A historical overview of cold war era nordic countries

Political Disposition of the Nordic Countries during the Cold War

Guest article by Andrew Ng


With the new Team Yankee: Nordic Forces books and army coming out, it is a rather interesting read as to why and how possibly the Nordic countries would participate in the Cold War turning hot. In this article, I will once again be looking into the historical disposition of the four Nordic nations involved and how their foreign policy helped them survive being invaded then. Back in the 1940s, the geographical positions of the Nordic nations – Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland made them strategically vital and threatening to the USSR. Norway and Finland both share a border with the Soviet superpower making them tempting targets for the Soviet land forces to invade and establishing new coastal bases for access to the Atlantic Ocean. Denmark and Sweden held most of the opposing coastline that separates the Baltic Sea from the Atlantic Ocean, restricting the movement of the Soviet Naval forces from operations beyond the Baltic Seas.



Denmark (NATO - Ally)

Denmark joined NATO in the year 1949, because of the military threat of the Soviet Union on the country. As mentioned earlier, The Danish Belt in Denmark is of vital importance to both the NATO and Soviet Union. As the belt were international waters, they became the gateway for the Soviet Baltic Fleet to exit into the North Atlantic Operation to strike at other NATO nations or allies such as the United States of America or Great Britain. On the other hand, the belt was also the only entry point for NATO naval forces into the Baltic Sea. As a result, when Denmark declared their membership to NATO, the Soviet Union labelled them as the enemy and started planning a possible invasion through Sjælland, before stepping off to invade Norway to obtain their strategically placed harbours that border the North Atlantic Ocean. However, Denmark’s membership in NATO came with three additional conditions: No bases, no nuclear warheads, and no NATO military activity on Danish Territory. These conditions excluded the Danes from full military integration with the other NATO nations, thus allowing the Danes to further stress the defensive nature of their joining of NATO while avoiding further aggravating relations with the Soviet Union.

Norway (NATO - ally)

Norway, being in the middle of the two powers of Western Europe and the Soviet Union, the Norwegians initially embraced a bridge-building policy. This policy generally entails that Norway will commit to achieving international peace by the pursuit of policies that will not cause either side to be alienated or increase any tensions after World War 2. However, this reliance on the United Nations to secure the borders and sovereignty of Norway was found to be unreliable as the UN was paralyzed on multiple occasions because of disagreements between the superpowers of that time. Eventually, Norway chose to side with NATO. Geographically, Norway maintained a 195.7 km land border with the Soviet Union, with many additional disputes over the marine borders between both countries. Norway had also played the host for many NATO exercises, which allowed Norway and NATO to show their desire to defend against potential Soviet aggression.

Sweden (Political Neutrality)

Sweden had adopted a state of political neutrality – not allying with the Soviet Union or being a part of NATO. Sweden’s geographical location had made it a highly strategic location between the Soviet Union and the NATO nations, with almost half the border between Western Europe and the Soviet Union being formed by Sweden. This had seen border conflicts between the Swedish and Soviet Air and Naval forces. Besides adopting political neutrality, to further make themselves less appetizing and costly for a potential invasion by the Soviet Union, Sweden made all efforts to maintain a strong coastal defence to defend its eastern coast, as well as having the 4th largest airforce then. The airbases were designed and spread along the entire coastline, ensuring a comprehensive coverage of the coast alongside the Naval forces. In response, the Soviet Union’s plan for an invasion of the Nordic region included a plan that circumvents and isolates Sweden from the rest of Europe, drawing a potentially similar situation s Switzerland during World War 2. While the Swedish Military were openly against the Soviet Union, the potential of the Cold War turning hot had the Swedish government maintaining close ties with the United States and top-secret military planning and training with the NATO forces in preparation for that eventuality. 

Finland (Political Neutrality)

In addition to the large land border that Finland shared with the Soviet Union, both countries shared a significant history, especially during World War 2. During the winter War of 1939 when Finland defended itself against the Soviets, to the territorial dispute after the end of the World War, Finland was well aware of the precarious position they were in. To ensure the survival of their small nation against the neighbouring Soviet Union, Finland embarked on a Finlandization policy. Finlandization meant that Finland would refrain from opposing the Soviet’s foreign policy in exchange for the nominal independence of Finland and maintaining its political system. Being able to maintain a good and trusting relationship with the Soviet Union resulted in the signing of an agreement of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union in 1948. This signing agreement obliges Finland to resist any NATO attempts to invade the Soviet Union and be able to call for the aid of the Soviet Union while recognizing Finland’s desire to be stay-out of any potential conflicts between NATO and the Soviet Union. Furthermore, Finland continued to keep cool relations with NATO and the United States at the same time, allowing the building of a foundation of mutual neutrality. 

Cold War Turning Hot – Team Yankee Context. 

Based on the historical stand of the various Nordic forces during the Cold War era, it is easy to see that with the invasion of the Soviet Union, all four Nordic nations would choose the NATO side. Norway and Denmark had already joined NATO at this point, while Sweden had maintained secret ties with NATO and the US in preparation for the potential Soviet aggression. On the other hand, although Finland had acceded to Soviet Union’s foreign policy and seemed to be on friendly terms with them, it is not hard to imagine that when they are faced with Soviet aggression they would resist as their predecessors did during World War 2.  In addition, the military technology of the various armed forces would also be representative of the nations' political stand, with Denmark and Norway having similar equipment to the general NATO nations, while Sweden has their unique military system engineered for their specific request and battle plans. Finland would possess more Soviet-based technology due to the agreement that it had with the Soviet Union before Soviet aggression against them. 

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