Bilateral Defense Treaties with the United States: Not an Alternative to NATO  

Written by | Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

Leo Michel (The Finnish Institute of International Affairs)

The vision of Sweden and Finland calling for a defense treaty with the United States sounds like a logical step. Neither of the two countries is a full-fledged NATO member, and therefore the question remains to what extent these countries are safe at the time of increasing tensions between the West and Russia. Currently, there is already a hint of deeper cooperation between Sweden and the United States and a similar agreement is also being discussed with Finland. It seems that a bilateral cooperation in the security area of these countries can bring positive results. Is it really the case or is there a reason for these two Scandinavian countries to prefer to choose a different path?

The main problem is the United States itself. The cooperation would be intensified more than just in the field of technological cooperation – it would also be in safety, information and research. This is something that Washington will not agree with. NATO was not intended only to make the United States send its forces to Europe. The Europeans and Canadians are also obliged to provide their resources for the defense of others, which hasn’t, however, been mostly happening. US officials regularly point out that Europeans and Canadians do not meet their obligations and that their security forces usually rely on American support.

The United States, however, cannot afford to leave abandon their allies, especially in the time of a crisis. In the event of an aggression by Russia, the US will be obliged to act regardless of whether it is a NATO Member Country attacked or a country of a defense pact. The signing of a bilateral agreement between the US and some of the Scandinavian countries would, however, most likely undermine the provisions of the security structures in Europe. The main problem would be the weakening of NATO’s authority. Sweden and Finland would remain more vulnerable to a possible Russian aggression and the Americans would look like they have lost faith in the project of one defense alliance.

Administrative complications would be yet another problem. Nobody in Washington wants to create – in addition to NATO – two more European alliances for Finland and Sweden. Many people, however, recommended to create, as a minimum, a temporary mechanism to protect these countries, at least until they fully participate in the NATO structures. Even so, this situation would be problematic – bilateral alliance does not make any sense in the case of Sweden and Finland.


(The study can be downloaded here)

Article Categories:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.