AFFAIRS of the Nordic countries of Northern Europe, traditional friends of the United States, receive relatively little attention in America. Yet Nordic lands too are struggling to adapt to changes in Europe that have implications beyond Scandinavia. In late October, a center-right government in Norway fell when the Center Party, a small member of the coalition, withdrew on the issue of Norway's relationship to the European Community (EC). Norway is not a member of the EC, but, like all countries on the periphery of the continent, it sees itself required more and more to adapt to the community's patterns in order to facilitate trade. The Center Party, primarily representing farmers, resisted a plan to change Norwegian laws that limit foreign ownership in property, industry, banks, and other institutions, laws that would inhibit full cooperation with the community.
The question of the economic relationship to the continent is but one issue troubling Norway and its Nordic neighbors. A second relates to the developments in the Soviet Union and its former satellites. A look at the map illustrates why such worries exist.
Norway and Finland both have common borders with the Soviet Union. Stockholm is closer to Moscow than to Berlin; the coastlines of Estonia and Latvia are less than 200 miles from Sweden across the Baltic Sea. The Russian Republic is only slightly farther away. The histories of Russia and Scandinavia have been linked for centuries.
Traditional military concerns remain. Nordic representatives point out that whatever may be the future configuration of the Soviet Union, some part of it will continue to be a major nuclear power. A large Soviet - or Russian - navy will still exist in the Baltic Sea.
These concerns are enhanced by a recognition of the current instability and the resulting difficulty in predicting the future course of the Russian empire. Scandinavians remember that after World War II they were faced with migrations and refugees from the East. They fear that upheavals in Russia could again threaten their open societies. They ask themselves whether, given their geographic position, they can have any influence on the course of events to the East. Security concerns, for them, have more than a military meaning.
Given their apprehensions as they look East, the Nordic countries seek ties and arrangements that will enhance both their military and economic security. They welcome negotiations on the reduction of conventional forces (CFE) under the process of the Conference on European Security and Cooperation (CSCE), but they are not happy with the possibility that regional configurations proposed in CFE talks may place the heavily militarized Leningrad area and the Nordic region together.
Changes in Nordic attitudes, as well as changes in Europe, may work to alleviate some of these concerns. The concept of neutrality that has for so long inhibited Swedish and Finnish security cooperation with others is disappearing with the end of the cold war. The desire of most of the Scandinavian countries to remain outside the EC has lessened and all are now contemplating applications for membership, despite such local resistance as has been seen in Norway, and continuing reservations about a grouping that appears to be dominated by France and Southern Europe. Only Denmark is a member of the EC.
A recent Nordic visitor to Washington pointed out that circumstances on the European continent had changed in ways that made association with the rest of Europe easier. New institutions such as CSCE have been created since World War II. The type of colonial rivalries that created the instability in the Balkans and led to previous wars no longer exist. Germany sees itself as an integral part of a larger Europe. Ideas of the West, compatible to the Scandinavians, have prevailed in the cold war.
As the Nordic visitor also said, ``There are today lots of architects in Europe, but fewer builders.'' No one is certain how the new structures will adapt to the changed circumstances of the 1990s. But the problems of Norway and its neighbors illustrate the dilemmas of the smaller countries today on the periphery of Western Europe and a Russian empire in upheaval. Nation states, whether large or small, cannot continue to provide within themselves the economic and security arrangements necessary for assured stability.