More Than Sum of Its Parts? NATO Can Benefit From Nordic Models of Holistic Security

April 02, 2024
Finland's accession to NATO on April 4, 2023, followed by Sweden's accession on March 7 this year, marked a turning point in regional security. With all Northern European countries now part of the same collective defense alliance, what benefits will NATO reap from its newest members?

Finland and Sweden are widely recognized as net security providers for the alliance, contributing robust defense capabilities. However, a less emphasized yet significant contribution lies in their whole-of-society approaches to security. While not identical, Finland’s comprehensive security and Sweden’s total defense models both embrace a holistic security framework—a concept that is crucial for enhancing societal preparedness and resilience against disruptions and emergencies. These models engage all levels of society, from citizens to political leaders, in security and defense considerations. 

Especially since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, civil preparedness and resilience have become increasingly essential to NATO's credible deterrence and defense. In keeping with Article 3 of the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO has taken significant steps since 2016 to enhance the resilience of its member states, individually and collectively. The 2022 Vilnius Summit Resilience Commitment added to the momentum, while the establishment of a specific NATO Resilience Committee in 2022 boosted coordination efforts. Nevertheless, the ongoing decade has unequivocally highlighted the need to further strengthen our collective preparedness and resilience against complex security threats ranging from pandemics to hybrid and conventional warfare scenarios. 

The Nordic whole-of-society models provide valuable insights for addressing challenges facing the alliance. For example, Finland's experiences show that expanding security beyond defense-centric definitions to an all-hazards perspective increases societal participation beyond traditional defense structures. Engaging stakeholders from private companies to NGOs not only bridges the gap between civilian and military entities but also builds societal trust and a shared "preparedness mindset". Furthermore, both Finland and Sweden promote citizen involvement in security through education, communication, and participation in civil or military duties, enhancing citizen agency. 

As new members, Finland and Sweden should leverage their experience with whole-of-society models, integrating them into NATO operations where relevant. NATO members stand to gain from Nordic lessons learned in countering hybrid threats, such as their experiences in responding to weaponized migration at Finland's eastern border or to disinformation campaigns. Moreover, both countries can contribute their longstanding commitments on citizen preparedness and public-private partnerships in preparedness and supply chain resilience, as well as their expertise in building civil defense shelters and mobilizing citizens to support national defense. 

The year 2024 presents major challenges for the alliance, including threats that intensifying disinformation campaigns pose during key elections in numerous member states. Investing in civil preparedness and resilience can provide NATO with a greater capacity to counter these threats. This not only enhances NATO's internal cohesion, but also helps to strengthen the resilience of democracy.