Political realism in Northern Europe

I would like to pay attention to theories of international relations since it was highly interesting for me to follow how they define the phenomenon of cooperation in Northern Europe .

Well, I’d like to start turning to the paradigm of political realism. Personally I consider this theory to be a founding father of the present-day international relations.  Appealing to them, international cooperation can appear only in a place where conflict or crisis exist and where the main goal of cooperation can be achieved through security. It is enough to remember Thucydides who turned to this form of cooperation stressing that military bloc is the only core of cooperation[1]. In the  context of political realism in Northern Europe, a good example will be Sweden, of course. We might see that under the World War I and the World War II it promoted officially its neutrality. After the end of the World War II Sweden also denied any accesses to any military blocs. But nowadays, Swedish policy is not as neutral as it seems, it can be defined as non-alignment[2]. As it is visible from the table Swedish military budget is the biggest in Northern Europe[3].

Finland Sweden Denmark Norway Iceland
Military budget (bln $) 2,7 5,6 3,17 4,69 0,41
Army (thousands) 28,3 27,6 21,2 25,8

Sweden has always been a sea power. It is quite logic, if we turn to history and wars, for example, Russian-Swedish war in 1808-1809 and Swedish-Danish war in 1813-1814. The first war was initiated by Russia. Russia’s aim was to conquer Finland, the then Swedish territory, and eliminate Swedish threat. As a result, Sweden failed and the Fredrikshamn Treaty was reached. Under this Treaty Finland and the Aland islands became Russian territories. Swеdish-Danish war 1813-1814 was launched by Sweden aiming at Norway conquering since Finland was lost.  Sweden was supported by the UK, Russia and Prussia. So the war ended in 3 months with the Treaty of Kiel and Norway got under Sweden’s protectorate. So it is very much visible, that historical legacy is conditioning on Sweden’s big military budget today, and it is not that easy to refuse from that legacy of a great sea power even pursuing officially non-alignment. Hans Morgenthau, a famous theorist of political realism claimed that foreign policy goals must be determined in terms of national interest and be supported with a proper force[4].  In this particular discourse national interests meant leadership in the region which led to wars between countries in order to possess a certain territory which was not necessarily limited by one region. Power at that time to much degree was conditioned on by one’s dominions, for example, Finland or Norway, which possessed population that could be recruited for the army and of course covered certain military expenditures.

If we turn to Russia for comparison, we’ll see that military budget of the Russian Federation amounts to 30 bln$[5] with its army of 1 million 68 thousands of people. Russia is also powerful taking into account its nuclear potential as well as its memberships in the UN Security Council and Collective Security Treaty Organization. This Collective Security Treaty Organization is an international organization aimed at providing regional, national, international security as well as sovereignty and territorial integrity[6]. Russia together with Armenia and Belarus, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. It is visible, that none of the Nordic countries are in this organization.  Sweden and Finland official position in international relations is neutrality while Norway, Denmark and Iceland are NATO members since its very beginning in 1949[7]. If we glance at NATO’s military potential, we’ll see the following – military budget amounting to 4,69 bln$, army amounting to 25,8 thousands of people. It is visible when comparing Russia with Nordic Europe, Russia will be a leader while taking into account NATO’s potential the region is already perceived in another way.

Nowadays, political realism in the region can be also observed. Though Norway in late 1950s prohibited any military exercises involving foreign troops in the northern territory of Finnmark as well as nuclear weapons deployment in the country, nowadays, serious tension exists with Russia. The first clash appears to be on the continental shelf enriched with energy and bio resources. In accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982[8], it is important for states to prove that this continental shelf is a logic continuity of their land. Hence, Russia applied for widening its economic zone, but failed[9]. The issue is not yet closed for today and the principal decision will be taken by the UN Commission on the limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). Russia, however, is trying to resolve it in a peaceful way without escalations and only by diplomatic means[10].

Another clash with Norway that can be also treated in terms of political realism concerns Spitsbergen (Svalbard in Norwegian). Russian companies are working on Spitsbergen which is the part of Norwegian territory. However, under the Svalbard Treaty of the 1920 all signatories were given equal rights to engage in commercial activities on the islands. The difficulty here is that Norway doesn’t acknowledge the measures taken and related to Russian companies as discriminative[11].

As a result, clashes which exist between Northern Europe actors are not numerous and the main spirit of cooperation  is definitely supported.


[1] Thucydides. The History of the Peloponnesian War, Book 1 [Electronic resource]// Thucydides. – Electr.data – http://history.eserver.org/peloponesian-war.txt, free– Screen title. – Rus.lang.

[2] Economics and Sweden neutrality [Electronic resource]//  Interfax. – Electron. art. – http://www.finmarket.ru/z/anl/anlpgv.asp?id=512636 ,free –Screen title. – Rus.lang.

[3] World’s armed forces [Electronic resource]// Foreign military review. -. – Electron. art. –http://commi.narod.ru/mforce/index.htm ,free – Screen title. – Rus.lang.

[4] See Morgenthau H. Politics Among Nations. The struggle for Power and Peace /H.Morgentau.-N.Y., 1965.- p. 440.

[5] Military budget of Russia [Electronic resource]/Warfare.ru . – Electron. art. – http://warfare.ru/rus/?lang=rus&catid=239&linkid=2279 ,free – Screen title. – Rus.lang.

[6] Charter on Collective Security Treaty Organization [Electronic resource]/ OCS. – Electron. art. – http://www.dkb.gov.ru/start/index.htm ,free – Screen title. – Rus.lang.  .

[7] What is NATO? [Electronic resource]/ North Atlantic Treaty Organization . – Electron. art. – http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/what_is_nato.htm,  free. – Screen title. – Eng.lang.

[8] United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [Electronic resource]/ UN . – Electron. art. – http://www.un.org/russian/documen/convents/lawsea.pdf,free – Screen title. – Rus.lang.

[9] Clashes on Arctic’s limits: not yet a war [Electronic resource]/ BBC Russia. – Electron. art. – http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/russian/russia/newsid_7417000/7417334.stm ,free – Screen title. – Rus.lang.

[10] Lavrov: the UN commission on continental shelf will take the decision  [Electronic resource]/ “RIA News” – Electron. art. –  http://www.rian.ru/economy/20090603/173176992.html ,free – Screen title. – Rus.lang.

[11] Interview of Prime-minister of Norway [Electronic resource]/ Norge.ru. – Electron. art. – http://www.norge.ru/stoltenberg_intervju ,free – Screen title. – Rus.lang.

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