On 18 May, Finland and Sweden officially applied for NATO membership––a markedly historical decision. While the two countries have long maintained military non-alignment positions, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led them to completely reassess their posture and future of security. Moreover, the Russian invasion has created a tremendous shift in public opinion, with the majority of the populations voting in favour of joining the Alliance. Russia’s unprovoked violation of security guarantees has made NATO’s security umbrella significantly more appealing to both Finland and Sweden, but what does their potential membership mean for the future of NATO’s defence innovations?
Neither of the countries are strangers to NATO. Both have been involved in a wide range of cooperation initiatives with the Alliance, sharing common values and objectives. With substantial increases to defence spending, active militaries and defence industries, each country brings something unique to the table.
Finland shares a border with Russia that spans more than 1,300 kilometres. For a non-nuclear country, it needs to maintain up-to-date conventional forces to ensure a credible deterrence. In fact, Finland’s artillery is among the biggest in Europe, with the second-largest land forces.
Finland has been replacing artillery equipment since 2014 as a part of the Operational Artillery programme. These efforts ensure a continued modernization of the forces, expanding their life cycle to the 2050s and adding to the Leopard battle tanks and infantry vehicles. Sweden, on the other hand, takes pride in its top-ranked air force, backed up by Gripen 39 fighter jets and its expert navy. Their Submarine Flotilla unit would substantially strengthen the Alliance’s presence in the Baltic Sea and in the Arctic.
An especially interesting asset is Finnish national defence course, which is dedicated to leaders from various spheres of society. They are taught about different sectors of the country’s national security, which allows them to understand Finland’s needs and in turn, help guide decisions. A similar exercise at the NATO level would certainly boost the performance of Allies and their cooperation with the private sector.
Defence industries and R&D
When it comes to innovation potential and Research & Development (R&D), the two countries’ defence industries serve as strong assets to their NATO candidacy. Specialized and highly operational, the industries supply national capabilities with effective techniques and equipment. Since the industry consists mostly of small- and medium-sized enterprises, Finland and Sweden can give NATO lessons on effective cooperation between smaller scale enterprises and the public spheres. The industries are not only highly profitable, but internationally competitive, exporting large portions of high-quality products with long life cycles. Their aim to be self-sufficient in defence and security is reflected in their substantial investments into R&D. Moreover, the equipment and technologies are often crafted according to the specific operational needs of each country. For instance, the Swedish submarines are specifically adapted to the Baltic Sea, taking into account its different salt layers, or narrow archipelagos.
As GLOBSEC´s recently published report on NATO´s performance and innovations suggests, NATO can escape the growing geo-economic burden by pursuing profitable investments into defence industries and innovative technologies. Both countries are known for prioritising innovative and sustainable solutions, which are essential for preserving the Arctic region and its climate. The performance and profitability of these industries also stem from the successful use of civilian technology in their respective military productions.
As the report recommends, establishing close links with the private sector and subsequently grounding defence innovations on this cooperation is a much-needed policy for the Alliance. With Finland and Sweden already operating within these guidelines, they are unquestionably valuable to the future of NATO innovation. By bringing modern militaries, effective defence industries, seasoned know-how, and production based on the military needs and end-users, the two Nordic countries can push NATO defence innovation to the frontline.
In line with increased defence spending in multiple NATO member states, this enlargement could put greater emphasis on defining NATO’s innovation needs and help shape a more resilient innovation ecosystem. With the NATO Madrid Summit just around the corner, many expect the enlargement process and negotiations to be finalised. However, the more likely outcome will be that their NATO accession will freeze. Turkey has indicated that it does not perceive the Summit as a deadline for accession, so the question of when Sweden and Finland will join is still up in the air. Since the summit provides momentum for the innovative solutions and strategies to be included as the lynchpin behind the seventh Strategic Concept, not having Sweden and Finland as valid members is a drawback. Their perception and innovation-driven perspectives on security and defence might be missing in the outcomes of the summit, as they could help lead the Alliance to improve performance on innovation.
* the article was originally published by New Europe