Some American flyboys are in Finland this month, in an effort to remind Russian President Vladimir Putin where his country’s borders really are.
The 123rd Fighter Squadron, based out of Portland, Oregon, is participating in exercises in Finland over the course of this month.
The F-15Cs of the 123rd will be assisting in improving the readiness of the Finnish Air Force, who has seen an increase in its necessity due to an increase in Russian airspace violations of sovereign airspace.
Finland is not a member of NATO, but has been a participant in the Partnership for Peace program, as well as assisting in ISAF operations in Afghanistan, and participating in NATO exercises, as demonstrated below.
The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has solidified North American and European security interests to a degree that may even exceed that of the height of the Cold War.
This in turn has lead to an interest among some to extend the NATO security umbrella.
This has led most recently to Montenegro’s invitation to the alliance, and some suggestions that Sweden and Finland consider alliance membership.
Both Sweden and Finland have historically followed a policy of neutrality, but this has not been entirely adhered to.
Sweden has had intelligence sharing agreements with NATO states since 1954, as well as relying on NATO capabilities in the event of war against the Soviet Union, and in more recent times against simulated Russian airstrikes.
Both countries participate in NATO exercises, and operations, as well as having strong relations with both Denmark and Norway; both founding members of the Atlantic Alliance.
However, the two countries are not equally open to formally joining the alliance.
The Swedish public has rapidly shifted in favor of NATO membership, with 41% in favor, 39% opposed, and 20% undecided as of late 2015. While Finnish support for NATO membership is at a historical high, only 27% support membership.
This is why the American deployment of aircraft into non ally Finland is such a strong signal.
The Americans may be showing a preview of the kind of commitment they would offer if Finland joined NATO.
By creating stronger military and diplomatic ties with Finland through interactions between the 123rd with Finnish units, and other NATO-Finland interactions, the case for affiliation becomes more concrete.
That does not make the Portland based unit’s sale easy.
Greater affiliation with the EU and NATO has historically lead to an increase in likelihood for Russian counter actions, ala the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, and the two year old ongoing fiasco in Ukraine.
It is essentially out of the question that Finland join without Sweden, or vice versa. In addition to the two countries having strong historical ties, as well as sharing a highly convenient border to ferry troops and material over in the event of Russian intervention into Finland, while Sweden joining with Finland might trigger a response against neutral Finland, in order to guarantee buffer space against the perceived NATO threat.
The Oregon Air National Guard is thus pulling double duty in appealing to both the remaining non aligned Scandinavian countries, as well as improving Finland’s unilateral readiness.
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Photo Credit: cryogenic666/Flickr (CC by SA 2.0)