Pole and Swede, brothers be

04.11.2018 | By Piotr Wójcik

Wealthy Sweden, located just a stone’s throw from our borders, rarely appears in Polish public debate as our potential ally. Qualities of this country make it a perfect material for our strategic partner: it is better developed, and so we can benefit from this cooperation, but also it is too small to dominate us. 

Roughly speaking, the sides of a dispute over Polish alliance architecture in Europe are the supporters of a close partnership with Germany (or the Weimar Triangle as a whole) and the sympathisers of the Intermarium. According to the second group, the Polish position should be based on close cooperation with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, with particular emphasis on the Visegrad Group (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary).

The obvious advantage of the first idea is that it would unite Poland with the most influential country in EU. The problem is that our geopolitical and geoeconomic backgrounds differ so much that it will be difficult to find a community of interest, which is exemplified by the Nord Stream II pipeline project. Besides, the potentials of both countries are so different that we would have to act as a subordinate in this relation. On the other hand, we could aspire to the role of a leader among the countries of East-Central Europe, but it would be an alliance of medium-sized countries being at the same level of development as Poland, so we would not learn much. Not to mention the fact that the Visegrad group has different views of Russia, an issue of great importance in Polish geopolitical situation.

Looking from such perspective, Sweden, together with the rest of the Nordic countries, seems to be the optimal candidate for the central pillar of our alliance architecture, as it is highly developed and influential, but not strong enough to play a role of a stronger side in this partnership.

Potential advantages of allying with Sweden should be considered in the context of the alliance with the entire group of Nordic countries that closely cooperate within the Nordic Council (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland and several smaller islands).

The alliance with Sweden alone would not make full use of the potential of cooperation with the North, while the partnership without Sweden, which is the most reliable and most centrally located country in Scandinavia, would be genuinely a mindless move. To ally with the North, we should start with Sweden. It cannot be the endpoint though, as Stockholm shall be the gateway to other Nordic Countries. Cooperation with the Scandinavians can be achieved in several areas: military, technology, energy and institutions.

Firstly, the army

Looking at the defensive situation, Poland and the Nordic countries are primarily united by a sense of threat from Russia. No wonder – Moscow continually and often provocatively demonstrates its power. It regularly trains air attacks on Sweden and conducts sea manoeuvres right at its maritime borders. As a result, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland created a NORDEFCO military alliance in 2009, and last year they decided to further strengthen the cooperation because of Russian expansion. The Nordic countries count on Poland in this matter.

In September 2015, an agreement on military cooperation between Poland and Sweden was signed. In a statement given to the Polish Press Agency, the commander of the Swedish Navy Jens Nykvist communicated the willingness to strengthen the cooperation between the fleets of our countries, expressing the hope that they will perform exercises together more often.

Besides, Sweden and Finland are getting closer to NATO despite the Russians openly threatening to take action against such a move. The Swedish Riksdag has just voted for closer cooperation with the North Atlantic Pact, which aims for mutual support in the event of a crisis. This fact is read by many as the first step on the way to joining NATO.

However, for our southern neighbours the perspective on Russia and NATO seems to be quite the opposite; for example, the Czech president has recently proposed a referendum on the membership of the Czech Republic in NATO.

The North not only creates structures but also expand its armies.  The defence budgets of the Scandinavian countries are not spectacular: in 2015, it was USD 5,4 billion in Sweden (1,1% of GDP), USD 5.9 billion in Norway (1.5% GDP), and USD 10,5 billion in Poland (2.2% GDP); but, they are still much more prominent than budgets of our neighbours from the south (in Hungary and the Czech Republic it was less than 1% of GDP, which is USD 1 – 1.8 billion), and their increase is expected in the coming years.  For instance, Norway has ordered 52 modern F-35 fighters not so long ago.

