What makes an ally? Sweden and Finland as NATO’s closest partners

  • Anna WieslanderEmail author
Original Article


From 2013 onward, Sweden and Finland gradually distinguish themselves from all other NATO partners in order to meet the growing challenge how to defend the Baltics. In the analysis, the concept of ‘informal ally’, in contrast to ‘formal ally’, is introduced. A synthesized analytical framework is used to evaluate the process of ever closer partner cooperation and its shifting focus from cooperative security to collective defense. For NATO, the concept of informal allies is central to address. How do informal allies impact NATO in decision-making, operational planning and crisis response? How can NATO balance in solving its core tasks efficiently, without undermining itself as a multilateral institution?


NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) Informal ally Alliance theory Sweden Finland Security policy Defense policy 



  1. 1.
    Winnerstig, Mike. 2017. More Allied than a NATO Ally? The—Almost—Fundamental Shift in Swedish Security Policy. ICDS Blog. Accessed 12 June 2017.
  2. 2.
    Holmström, Mikael. 2017. Brittiskt löfte om militär hjälp till Sverige vid kris. Dagens Nyheter. Accessed 1 July 2017.
  3. 3.
    Nurmi, Lauri. 2017. Defence Secretary of the UK: JEF Forces Ready to Assist Finland—‘Finland is not Alone’. Lännen Media. Accessed 30 June 2017.
  4. 4.
    Edström, Håkan, Janne Haaland Matlary, and Magnus Petersson (eds.). 2011. NATO The Power of Partnerships. New Security Challenges Series. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Flockhart, Trine, ed. 2014. Cooperative Security: NATO’s Partnerships in a Changing World. DIIS Report 2014:01. Danish Institute of International Studies.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Pyykönen, Juha. 2016. Nordic Partners of NATO. How Similar are Finland and Sweden Within NATO Cooperation? FIIA Report 48. Finnish Institute of International Affairs.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Wieslander, Anna. 2016. ‘Extended Cooperative Security’ in the Baltic Sea Region. The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs 25(1): 134–144.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Folly, Martin. 1990. British Military and the North Atlantic Treaty. In The Origins of NATO, ed. Joseph Smith, 37–45. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Kaplan, Lawrence. 1984. The United States and NATO: The Formative Years. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Folly, Martin. 1990. British Military and the North Atlantic Treaty. In The Origins of NATO, ed. Joseph Smith, 37–45. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Dalsjö, Robert. 2006. Life-Line Lost: The Rise and Fall of ‘neutral’ Sweden’s Secret Reserve Option of Wartime Help from the West. Stockholm: Santérus Academic Press Sweden.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Holmström, Mikael. 2011. Den Dolda Alliansen: Sveriges Hemliga NATO-förbindelser. Stockholm: Atlantis.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Waltz, Kenneth. 1979. Theory of International Politics. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Keohane, Robert (ed.). 1986. Neorealism and Its Critics. New York: Colombia University Press.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Cornish, Paul. 1997. Partnership in Crisis: The US, Europe and the Fall and Rise of NATO. Chatham House Papers, 10. London: The Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Keohane, Robert. 1993. Institutional Theory and the Realist Challenge After the Cold War. In Neorealism and Neoliberalism: The Contemporary Debate, ed. David Baldwin. New York: Colombia University Press.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Thies, Wallace. 2009. Why NATO Endures, 294. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Dinev Ivanov, Ivan. 2017. European Security at Crossroads after Ukraine? In NATO’s Return to Europe: Engaging Ukraine, Russia, and Beyond, ed. Rebecca Moore and Damon Coletta. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Deutsch, Karl, Sidnet Burrelll, Robert Kann, and Maurice Lee Jr. 1957. Political Community and the North Atlantic Area, 36. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Bremberg, Niklas. 2012. Exploring the Dynamics of Security Community-Building in the Post-Cold War Era: Spain, Morocco and the European Union. Ph.D. diss., Stockholm University, p. 43.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Campbell, David. 1992. Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity, 8. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Kaplan, Lawrence. 1990. Collective Security and the Case of NATO. In The Origins of NATO, ed. Joseph Smith, 95–109. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Peterson, Magnus. 2011. NATO and the EU ‘Neutrals’—Instrumental or Value-Oriented Utility? In NATO: The Power of Partnerships. New Security Challenges Series, ed. Håkan Edström, Janne Haaland Matlárt, and Magnus Petersson, 115–117. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Wand-Danielsson, Veronika. 2018. Interview by Anna Wieslander. Stockholm.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Deni, John. 2016. The Case of NATO’s Connected Forces Initiative. European Security 25(2): 181–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Nye Jr., Joseph S. 2006. Soft Power and European-American affairs. In Soft Power and the Future of Transatlantic Relations, ed. Thomas Ilgen, 25–38. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Lagerwall, Katarina. 2015. Så samarbetar Sveriges försvar med NATO. Dagens Nyheter. Accessed 26 May 2015.
