The Polar View

Militarisation of the Arctic: (2) The Nordic Countries

April 1, 2015

II. Nordic Countries


Shared history and, to a certain extent, culture bind the five smallest and least populous countries of the Arctic Council together. The Nordic countries enjoy close political and cultural ties, as demonstrated by their own inter-parliamentary forum, the Nordic Council. Five years before the First Treaty of Rome created a common European labour market and granted freedom of movement to citizens of member states, the Nordic countries – leaders of sorts in integration – pooled their labour forces and abolished internal borders[1].


Compared to the major economies of Canada, Russia and the United States, the populations and economies of the Nordic members of the Arctic Council are rather small. It is, therefore, not surprising that the five countries’ combined military expenditures, which are dwarfed by those military giants Russia and the United States, only just exceed those of Canada[2]. It may, therefore, be surprising to see the dense clusters of military installations in Scandinavia on our map of compiled locations, but they are fundamentally different from their North American and Russian counterparts. Nordic military installations tend to be numerous, true, but much smaller compared to those in Russia, Canada or the USA.



Norway: small population, big military


Norway, despite being the least populous of the four mainland Nordic countries, has the largest military budget[3]. It boasts military stations and outposts of varying sizes along the entire length of its coastline as far north as Porsanger, a tiny search-and-rescue helicopter station located beyond the 70th parallel[4]. The Norwegian Navy, headquartered at the Nordic countries’ largest naval base in Håkonsvern[5] near Bergen, maintains a considerable presence in the Arctic, including its coast guard’s northern base in Sortland near the 69th parallel[6]. The Norwegian Arctic also hosts Norway’s largest military airbase in Bodø, which accommodates 800 military and civil workers in addition to fighter jets ready for deployment at any time for NATO missions[7].


Although Norway is an active NATO member, it has long emphasised bilateral military cooperation with the Russian Federation, particularly in assuring Arctic security. In the two countries’ 2010 joint statement, they underlined the importance of cooperation between the two countries for ensuring stability[8]. Recent actions, however, have had grave consequences for Russo-Norwegian cooperation: Norway suspended all previously planned military programmes with Russia on March 25th 2014 in response to the annexation of Crimea[9].


Sweden: neutral, but strong


Sweden, with the region’s largest population and second-largest military budget, has a long history of non-alignment and neutrality in military and security matters, but, as an EU member state, the regional bloc’s close partnership with NATO since the 1999 Washington Summit and the 2000 European Council meeting in Nice calls the significance of Swedish neutrality rhetoric into question[10].  Sweden coordinates its Arctic presence through its Norrbotten regiment headquarters in Boden, one of the country’s largest regiments with just under 500 officers and about 900 other military personnel[11]. The Norrbotten air force wing, located just slightly south of Boden in Luleå, is responsible for the air defence of Sweden’s vast Norrbotten region and keeps its aircraft on constant alert in case of emergencies[12].  For ground support coordinated through Boden, Sweden boasts three jaeger (light infantry) battalions north of the 65th parallel – in Kiruna, Kalix and Arvidsjaur – for patrolling its northern regions[13].  Since Sweden is not one of the Arctic littoral states and does not border the Russian Federation, its ties to Russia and its cooperative programmes in the Arctic are limited in comparison to its neighbours Norway and Finland.


Denmark: stretched thin


The entirety of Denmark’s own territory lies south of the Arctic Circle, but the military protection of Greenland, a vast Arctic island that established itself as a self-governing country within the Danish Kingdom in 1979, falls under Denmark’s purview[14]. Despite the huge geographical scope of the land for which Denmark is responsible, Denmark’s military budget is only half as large as Sweden or Finland. Most of Denmark’s military installations are concentrated on its European territories, but it does maintain three locations in Greenland and one on the sub-Arctic Faroe Islands. In Greenland, military actions are coordinated through the Arctic headquarters in the Greenlandic capital of Nuuk; a further two locations in Daneborg and on Ella Ø serve as the bases for Denmark’s sled patrol[15][16]. Its Faroese location serves as a contact point, receiving and relaying commands from the Danish mainland. Denmark, unlike any of its neighbours, is not only an active NATO member but hosts a well-equipped American airbase at Thule in Greenland, which accepts over 3000 flights per year and is home to the world’s northernmost deep-water port[17].


Finland & Iceland: small & smaller


Finland, like Sweden, prides itself on its policies of neutrality, but, also like Sweden, has cooperated with NATO – through the European Union and, to a more limited extend, bilaterally[18] – and even debated future membership in the alliance. Finland’s tiny military budget, equal to about 5% of the much larger Norwegian and Swedish budgets, limits its practical cooperative efforts with NATO to less capital-intensive intelligence support, which is valuable given the country’s proximity to Russia.  Finland’s military presence is sprinkled throughout its Arctic territory and consists of several small military installations hosting brigades (Kajaani, Sodankylä, Rovaniemi, Huovinrinne) and air commands (Rovaniemi, Pirkkala)[19].


While all other Nordic members of the Arctic Council maintain military forces for defence and patrolling territorial waters, the smallest and least populous of the Arctic states, Iceland, does not have its own standing army and has not hosted any military bases whatsoever since the Americans withdrew in 2006, although it still actively participates in the functioning of NATO[20].



Although the Nordic countries have a lot in common, certain countries – especially Sweden and NATO members Norway and Denmark – spend a great deal more on their military, while neutral Finland hosts modest forces and demilitarised Iceland has no standing army at all.

For information on Russian military installations on the Arctic, see our last instalment. The instalment on Canada can be found here.

For this project’s directory, click here.

[1] Excluding Finland and self-governing regions (Åland, Faroe Islands, Greenland), which joined later on.

[2] SIPRI, 2013

[3] SIPRI estimates Norway’s 2013 military budget to be slightly higher than that of Sweden, the region’s most populous country. The two budgets are, however, very similar.

[8] “Joint statement of the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Norway and the President of the Russian Federation”, Norwegian Government, 27 April 2010. <>

[9] “Norway suspends all planned military activities with Russia”, Government of Norway Website, 25 March 2014. <>

[10] “EU-NATO: The Framework for Permanent Relations and Berlin Plus”, European Council - Background Documents. <>

[11] “Norrbottens Regemente – I 19”, The Swedish Military (Försvarsmakten). <>

[12] “Norrbottens Flygflottilj – F 21”, The Swedish Military (Försvarsmakten). <>

[13] “Organisation”, The Swedish Military (Försvarsmakten). <>

[14] “Politics in Greenland”, Naalakkersuisut (Government of Greenland). <>

[15] “Arktisk Kommando”, Danish Defence (Forsvaret for Danmark). <>

[16] “Sirius Sled Patrol (Slædepatruljen Sirius)”, Danish Defence (Forsvaret for Danmark). <>

[17] “Thule Air Base”, Peterson Air Force Base. <>

[18] “NATO’s relations with Finland,” NATO, 4 March 2015. <>

[19] “The Finnish Defence Forces”, The Finnish Defence Forces. <>

[20] “The army is gone” [“Herinn er farinn”], Vísir, 30 September 2006. <>



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