Finland, Sweden To Join NATO Air Surveillance Over Iceland
October 30, 2012
Finland, Sweden to help NATO in Iceland air policing
By Terhi Kinnunen
HELSINKI: Finland and Sweden plan to join some NATO air surveillance operations over Iceland, their prime ministers said on Tuesday, in a sign the neutral Nordic states are ready for more cooperation with the Western alliance.
Iceland, a NATO member without its own air force, had asked Finland and Sweden to help the alliance monitor its airspace.
The move has been politically sensitive, particularly in Finland where many fear it would breach the country’s neutrality and provoke neighboring Russia.
“Finland will inform Iceland’s government that we are willing to participate in Iceland’s air space surveillance in 2014, together with Sweden,” Katainen said at a meeting of Nordic leaders in Helsinki.
His conservative National Coalition party favors closer cooperation with NATO to strengthen national security.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, at the same meeting, said his country was “positive” about Iceland’s request. Swedish participation was a condition for Finland’s decision to join the operations.
Finland’s opposition politicians criticized the plan.
“Participating in the air surveillance of a NATO member country absolutely does not concern non-allied Finland,” Kimmo Tiilikainen of the Centre Party said in a statement.
A Finnish opinion survey on Tuesday showed 42 percent of Finns opposed participation and 22 percent supported it, while the rest did not have a stance.
(Additional reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; Writing by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Alistair Lyon)
October 26, 2012
Opposition lashes out against participation in monitoring of Iceland’s airspace
All opposition forces in the Finnish Parliament – the Finns Party, the Centre Party, and the Left Group (which broke away from the Left Alliance because it disapproved of the party’s decision to join the current coalition government), have come out against Finnish participation in the monitoring of the airspace of Iceland.
The stand taken by the Centre Party was especially disappointing to Minister of Defence Carl Haglund (Swed. People’s Party).
The opponents say that organising the monitoring of Iceland’s airspace is the responsibility of NATO. “NATO is cutting costs, and Finland pays”, said Jussi Niinistö (Finns Party), chairman of the Parliament’s Defence Committee.
Haglund maintains that the flights over Iceland would be paid out of the Defence Forces’ normal flight budget, but Niinistö disputes this. Both Niinistö, and Defence Committee vice chairman Seppo Kääriäinen (Centre) say that the project is very political.
They both see no military benefit for Finland from the practice in Iceland.
The Centre Party made reference to a statement by the Defence Committee from 2009 in which Finnish participation in Iceland’s air surveillance was not considered possible.
Kääriäinen emphasised that the project is not compatible with any of the tasks that have been set in Finnish law for the country’s Defence Forces.
Jussi Niinistö says that the biggest question is, if Finland will take part in exercises alone, or if the activity will also involve identification flights. If the latter is the case, he says that Finnish legislation would have to be amended. “That would be quite a big leap for Finland, which is not allied”, Niinistö said.
Defence Committee member Pentti Oinonen (Finns Party) voiced amazement that the Defence Forces are shutting down garrisons in Finland, while at the same time they seem to be able to afford to go to Iceland.
“The government is more concerned about the security of NATO countries than about maintaining defence capability.” Defence Committee member Jyrki Yrttiaho (Left Group) asked if it is the task of the Finnish Defence Forces now to take part in NATO surveillance. “How would Finland respond to a possible request from the Baltic Countries to take part in the monitoring of its air space?”
Haglund said that participation in identification flights is something that is hoped for, but that it does not play a very big part in the project.
“This year there have been no aircraft flying near Iceland that would have required identification.”
Niinistö opined that it is certain that if Sweden and Finland start monitoring airspace over Iceland, Russia will want to test the quality of the surveillance.
“Every great power does this kind of testing. It is quite natural”, Niinistö said.
In the view of Defence Minister Haglund, Finland would have an estimated 80 flight hours over Iceland in 2014 – about one per cent of the flight hours for the whole year.
The Defence minister says that an initial decision on Finnish participation might be forthcoming as early as next week.