New Options for Nordic Foreign Policies

By Einhorn, Eric S | Scandinavian Review, Spring/Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

New Options for Nordic Foreign Policies


Einhorn, Eric S, Scandinavian Review


For more than forty years, Scandinavian foreign policies shivered in the glacial grip of the Cold War. Despite occasional "thaws" in East-West relations, it was not until the 1986 Reykjavik summit between Gorbachev and Reagan that "new thinking" led to the unexpected collapse of communism in Europe and rapid end of East-West confrontation. By 1990 old foreign policy formulas-Swedish and Finnish non-alignment, Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic conditional NATO membership-would no longer adequately serve. But new choices arose.

Scandinavia pursued foreign policies that kept northern Europe a relatively "low tension" area, maintained a Nordic security balance, and contributed to the peaceful resolution of disputes. Each developed "bridge-building" policies toward international conflicts that threatened their security, economic opportunities, and political independence. With memories of the Cold War now receding, the Scandinavian countries have embarked on a new course. It's worth taking a look at an important aspect of current Nordic foreign policy reassessments: the competing alternatives of the European project or a wider "Atlantic" view which includes the United States and Canada. There is of course no simple "Nordic" or "Scandinavian" foreign policy, but rather the perspectives of five distinct countries. It's also worth considering the commonalities while noting different priorities and responses.

Although "European" policies are no longer exclusively Western European, there is a chasm between the prosperous European Community/European Union (EU) and Eastern Europe where more fundamental issues of democracy, economic reform and recovery, and national security dominate the political agenda. Likewise the distinction between "European" and "Atlantic" policies is often murky. The United States (and Canada) have been closely tied to Western European security and economic development since World War II. They remain closely engaged with eastern Europe and Russia. They are important, even essential, members of the organizations such as NATO, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the evolving Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Yet North America has its own priorities and challenges and remains an ocean apart.

For the Nordic countries these competing perspectives are important. Nordic interests stretch from the western Hemisphere (Greenland) across the north Atlantic into the Baltic to the heart of European Russia. How have they reconciled these overlapping spheres? Can their earlier "bridge-building" and conflict resolution policies continue to serve?

The Eastern Europe Dimension

Despite long historical ties to the Baltic and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia's current ostpolitik (policies toward the East) is quite innovative. Germany and Russia dominated the region until 1918 and again after 1939. Scandinavian relations with Russia have been at times hostile: Sweden was Russia's rival for three hundred years. Finland struggled for decades against Russian and Soviet encroachments, but after 1955 the Finns managed their relations with the USSR constructively. Denmark and Norway had close economic and political ties with pre-revolutionary Russia as a useful counterweight to, first, Swedish and, later, German power in northern Europe. After 1920 the Nordic countries maintained normal relations with the new eastern European republics, but only Czechoslovakia became a progressive democracy before World War II with social democratic trends similar to Scandinavia.

World War II and the Cold War kept the two regions isolated. Refugees from Hungary and Poland and other eastern European countries found new homes in Scandinavia. The changes of 1989-90 opened a new era. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic were now committed to western goals of constitutional democracy, regional stability and security, and economic reform "with a human face. …

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