Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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Sweden and Finland – To Join NATO or not to Join NATO? That is the Question!

Clark Smith

Events this year, primarily those orchestrated by Russia, have again reignited the debate over whether Sweden and Finland should join the North Atlantic Alliance.  Most concerning to both NATO allies and Europe’s non-Alliance members alike was Russia’s annexation of Crimea earlier this year, followed by Russian activities in the east of Ukraine.  In scenes reminiscent of the Cold War, , Sweden embarked upon its largest maritime mobilization since the end of the frozen conflict in its search for a mystery vessel suspected of being some type of Russian mini-submarine in Swedish territorial waters.  The Swedish maritime search, along with repeated and recent violations of Finnish airspace by Russian combat aircraft, has these two nonaligned Scandinavian countries on edge and rethinking their defense postures.  Sweden and Finland both successfully navigated military nonalignment throughout and following the Cold War, though under very different circumstances. However, with a newly invigorated Russia that appears to disregard international law at every turn, now may be the time for Sweden and Finland to advance discussions on joining NATO.  

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Sweden, historically an adversary of Russia, lost the eastern third of the Kingdom of Sweden to Russia during the Finnish War from 1808 to 1809.  Thereafter, Sweden devised and maintained its military policy of nonalignment, which kept them out of both World Wars and the Cold War.  That eastern third of Sweden, however, became the Grand Duchy of Finland and remained under Russian control until Finland declared independence during the 1917 Russian Revolution. Finland fought Soviet aggression throughout World War II, even briefly aligning with Nazi Germany in what Finland calls the Continuation War Finland ended up paying reparations and ceding territory to the Soviet Union following the war and signed the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance with the Soviets in 1948.  Left out of the Marshall Plan, Finland lagged economically behind its West European neighbors until the 1970s.  With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Finland emerged from the Soviet shadow as truly independent.  So, while Sweden’s choice to pursue nonalignment was actually of its own accord, Finland’s had more to do with concern over possible Soviet retaliation.

Despite the two Nordic countries’ nonalignment policy, both maintain advanced, competent militaries and possess both NATO and US equipment, including, for example, the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F-18C/D (Finland) and the Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin) C-130 (Sweden).  Additionally, both are part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, train frequently with NATO forces, and integrate well with NATO, US, and other European militaries.  Swedish and Finnish forces have even deployed to Afghanistan with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).  Thus, meeting the standards of and effectively integrating with NATO would not present the type of challenges similar to those of recent NATO, and former Warsaw Pact, countriesBoth countries would, however, need to increase their defense budgets if they wanted to meet NATO’s agreed target of two percent of a country’s GDP.  According to 2012 figures, Sweden’s defense budget was 1.2% of their GDP and Finland’s was 1.5%. However, it is not a precondition that the two percent figure be met prior to joining the Alliance, as many current NATO members regularly fall short of that target.

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More challenging than military interoperability would be mustering the political will in both countries to affect such a partnership in acceding to the Treaty.  Unlike the US, where the President and two-thirds of the Senate can commit the country to a treaty, the constitutions of Sweden and Finland require a referendum.  But neither country has the support from a majority of the voters, with recent polls indicating that just over one-fifth of Finns and just under one-third of Swedes favor joining NATO.  Those who prefer the tradition of nonalignment to a multilateral defense pact believe a better option is reinforcing bilateral defense cooperation or, preferably, even strengthening Nordic defense cooperation.  Entering into defense arrangements with regional partners can certainly reduce the financial impact of developing and sustaining a robust defense force, most notably in the areas of research and development and weapons and systems procurement. However, Sweden and Finland will be limited in their Nordic partnership pursuits since NATO members Norway and Denmark will continue to modernize their militaries first and foremost through the Alliance.  Despite the impediments to joining NATO, particularly from the voters, political and military leaders of both countries increasingly recognize the importance of advancing from debate to action the process towards membership.  In response to a discussion about whether or not Sweden could hold out even a week against a Russian attack, former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen remarked that “Sweden cannot count on military support from NATO unless it becomes a member state.”Bear Finland Sweden

