Finland and Sweden are contemplating joining an elite UK-led military group capable of mobilizing tens of thousands of soldiers to respond to a variety of threats anywhere in the world. Both Nordic non-NATO states received invitations over the weekend.
The 10,000-strong British-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), which began formation in December of 2012, is designed to operate alone or jointly in support of NATO, European Union, or United Nations missions anywhere in the world.
The force will incorporate air and naval units, as well as ground troops, and will be led by British commanders, with other participating nations contributing a range of specialist troops and units.
A letter of intent signed with partners from Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Norway aims to develop JEF to become fully operational before 2018, but the force can already be used if needed.
Sweden’s and Finland’s military cooperation with NATO is based on their longstanding policies of non-alignment. However, both countries have contributed to NATO’s multinational peace operations in non-combat capacities. Now, both Nordic countries are considering if joining JEF will bring mutual benefits.
“Joining this force has to do with NATO, because the idea originated within NATO and the force acts within NATO’s scope as exercised by the states in question. They can decide for themselves whether to invite non-NATO countries in,” Janne Kuusela from the Finnish Defence Ministry was quoted as saying by the local press.
“The cooperation offer is based on Finland and Sweden being in a so-called enhanced partnership with NATO and we have a good history with joint operations with the UK,” Kuusela stressed.
Sweden’s Armed Forces are also set to enter discussions on potentially joining the force.
“We have also held discussions with Finland and will undertake a joint analysis of potential participation in JEF. We will coordinate our position on this,” Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told Dagens Nyheter newspaper.
Sweden, which has maintained a foreign policy based on non-alignment and refused to join NATO for years, thinks membership in JEF will be possible.
“JEF is not a NATO force, but a British initiative and a British-led operation. This means that we can participate without any obligation to take part in operations,” the Swedish defense minister said.
Finland, which has also remained independent of NATO, says it may need to upgrade its military hardware to fully integrate with JEF.
“Joining this force would have to somehow benefit Finland’s defense capabilities,” Kuusela said, adding “we think that Finland’s military performance needs to be updated in the current global security environment, so the offer is quite interesting. But this will be carefully hashed out and only brought into the political sphere if we consider JEF worth joining.”