The Nordic countries typically do not miss a chance to emphasize their common values, long peaceful history, similarities in foreign policy goals, and shared security. However, a controversial pipeline project — the Nord Stream 2 — is testing that unity, even putting a question mark on whether their unity is being hollowed out.
The NS2 pipeline, fully owned by Russia’s gas giant Gazprom, would run under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. Russia supplies 38 percent of Europe’s gas and that is anticipated to increase to 60 percent if the pipeline project it completed. This would give Russia dominance over Europe’s energy supply.
A new Russian owned pipeline through the Baltic Sea, should it be built, would affect Nordic-Baltic security considerably. It is downright embarrassing how little attention this factor has received in the mainstream media of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. So far, Denmark is the only country that has taken a strong stance against it. Finland has approved the pipeline’s construction through its economic zone.
The NS2 is not a done deal. Until now, Germany — primarily its Social Democratic Party — and Russia have dominated the discourse, apparently taking for granted the pipeline’s eventual approval. However, opposition to the project is growing. Germany in late March approved the construction and operation of the pipeline, but two weeks ago German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a surprising and bold statement, acknowledged this is not just an economic proposition, noting the potential for Nord Stream 2 to further disrupt Ukraine’s security and economic stability. It is argued that there wouldn't be as strong opposition if Russia had not occupied Ukrainian territory by force.
Debate about the project is heating up in the European Parliament as well, where members are campaigning for changes in the gas directive to gain control over NS2.
In the United States, there is awareness at the highest level that the project is detrimental to Europe’s energy security, and its security at large.
Nord Stream 2 can — and should — be stopped. No new pipeline should circumvent Ukraine and Central Europe. It must be a priority to ensure that Russia cannot use natural gas as a means of blackmail and domination over Europe.
The Nordic countries could gain leverage over the decision to build the pipeline by presenting a common position in opposing the project. Such unity also would make a strong statement about their closeness, cooperation and common security interests. Not taking a common position weakens their voices. Individually, these countries clearly are much more prone to pressure from Russia. Perhaps the Nordic countries have yet to realize how much power they could wield, becoming a force to be reckoned with, if they stand together.
It would be wise not to underestimate the strategic implications of the pipeline project on U.S.-European relations. The United States has staunchly opposed the proposal, rightly recognizing the dangers that the pipeline holds for European and transatlantic security. This is particularly important for two NATO allies — Denmark and Norway — although not at all irrelevant to their close partners, Finland and Sweden.
In Washington, several questions remain about the project. Why should the United States care more about European security than does Europe itself? Why would the Europeans actively undermine their own security? And why is Western Europe willing to sacrifice the security and economic stability of Central and Eastern Europe with such a proposal?
Many critics also cite a lack of transparency regarding information about this pipeline. It does not help to build confidence that former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder is chairman of the board of Nord Stream 2. It also is unfair that backers of the project have hired top lobbyists in Washington, while its opponents do not have the resources to do the same.
If the Nordic countries want to be viewed as advocates of transparency and moral and political decency, as they so often claim, there is no reason to support a problematic project and suffer the consequences it would bring. It would be wise for Norway, Finland and Sweden to follow Denmark’s lead. The project, as it stands, goes against everything for which these countries stand.
Now, if ever, there should be a call for Nordic unity.
Andras Simonyi, a former Hungarian Ambassador to NATO and the United States, is the managing director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He is running a program "Nordic Ways" about the Nordic countries, including Nordic-Baltic security.
Contributing author Mimosa Giamanco, a Finnish visiting fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, has worked on research and policy planning for the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and on political affairs for the EU Commission.
Contributing author Maria Tilander, a Swedish visiting fellow at the Center, worked as an assistant to the managing partner for Sweden at Rud Pedersen Public Affairs and as a desk officer for the Municipality of Stockholm.
Contributing author Morten Tastum, a fellow at the Center, is assistant to Ambassador Simonyi. A native of Denmark, he previously was a fellow for Sen. Angus S. King Jr. (I-Maine) focusing on foreign affairs and defense.