Though Russia has no legal basis for preventing the two countries from joining NATO, their threatening rhetoric would seem to indicate they believe otherwise.  In 2013, Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev stated that Sweden and Finland joining NATO would upset Europe’s balance of power and force Russia to respond.  A senior adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, in response to the possibility of Sweden and Finland joining NATO, remarked that “anti-semitism started World War II, [and] Russophobia could start the third.”  Russia’s former chief of their armed forces, speaking to a national defense audience at the University of Helsinki, asserted not only that Finnish-NATO cooperation threatens Russian security, but even questioned Finland’s right to hold military exercises on its own soil.  Following their annexation of Crimea, Russian forces in the north then held military exercises on Finland’s border.

Arguing against Sweden and Finland joining NATO because it antagonizes Russia is hardly a rational, if even a reasonable, argumentBut provocative or even hostile comments threatening a sovereign nation for exercising its political and military rights, along with both overt and covert actions that violate the territorial integrity of another sovereign nation, would seem to be both reasonable and strong evidence of behavior implicating Article 2(4) of the UN Charter.  As Russia and its president advance their anti-western rhetoric and activities, Sweden and Finland should advance their discussions around a defense posture that provides certain security in an increasingly uncertain environment.

Clark Smith is a third-year law student pursuing a concentration in International Law. He has undergraduate and graduate degrees in Political Science and International Relations. In addition to being a Student Fellow, he is the Submissions Editor for the Journal of International Law. His previous experience includes work in both security and policy and his previous overseas postings include Western Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, and South Asia. His professional interests include international development.

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National Security Outweighs Travel Rights: The Confiscation of Passports as a Necessary Response to Increased Terrorist Threats in the U.K.

Natalie Krajinovic

The recent conflicts in Syria and Iraq have had a substantial impact on the domestic policy of foreign nations. It was recently announced that the U.K. has raised its terror level threat to “substantial” following these conflicts.[1]  Specifically, British Prime Minister David Cameron has voiced his intent to enforce new legislation that would make it easier for U.K. authorities to confiscate passports from individuals who are travelling abroad to fight in the conflicts.[2] These temporary powers granted to officials would involve powers to seize the passports of British nationals fighting in the Middle East who are attempting to return to the U.K. to conduct terrorist operations.[3]

Under the Royal Prerogative, U.K. authorities already have the power to confiscate an individual’s passport if it is in the public interest to stop that individual from travelling.[4] Passport confiscations have occurred twenty three (23) times since April 2013 in order to prevent individuals from travelling abroad for alleged terrorist-related or criminal activity.[5] These new measures, however, are aimed specifically at eliminating terrorist threats stemming from extremist groups, such as ISIS. In particular, news of the British national, who is suspected as the member of ISIS responsible for the brutal killings of American journalists, has undoubtedly raised concerns for the U.K. in heightening security standards.[6]

The confiscation of passports, whether indefinite or temporary, has serious implications not only for the individual from whom the passport is confiscated, but also for the global community as a whole. By allowing officials to confiscate passports from individuals suspected of terrorist acts, the U.K. government is sending a clear message that public security outweighs the free movement of individuals. An individual’s ability to exit and re-enter a given country is a deeply respected aspect of belonging to a nationality. To overly control an individual’s ability to travel to foreign nations encroaches upon jurisdictional concerns, particularly when an individual holds dual citizenship.

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It is imperative that the screening process to determine whether an individual has substantial links to an extremist group and poses a terrorist threat be well-developed. There exists the risk that passports may be confiscated without properly substantiating the individual’s terrorist threat. There must be a line drawn between substantiated confiscations for public protection and premature preventative confiscations based on unfounded predictions. Prime Minister Cameron has stated that confiscating passports of suspected terrorists would not apply to British nationals who hold one passport since the confiscation of their passport would render the individual stateless.[7] Therefore this initiative would only apply to British nationals who hold two passports.[8] By limiting passport confiscation to individuals with dual nationality, it appears as though the U.K. government is targeting individuals with close, direct ties to areas suspected of terrorist activity.

