will not, but they probably will, sooner or later.

Looking South

Looking east and south from our Nordic shores we see developments rich in opportunities, but also so pregnant with uncertainties and risks. We see steps taken towards a voluntary unification which no earlier "Grande Armee's" or other versions of "Blut und Eisen" could ever achieve. We also see a return to history, and we see trial and error, sometimes in the most tragic formes. But, in the words of Jean Monet, "Nothing is more dangerous than to take problems as fiasco". Maybe, that we also should take with us from a more distant culture and language, the Chinese, that the word "problem" and the word "opportunity" is one and the same. Not least driven forward by the failures and blunders, there seems within Europe to be a growing understanding that Europe should bring herself in position to act when and where European vital interests so require, internally as well as externally. Whatever comes in this, our Europe, we will hardly see a "Union" in the full interpretation of that term as the end result, beyond the fact that there never is any "end result" in inter-human relations. Under no circumstances will we see policies applied as they are continuously written on paper. Did we ever, from the Ten Commandments and onwards? We will most certainly observe the pragmatic interpretation of what is on paper. But this is not necessarily only bad. Probably apart from the author of the said Ten Commandments, it would be very strange if those responsible for a paper reflecting such deceisive political and other matters should be eternally right. Life is not a static phenomena. Those who believe so belong in reservations. And here they will continuosly be surprised to find what influence others will have on their reservation.

The Nordic Options

Here in the North the security implications of attempting to stay outside the European Community may not be obvious to all Northerners. Also the Nordic Peoples may have learned to live from TV-picture to TV-picture and to forget the more long term implications of some basic geostrategic and other realities. Among such realities are that whoever the parties might be, the Nordic countries will, with given variations from the north to the south, from the east to the west within the Nordic region, remain exposed in any serious conflict involving the high seas around and mvolving Europe. From the perspective of some of the Nordic countries, it might also be worthwhile to note that nowhere, and irrespective of political systems, is it easy for small states to be positioned in the driveway of a much larger power. We, the Northerners, should also have in mind that whoever the threatening party might be, and whatever means are applied, military, political or economic, it is easier to play havoc with small and isolated societies situated at Europes periphery, than it is to encounter the economic, industrial and political strengt of 350-400 million Europeans acting in reasonable concert. This includes the instances when the one who might whish to wxert such presswe is himself a member of the European family, a scenario which to some of us is not completely unknown. Should the Nordic countries, whether in Nordic solitude or within a NATO or European framework, look for some form of a more intimate defence cooperation, it is imperative to have en mind that the Nordic region is Atlantic as well as European and that the summerized challenges are a result of this fact.


We lead in to this discussion by reminding ourselves that sometimes the parameters for human life and development is changing to a degree making it difficult to project history onto future. There may, however, still be somthing to the saying that although history will seldom repeat itself, those who do not learn from their historical blunders are destined to repeat them.

We have now in the whole of Europe a golden opportunity to achieve what has previously been achieved in some other theaters, such as in the Nordic region and in North America, that in a step by step enlargement of those areas within which one agrees that it does not pay to solve internal controversies by killing each other once per generation. Should we succeed, and it is mainly up to ourselves, there will be plenty of remaining challenges on this globe. But maybe that we, the Europeans, could be in a slightly better position to address them.