Nordic Council calls for closer co-operation on foreign and security policy

09.02.21 | News
Björn Bjarnason i Zoom-möte
Matts Lindqvist

Björn Bjarnason presented his report to the Nordic Council seminar on foreign and security policy.

The Nordic countries should coordinate their positions on Arctic issues, work together on research into a joint security and foreign policy and consider setting up a Nordic response centre for total defence. These were some of the proposals that Björn Bjarnason (Iceland) put to a seminar organised by the Nordic Council on Monday.

The online seminar revolved around Nordic Foreign and Security Policy the 2020 report by Björn Bjarnason on ways in which the Nordic countries can work more closely together on foreign and defence policy.

In the report, the former Icelandic minister puts forward 14 proposals for ways in which the Nordic countries could work more closely together. His proposals focus on three themes – global climate change; hybrid threats and cyber-security; and multilateralism. The seminar was the first time the Nordic Council has had the opportunity to debate the report.

In line with priorities

The Nordic Council has long been a supporter of closer co-operation on foreign and security policy, and the proposals in the Bjarnason Report are in line with its societal security and international strategies.

Denmark also has made defence and security a priority for its programme for the Presidency of the Nordic Council 2021.

“The Nordic countries may be in different alliances, but there is nothing to stop us from working even more closely together on foreign and security policy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Our friends in NATO and the EU value strong Nordic co-operation. So does the UN. Nordic co-operation threatens nobody, but contributes to predictability and stability,” said Bertel Haarder, the President of the Nordic Council.

COVID-19 covered in the report

The Nordic foreign ministers commissioned the Bjarnason Report before the pandemic, but it also addresses COVID-19.

“The need for Nordic contingency planning for pandemics has been discussed. The foreign ministers did not want proposals for new institutions, and so the report does not mention a total defence centre. However, the pandemic has occasioned debate about the need for one,” Bjarnason told the seminar. He also mentioned that closer attention needs to be paid to hybrid threats and cyber-security in the light of the pandemic.

The Bjarnason Report is a follow-up to Thorvald Stoltenberg’s report on defence, published in 2009. There is no direct comparison between the two, however, as Bjarnason’s mandate was narrower and less defence-focused.

Arctic important

In his presentation, Bjarnason also mentioned the importance of working more closely together in the Arctic, especially in the light of major global powers expressing ever greater interest in the area.

“The proposals in the report are based on a new worldview in which China’s influence has multiplied compared to 2009, when the Stoltenberg Report was published. One of the proposals is that the Nordic governments should seek to coordinate their responses toward the growing Chinese interest in the Arctic,” said Bjarnason.

Bertel Haarder stressed that the Nordic Region can and should play an important role in minimising tensions in the Arctic. He also called on the Nordic governments to implement the proposals in the Bjarnason Report.

“It is important that the Nordic Council of Ministers is represented on these issues. The Nordic Council strategy for societal security states that it is high time that the Council of Ministers is more involved in foreign and security policy, including in the work on societal security,” he said.

Johanna Sumuvuori, State Secretary to the Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Pekka Haavisto, told the seminar that the Bjarnason Report covers highly important issues and that Finland, as chair of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2021, looks forward to continuing work on it.

Foreign and security policy is not part of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ remit. It is, however, an important part of the Nordic Council’s activities. The Nordic Council of Ministers is the inter-governmental body for formal Nordic co-operation, the Nordic Council is the inter-parliamentary body.