These recent developments ultimately demonstrate that possessing a passport requires that individuals respect the value and implications of national citizenship. As a member of the European Union, the U.K. has a distinct awareness of foreign regulation for the prevention of terrorist activity. For example, the European Union’s counter-terrorism strategy specifically aims to “pursue and investigate terrorists, impede planning, travel and communications, [and] cut off access to funding and materials and bring terrorists to justice.”[9] The curtailing of terrorist and criminal acts are extremely valid reasons for the confiscation of passports by U.K. authorities. Such measures are imperative for the control of domestic terrorist acts and for the prevention of the movement of individuals to foreign states for the purpose of terrorist and illegal activity on a global level.

The current crises in Syria and Iraq, and increased threat of terrorist activity resulting from these conflicts, also have serious implications for the United States. While the U.S. has not increased their threat level, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has recently stated that American and British officials have been in contact in order to evaluate terrorist threats posed by Western-born foreign fighters in Syria returning home.[10]

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The close monitoring of these threats and any increase in danger will likely result in the U.S. making comparable policy and legal determinations as the U.K. The crux of the current U.K. legislation is aimed at U.K passport confiscation based upon preventing individuals who are attempting to return to the U.K. after having traveled from engaging in terrorist regimes. Under current U.S. law, “a person’s naturalization can be revoked either by civil proceeding or pursuant to a criminal conviction,” and cases typically involve the individual falsifying information to fraudulently procure U.S. citizenship.[11]  It would be reasonable for the U.S. government to strengthen their passport confiscation scheme for the purpose of limiting terrorist activity in the U.S. Public safety certainly trumps a suspected terrorist’s ability to enter the country using a valid passport. The U.S.’ reliance upon passport confiscation should seek to curb potential terrorist threats both domestically and internationally.

Ultimately, the need to preserve public safety outweighs an individual’s capacity to possess a passport. The protectionary measures taken by U.K. authorities are a reasonable and necessary response to terrorist activity. As tensions rise with extremist groups in Islamic regions, it is likely that more nations will rely upon stricter policies that forbid certain individuals connected to extremist groups from entering their borders.

 

Natalie Krajinovic is a University of Baltimore School of Law J.D. candidate (’15), with a concentration in Business Law. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Arts in English and East Asian Studies from the University of Toronto, St. George. Natalie has always had an interest in international law and policy. While studying at the University of Toronto, she was the Editor-in-Chief of the Toronto Globalist, an international relations magazine with chapters across the globe. She currently serves as the President of the International Law Society and as the Comments Editor for the Journal of International Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Natalie is also a law clerk for John H. Denick & Associates, P.A., a business law firm in downtown Baltimore.

 

[1] UK terror threat level raised to ‘severe’, BBC (Aug. 29, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28986271.

[2] Id.

[3] Kim Hjelmgaard, British terror suspects may be stripped of passports, USA Today (Sept. 1, 2014), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/09/01/uk-anti-terror-powers-cameron/14921581/.

[4] UK terror threat level raised to ‘severe’, BBC (Aug. 29, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28986271.

[5] Id.

[6] Jessica Elgot, Who Is The Hip Hop Jihadi Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, Linked With James Foley’s Murder? Here’s 9 Things We Know, The Huffington Post UK (Aug. 24, 2014), http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/08/24/abdel-majed-abdel-bary-hip-hop-jihadi-is-james-foley_n_5705043.html.

[7] Kim Hjelmgaard, British terror suspects may be stripped of passports, USA Today (Sept. 1, 2014), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/09/01/uk-anti-terror-powers-cameron/14921581/.

[8] Id.

[9] Crisis & Terrorism, European Commission Home Affairs (May 28, 2014), http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/crisis-and-terrorism/index_en.htm.

[10] Michael Walsh and Rich Shapiro, UK raises threat level to severe, PM blames ‘poisonous ideology of Islamic extremism’ — U.S. level stays same, New York Daily News (Aug. 29, 2014), http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/britain-raises-threat-level-severe-terrorist-attack-highly-article-1.1921283.

[11] USCIS Policy Manual, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (Aug. 26, 2014), http://www.uscis.gov/policymanual/HTML/PolicyManual-Volume12-PartL-Chapter1.html#text:note-ID0EMP2Q.