Nordic nations on guard
An air-raid siren blasted through sections of Oslo recently, prompting some Norwegian residents to wonder just how seriously its leaders were taking recent actions by the Soviet Union.
The siren had been triggered by exceptionally cold weather that day, however, rather than by a government order for regular drills, according to the Foreign Ministry. But the incident exemplifies the quick changes in Scandinavian political and strategic thinking since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and exiling of dissident Andrei Sakharov.
The Nordic nations, noted for their stability and practicality, are more often than not reluctant to entangle their small countries in international disputes. However, when "the bear next door" (as the Soviet Union has been dubbed by a recent British documentary) showed an unexpected willingness to breathe down its neighbors' necks, even the cool Scandinavians have refused to take an it-couldn't-happen-to-us attitude.
The Finns are the exception. Sharing hundreds of miles of border with the Soviets, Finland has fallen back on its 1948 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance to fend off comparisons between its situation and that of Afghanistan.
The Finnish government has been the only Nordic one that has not condemned the Soviet invasion. The Finns simply have said that Soviet troop withdrawal -- as soon as the situation allows -- conforms to Finnish thinking.
Always mindful of how easily the Soviet Union could annex Finland and of how that nearly happened in World War II, Finland has used the Afghanistan crisis to point out the success of its friendship policy because Finland has not been, and is not now, threatened by "the bear," government officials and politicians maintain.
As usual, the political parties closed rank behind the present mastermind of this policy, President Urho Kekkonen, and issued extremely guarded and vacuous statements about Afghanistan. In fact, the reactions were so cautious that only the Communist Party mentioned Afghanistan by name in its comment.
Norway, Denmark, and Sweden have intensified their states of military preparedness or plan to do so as a result of Afghanistan, government sources admit. Future budget debates will pay more attention to defense spending. And, participation in NATO by Denmark and Norway will not be so heavily resisted.
Norway announced its tightening of military alertness soon after news of the Soviet invasion broke. Despite Soviet accusations of "provocation," the Norwegians went even further and pushed to conclude an agreement under negotiation with the United States to store weapons in the country. This would enable the Americans and NATO to reinforce Norwegian troops more rapidly if the Soviets should try to attack. The Norwegians also support President Carter's Olympic boycott.
Although Denmark and Sweden will not own up officially to military readiness, diplomatic sources concede that measures such as intensified radar surveillance have been enacted in both countries.
Denmark has received stinging criticism from the United States and Norway for failing to boost its defense expenditures by NATO's recommended 3 percent. But this may reflect more on the minority government's economic crisis, which is causing political turbulence, than on a lack of will to help beef up defense after Afghanistan.
The Danish pre-Afghanistan view toward stationing of Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe may soften now, sources predict. Last autumn, the Danes pushed for a six-month moratorium on the stationing decision in order to sound out the Soviets more closely about their armament intentions in Europe. The Danes then maintained that the reduction in troops on the East European border was a sign of good will that should be reciprocated by a "no" to the missiles.
The most remarkable part of Sweden's denunciation is that, as a neutral country, Sweden usually outdoes the Finns in the art of saying nothing and remaining noninvolved. For the first time in years, foreign affairs dominated the general debate in parliament because of the Soviet actions.
Sweden's most influential politician, former prime minister Olof Palme, divorced his party from further alliance with the Communist Party, declaring that if the invasion was what Leninism was about, he wanted no part of it. Mr. Palme's Social Democrats had relied on the small Communist Party to give them a parliamentary majority through the latter part of their 44-year governmental reign, which was lost in 1976.
The commander-in-chief of the Swedish armed forces called for a larger number of aircraft and ships as well as better training for military conscripts but denied that the suggestions were directly prompted by the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.
Nordic leaders have also had plenty of opportunities to consult one another about their strategies. The Danes and Norwegians have conferred, as have the Swedes and Finns in the last few weeks.
Although the security of the Nordic area has never been the reason for the meetings, nor have officials confirmed that the subject was discussed in detail, sources say it was not overlooked.
For if the Soviet move into the small South Asian state has done anything, it has clearly brought home to the Nordic area how vulnerable small nations are, especially ones situated in areas considered strategic to the superpowers.
Scandinavia is a key area because of its proximity to the Soviet naval bases, particularly Murmansk. A naval offensive aimed at Europe or blockading North American supplies to Europe would sail past one or more Nordic countries.
The geography lesson has not gone over the heads of the Finns, Norwegians, Danes, or Swedes.Although neutral Sweden and Finland train their troops to fight any aggressor and practice with weapons pointed east and west, many a Finnish and Swedish conscript admits that they realistically expect to aim east when and if called up.