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Finland Steps Up Defense Cooperation With US, Eyes NATO Membership

© AP Photo / RONI LEHTI / Lehtikuva via AP, FILEIn this file photo dated Aug. 29, 2014, NATO naval mine countermeasure vessels berth in Turku, Finland, during the international Northern Coasts 2014 (NOCO14) military exercise
In this file photo dated Aug. 29, 2014, NATO naval mine countermeasure vessels berth in Turku, Finland, during the international Northern Coasts 2014 (NOCO14) military exercise - Sputnik International
Last week, Finland signed a controversial memorandum on bilateral defense cooperation with the US (also known as a Statement of Intent). Earlier this year, Sweden concluded a similar agreement, which is expected to push the two remaining non-aligned Nordic states in the direction of full NATO membership.

US army soldier and Stryker armored vehicle during Arrow 16 mechanised exercise of the Finnish Army in collaboration with US Army Europe's 2nd Cavalry Regiment's Mechanized Infantry Company in Niinisalo, Finland (File) - Sputnik International
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The Statement of Intent was signed by Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö and US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work. The agreement aims to deepen the bilateral defense cooperation between the two countries, making it more regular and diversified. The partnership, among other things, is set up to strengthen the countries' defense policy, information exchange, as well as preparedness in terms of training and exercises. Furthermore, cooperation will also be intensified in research and development and international operations, Finnish newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet reported.

Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö stressed specifically that Finland is not inching closer on NATO, as no new foreign policy strategy has been drawn up. According to Niinistö, the US interest in security in Northern Europe is only positive for Finland as a "stabilizing factor."

The Statement of Intent was among other things motivated by the upcoming presidential elections in the US. With most of the US administration likely to be replaced after the elections, the Statement of Intent would possibly have disappeared from the agenda. Earlier this year, a similar agreement with the US was signed by Sweden.

"The content is very similar. Without an inferiority complex, one can say that we took after Sweden in this arrangement," Niinistö told Finnish newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet.

Soldiers from the Finnish Army stand in formation during the Saber Strike 2014 opening ceremony here, June 9, 2014 - Sputnik International
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Both Finland and Sweden currently maintain a similar defense arrangement with the UK.

Both Sweden and Finland view the bilateral agreement with the US as a means to strengthen their defenses against Russian "aggression," which only exists in defense experts' minds. According to Leo Michel, a scholar at the Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki, such agreements cannot replace full NATO membership.

Despite their official policy of non-alignment, maintained since 1812 and 1945 respectively, both Sweden and Finland do contribute to various NATO and EU battlegroups and are involved in international operations and maneuvers; they are effectively NATO members in all but name. However, both continue to experience immense pressure from NATO lobbyists.

According to Leo Michel, both Nordic nations are currently perfectly secure against Russia due to NATO's mutual assistance clause, where the US acts as the guarantor.

"There's only one catch, namely that Washington would never accept such a solution as a replacement for full-scale membership," Michel said, as quoted by the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.

Submarine ORP Sep and Swedish vessel HSWMS Belos take part in the NATO exercises ‘Dynamic Monarch 2014’, near Gdynia on 22 May 2014 - Sputnik International
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Given the quality of the Swedish and Finnish defense forces and their already- tight cooperation with NATO, such "provisional" guarantees would only apply for a limited period of time, whereas NATO membership has no expiration date, Michel pointed out, citing NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow during his recent visit to Helsinki.

"A crisis in the Baltic Sea region could well affect both NATO members and Finland. NATO's reaction would be to protect its allies and help its close partners," Vershbow said.

According to Michel, there is no doubt that Vershbow made a conscious difference between "ally" and "partner," as did US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work.

"Until Sweden and Finland decide to join NATO, they will continue to belong to the latter group. A bilateral agreement with the US is not a third way," Michel concluded.

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