Additionally, the armies of the Nordic countries are characterised by specific specialisations: Sweden has a strong air force, Denmark has a strong naval fleet, and Finland maintains a world-renowned territorial defence, which altogether makes them much stronger than they would be separately. Moreover, the North countries have a well-developed armaments industry: the Saab concern, the producer of the Gripen fighters and the Visby corvettes, is located in Sweden, and the Patria company is located in Finland. During the recent Balt Military Expo armaments fair, Polish Armaments Group and the Swedish arms giant Saab signed a letter of intent concerning the modernisation of the Polish army.

Secondly, the economy

At an economic level, we would benefit from Nordic capital and implementing their know-how in Poland. Sweden has some world-renowned enterprises: the already mentioned Saab, Ikea, Skanska, Electrolux, Husqvarna, Vattenfall and H&M. Of course, foreign investments are not always beneficial, as the short-term and speculative inflow of capital can bring more harm than good.  Nordic capital most often is used for long-term investments and investments in the production area, creating well-paid jobs.  In addition to the money, we can import high-tech technologies from the North, because the Nordic countries are among the most innovative in the world. Expenditures for research and development in relation to GDP are 3.16% in Sweden, 3.17% in Finland, 3.05% in Denmark, while it reaches only 2% in the Czech Republic, 1.37% in Hungary, 0.94% in Poland, and 0.89% in Slovakia. Polish companies and research centres would greatly benefit from bringing the Nordic research activity to our country. Lack of innovative solutions would not be a problem anymore.

However, financially strong Nordic countries are weak regarding demographics, so numerous, well-educated and exceptionally entrepreneurial society could be a significant contribution to the Northern partnership.

Fortunately, not only economic cooperation takes place already, but also it is getting more and more intensive. During her recent visit to Poland, the Finnish minister of foreign trade admitted that our country is Finland’s most important partner in the region.  Finland has invested over 2 billion euro in our country. Currently, 200 Finnish companies employ about 30.000 people here. Trade is also rapidly growing: exports from Finland to Poland have doubled in the past ten years, and Finnish imports of products from Poland have gone up threefold.

Thirdly, the raw materials

The North, especially Norway with its gas resources and some oil, may also become a raw material base. The Polish government is already making efforts to strengthen cooperation in this area, which is reflected in the plan to build a gas pipeline called the Baltic Pipe, which would transport gas from Norway (through Denmark) to our country. President Andrzej Duda has visited Oslo, among other things, to talk on this matter. We must remember that the Norwegian resources are limited; according to the BP group, in 2014, their oil reserves amounted to 6.5 billion barrels (0.4% of global reserves) and gas amounted to less than 2 trillion m3 (1% of global reserves). Thus, they will not provide us with full security, but as an element of diversification, the raw materials cooperation with Norwegians is undoubtedly a promising project.

Scandinavian countries can also be an ally in torpedoing projects such as the Nord Stream II pipeline. On the part of Swedish military experts, there is a concern regarding Russia’s use of the port in Slite, Gotland to store pipes. Experts are arguing that it may make possible seizure of this island easier for Russia. On the other hand, Slovakia – our partner from V4 – has recently agreed on the transmission of gas from Nord Stream II through its infrastructure with Gazprom – directly against Polish interests.

Fourthly, social policy

Finally, we must not forget that the Nordic countries have developed a specific model of social order, combining low stratification and strong social security with very high innovation and professional activity

It is based on very efficient public labour market institutions, social policy or tax administration. Of course, the point is not to directly copy the solutions, but to draw inspiration, also from Nordic institutions. Mainly because during many years of intense social policy, they did not avoid errors that also are worth analysing. The close cooperation of the Polish tax administration or labour offices with their Swedish counterparts would be more beneficial than constant learning from their own mistakes.

Of course, Poland’s alliance with Nordics should not be mean the end of cooperation within the V4 or turning back to Germany.   Good foreign policy requires playing on many pianos at the same time. However, the architecture of alliances should be based on the most successful countries, and the Nordic countries seem to be perfect candidates today. That is why it is best to start building a strategic partnership between Stockholm and Warsaw today.

Translation from Polish: Bartłomiej Piątkiewicz


This publication has been cofinanced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland within “Cooperation in Public Diplomacy 2018” programme.
This publication reflects the views of the author and not the official stance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.