  28. 28.
    Stockholm, T.T. 2014. Regeringen öppnar för Natostyrka. Svenska Dagbladet. Accessed 27 Aug 2014.
  29. 29.
    Braun, A. (ed.). 2008. NATO-Russia Relations in the Twenty-First Century. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Friedman, Thomas L. 1991. SOVIET DISARRAY; Yeltsin Says Russia Seeks to Join NATO. New York Times. Accessed 21 Dec 1991.
  31. 31.
    Ratti, Luca. 2013. ‘Resetting’ NATO-Russia Relations: A realist Appraisal Two Decades After the USSR. The Journal of Slavic Military Studies 26(2): 143–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Rachwald, Arthur R. 2011. A ‘Reset’ of NATO-Russia Relations: Real or Imaginary? European Security 20(1): 120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Tichý, Lukáš. 2014. Security and Foreign Policy of Dmitry Medvedev in the Period 2008–2012. The Journal of Slavic Military Studies 27(4): 546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Deyermond, Ruth. 2013. Assessing the Reset: Successes and Failures in the Obama Administration’s Russia Policy, 2009–2012. European Security 22(4): 501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Wieslander, Anna. 2014. Sverige i exklusiv krets på Nato:s toppmöte. UI-bloggen.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Wieslander, Anna. 2015, A New Normal for NATO and Baltic Sea Security. UI Brief, No. 2.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Frear, Thomas, Lukasz Kulesa, and Ian Kearns. 2014. Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014. European Leadership Network. Accessed 10 Nov 2014.
  38. 38.
    Kunz, Barbara. 2015. Sweden’s NATO Workaround. Swedish Security and Defense Policy Against the Backdrop of Russian Revisionism. Focus stratégique no. 64, Institut français des relations internationales (IFIRI).Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Gotkowska, Justyna, and Pitor Szymański. 2017. Between Co-operation and Membership. Sweden and Finland’s relations with NATO. OSW Studies No. 62, OSW.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Dalsjö, Robert. 2017. Trapped in the Twilight Zone? Sweden Between Neutrality and NATO. FIIA Working Paper 94, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA).Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Anthony, Ian, and Carrie Weintraub. 2018. Closing Sweden’s Military Security Deficit: The National Debate on NATO Membership. Research Paper No. 144, NATO Defense College.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Wieslander, Anna. 2017. A Brusque Swedish Awakening: Adopting Security Policy to Baltic Sea Challenges. In Security in the Baltic Sea Region: Realities and Prospects. The Riga Conference Papers 2017, Latvian Institute of International Affairs (LIIA), 2017, p. 95.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Gummesson, Jonas. 2017. SvD/Sifo: Putin och Trump påverkar inte Nato-opinion. Svenska Dagbladet. Accessed 30 June 2017.
  44. 44.
    Standish, Reid. 2016. Fearing Russian Bear, Sweden Inches Toward NATO. Foreign Policy. Accessed 25 May 2016.
  45. 45.
    Chadwick, Vince. 2015. Swedish–Russian Relations Enter Deep Freeze. Politico. Accessed 17 Sept 2015.
  46. 46.
    Shlapak, David A., and Michael Johonson. 2016. Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics. RAND Corporation. Accessed 2 June 2017.
  47. 47.
    Ioffe, Julia. 2015. The Pentagon is Preparing New War Plans for a Baltic Battle Against Russia. Foreign Policy. Accessed 18 Sept 2015.
  48. 48.
    Maigre, Merle. 2016. President Ilves and the Suwalki Gap. Diplomaatia. Accessed 6 May 2016.
  49. 49.
    Smith, Julianne, and Jerry Hendrix. 2016. Assured Resolve: Testing Possible Challenges to Baltic Security. Center for New American Security (CNAS), p. 11. Accessed 07 April 2016.
  50. 50.
    Holmström, Mikael. 2016. USA ser allvarligt på om Gotland hotas. Dagens Nyheter. Accessed 26 April 2016.
  51. 51.
    Wieslander, Anna. 2016. Can They Get Any Closer? The Case for Deepening the Partnerships Between Sweden and Finland with NATO. NATO Source. Accessed 12 Oct 2016.
  52. 52.
    Gummesson, Jonas. 2017. ÖB pekar ut fördelar med svenskt Natomedlemskap. Svenska Dagbladet. Accessed 14 March 2017.
  53. 53.
    Rynning, Sten. 2017. The Divide: France, Germany and Political NATO. International Affairs 93(2): 267–289. Scholar
  54. 54.
    Sharkov, Damien. 2017. Putin Vows Military Response to ‘Eliminate NATO Threat’ if Sweden Joins U.S.-Led Alliance. Newsweek. Accessed 02 June 2017.
  55. 55.
    Dyomkin, Denis, and Tuomas Forsell. 2016. Putin Hints Russia will React if Finland Joins NATO. Reuters. Accessed 01 July 2016.

Copyright information

© The Editor of the Journal 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceLund UniversityLundSweden

Personalised recommendations