The White House announced there will be a a Nordic-US summit meeting in May. The Prime Ministers of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the Finnish President will meet with President Obama to discuss a broad set of issues. It will take place in a very difficult and challenging global environment. It can make a difference.
An invitation to the White House is the big prize in diplomacy. Friend or foe, a meeting with the U.S. President sends a strong message about the significance of a country, or in this case a group of countries. It suggests to the world, that America cares. This meeting is good news.
They will talk about security, the Arctic, Russia, transatlantic trade, climate and energy, human rights and equality, areas in which the Nordics are world leaders. They will discuss the European migrant crisis. Call these global or transatlantic, they are all very important to our common future. The President perhaps realizes that the Nordic countries are of special importance to the US. While they might be relatively small individually, they represent a formidable force as a group. It would be wrong to call them a block, but they are a distinguishable entity in a messy world. Their strength lies in their sameness -commitment to democratic values- and in their diversity of approaches. They are very much alike, but also bear amazing differences, which makes them strong as a group.
The Nordic countries regularly occupy top positions on those lists comparing Western nations. From being the happiest, to being the least corrupt or ranking highest in education, they are all right there. It says a lot about them and should have the rest of us asking how they got there and why this might be a model for others. They are strong and mature democracies. They have integrated market economies, but with a very strong sense of social responsibility. They are creative and innovative when it comes to social programs, but equally are successful and competitive in innovation and business. Equal opportunity in the Nordic nations is not a slogan, it is a reality. Indeed one might say that the "American dream" of social mobility is alive and well in these countries. Let's just call it the "Nordic Dream".
The Nordic countries are also among those who take the transatlantic relationship not just seriously, but act on it and consider it at the core of their foreign and security policy. There are differences in approach. Three, Denmark, Iceland and Norway are members of NATO. Two, Finland and Sweden (in the view of this author, future members of the Alliance) are some of its closest partners. They have all developed special defense and security relationships with the United States, and have been among the most supportive of coalition efforts in Afghanistan and the Balkans and long-time leaders in UN Peacekeeping operations. Three of the five are also members of the European Union, with a strong voice on the importance of the EU's relationship to the U.S.
The closeness among these countries comes naturally, but now there is a new significance in the face of those threats and challenges faced by all Western democracies. And with a resurgent Russia on their borders, they are a very special target. In this day and age, it is not just the military capabilities of these countries that Russia might view as a challenge. It is the very way of Nordic life, a firm commitment to liberal democracies that celebrate human rights, a vigorous free press and free and fair political systems that cannot be swayed by Russian money. These highly successful liberal-democracies represent a much greater threat to Vladimir Putin because they are the polar opposite to Putin's autocratic, undemocratic and illiberal Russia.
It will be a good exchange and provide insight to those worrisome and important messages from Europe about stability and how the migrant crisis is affecting elections and unity on that great continent. As always, they will undoubtedly offer recommendations and solutions. This summit could not come at a more crucial time. It is an historic moment when the transatlantic relationship is at stake. It is a moment when the integrity of the west hinges on reinventing of the ties between the U.S. and Europe. But most importantly this Summit needs to show that the U.S. has every intention to remain fully engaged in Europe. We can think of no better way to convey this message than for President Obama and the Nordic leaders stating clearly in public that America and Europe are in it together for the long run. That alone will speak volumes.