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    Finland, Sweden Invited to UK-Led Expeditionary Force, Creep Closer to NATO

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    The UK is poised to leave the EU, and is exploring the possibilities of expanding and deepening its military cooperation with allies across Europe. Finland and Sweden, the only remaining non-aligned Nordic nations, have both been invited to join a UK-led expeditionary force.

    While both Finland and Sweden officially remain true to their time-tested policy of non-alignment, they have been inching closer to NATO in recent years. While the British-led Joint Expedition Force (JEF) is not a NATO force per se, it is comprised of NATO members and is said to pursue a similar agenda.

    The two Nordic nations, which have considered forming a military alliance of their own for years, are poised to further coordinate their positions and carry out a joint analysis of the benefits of joining JEF. So far, both Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist and his Finnish counterpart Jussi Niinistö have been positive about the idea, Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported.

    "Our cooperation with Britain is highly developed. Although it is poised to leave the EU, the British Defense Minister specifically pointed out that it wants to remain an active player, assume its responsibilities regarding the security of Europe and remain a partner one can trust implicitly, Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.

    In June 2016, Hultqvist signed a broad agreement to cooperate with his British counterpart Michael Fallon. Although the agreement did not include Sweden's participation in JEF, Hultqvist did not rule out the possibility of joining, considering the fact that Sweden's fellow Nordic nations Norway and Denmark were already part of it. Earlier, Hultqvist repeatedly expressed concern over the security situation in Europe and called for new ways to provide for the region's defense.

    "Our view is that the UK is an extremely important actor in the European defense and security field. It has a large capacity, which is why it is important to maintain this relationship," Hultqvist said.

    Meanwhile, the UK has been building up its military profile in Eastern Europe. Last week, the first British officers arrived in Finland's neighbor Estonia as part of the new NATO battalion tasked with preventing Russian "sneak attacks." The British have the main responsibility for securing Estonia with armored vehicles, tanks, drones and 800 men.

    JEF has so far consisted only of NATO member states, which is not a problem for Peter Hultqvist, a long-standing proponent of non-alignment.

    "JEF is not a NATO force per se, but a British initiative with British-led operations. This means that we are free to join, without any obligation to participate in operations," Hultqvist said, suggesting clear difference between JEF and NATO.

    The UK Joint Expeditionary Force is a United Kingdom-led expeditionary force consists of Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway. JEF member states plan to hold joint drills with the intent of supporting the UN, the EU or NATO with a range of responses from humanitarian operations to direct warfare. JEF's maximum force is estimated at 10,000, whereas each participating country decides itself on whether and how to contribute.

     

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    Tags:
    Joint Expeditionary Force, NATO, Jussi Niinistö, Peter Hultqvist, Baltic Region, United Kingdom, Finland, Scandinavia, Sweden
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