For the past few years, the Nordic countries have been the darlings of the U.S., including on the very highest levels of government. For a reason: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have been lauded and praised for their top rankings in most lists comparing the social, political, economic records of nations. They also came out on top when measuring equality, education, innovation, climate, renewables or design. Their successes are the result of hard work, a long term commitment to basic democratic values. It is due to a strong cohesion in societies built on trust, which although being tested from time to time, is again and again reconstructed only to make these countries stronger and more resilient. The five countries have not always been friends. In the past they fought nasty wars, colonized each other, they took different sides in WW II. Some joined alliances during the Cold War, some chose to remain “neutral” but no doubt remained Western democracies. Today, they are at peace, their closeness and solidarity is their trade mark. They have different “arrangements” with NATO and the European Union, some being full members, some “just” partners. Their security intertwined, they are all challenged by a the big neighbor, the increasingly difficult Russia. . They share a common responsibility for the future of the Arctic region and for the Baltic countries.They are a stabilizing region in a turbulent world.
They are a solid pillar of the transatlantic relationship, in a way guardians of the ties between Europe and the United States. Their commitment to this relationship is long term, and they all understand individually and collectively the high value of keeping this relationship strong. Hickups, some rough moments should not really matter.
The last months I have experienced an uneasiness among Nordic politicians. Some worry that the praises showered upon them by President Obama, will hurt them with the Trump administration. They need not worry. Some few, perhaps driven by their own disappointment for not getting their “preferred” U.S. president, have perhaps been less cautious in their comments on Donald Trump. Others, wisely, have kept to their traditional pragmatism. In general, the Nordics understand that there is no alternative to the Transatlantic relationship, with or without Trump. They get it: Europe does not get to chose the American President, and that it is imperative to work the best they can with the one the American people chose to elect. Some of Donald Trump’s comments have been inappropriate. But then, put it in perspective: most of those comments had little to do with the countries themselves, but rather the 24 or maybe 12 or 6 hour news cycle that can at times spin out of control. This is not an excuse, it’s an explanation. I understand some of the frustration, even disappointment, but then rather than being angry, the Nordic countries need to constantly renew their place and role in the American orbit, to constantly reinvent and improve their ties to the U.S..
The Nordics are a lab of a sort for approaches, which are grounded in democracy, but at the same time embrace market capitalism “with a heart”. No they are not a socialist utopia. They are in a way the stem cells of liberal democracies, in the broad non-ideological sense of the word. They are pragmatic and solution oriented. Take just two of some of the really burning issues all our democratic societies, including the U.S., are facing: the future of work and livable cities.
The Nordic countries have been searching for and finding solutions to the dichotomy of technological progress and loosing traditional jobs. They have made efforts to figure out how to keep businesses competitive, at the same time take care of those who are “victims of change”. Their answers are not always perfect, but do offer a mindset. As America is struggling to come to grips with historic challenges to take care of those who are the casualties of disruptive businesses, of robotization and of globalization, but does not want to hamper competitiveness in the process, maybe the Nordic countries can offer some ideas, some experiences.
Or take the problems of urbanization. In 2050 close to 85% of the populations in the United States will live in cities.The Nordic countries are all pioneers of livable cities, the issues of sustainable living in urban areas. They are smartly engineering their big cities to take into account the impact of perhaps unstoppable climate change. Their cities embrace new solutions, they make maximum use of todays technologies looking to the future. They are also innovative in social design for their city population. While their cities are perhaps smaller in size copmared to U.S. metropolises, they offer a treasure trove of knowledge and a sense of direction for city planners, politicians and the greater public alike.
Nothing however binds more than our common security interests. These are ties that have stood the test of time.
None of the Nordics see a real alternative to a closer security and defense cooperation with the United States. While Denmark, Iceland and Norway are solidly embedded into NATO, Finland and Sweden see an ever closer defense cooperation as critical to their security. (For the record: This author has for the last 20 years argued for their membership in NATO, but clearly it is for the Finnish and Swedish people to decide). This is important not just to their own security, but for the broader region, including their brothers, the three Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and beyond. The enemies of democracy will never stop attempting to disrupt the Nordic countries and words and strong condemnations of acts of threat, are not enough to deter. The stronger the commitment of these countries to the transatlantic relationship, the more inclined the U.S. will be to defend them. And others will be less inclined to provoke, disturb and upset their societies.
U.S. administrations, Democrat or Republican see the Nordic countries as an asset. Of course there is no room for complacency, they should not take for granted the attention they have been showered with in the past. Success anywhere is a result of hard work. Continued success is the result of continued hard work. The U.S. recognizes that the Nordic countries are not a block. They each have their distinct characteristics. But when they act as a group, when they are heard speaking with one voice, they help themselves individually.
Go Nordics, go!