Enhanced Nordic Operational Cooperation: September 2021 Declaration of Intent

By Defense Info Media Team

On September 24,2021, the governments of Denmark, Norway and Sweden signed a Statement of Intent on Enhanced Operational Cooperation among the Ministry of Defence of the Kingdom of Denmark and the Ministry of Defence of the Kingdom of Norway and the Ministry of Defence of the Kingdom of Sweden.

That statement read as follows:


The Nordic Defence Cooperation vision for 2025 was adopted at the Nordic Defence Ministerial meeting in Oslo on the 13th of November 2018. The vision states,

“We will improve our defence capability and cooperation in peace, crisis and conflict. We ensure a close Nordic political and military dialogue on security and defence. Acknowledging our different security affiliations, we pursue an agenda based on joint security perspectives, efficient and cost-effective cooperation to strengthen our national defences and the ability to act together.”

In light of the current security situation, cooperation and unity among likeminded nations is paramount. For this reason, we are determined to take combined measures aiming at enhancing and improving our ability to conduct military operations.


This trilateral Statement of Intent outlines the common ambition of the Participants to be able and ready to conduct operations in crisis and conflict if so decided, noting that Denmark and Norway plans to transfer command to NATO in crisis and war as applicable. In order to improve our interoperability and readiness to give military support among us we will undertake the necessary preparations, aimed at enhancing our defence capability and serve as a deterrent from aggression.

Any military action will be subject to separate national political decision-making processes. This trilateral Statement of Intent does not entail any mutual defence obligations.

Finland and Iceland are to be informed on a regular basis as the cooperation proceeds.

Actions (not limited to)

  • Form a trilateral policy steering group with representatives from the ministries of defence.
  • Task the military authorities to form a trilateral military coordination group.
  • Conduct discussions based on common security concerns relevant for on-going and future military operations in the region.
  • Discuss relevant national operations plans among Denmark, Norway and Sweden in areas of common concern and interest, in a reciprocal manner in order to be able to coordinate national operations plans.
  • Conduct exercises and Table Top Discussions, based on the requirements of ongoing planning and existing plans.
  • Explore the possibility of coordinating future national operations planning in areas of common concern.
  • Explore the possibility of common operations planning in certain areas.

The above mentioned actions will focus on areas of common concern and interest, such as the southern parts of Scandinavia (Kattegat, Skagerrak, the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Danish straits and other surrounding areas as required) as well as on improving interoperability among our armed forces that enable common military action if decided. Such common military action may include protection of sea lines of communication and air and sea surveillance.

This trilateral Statement of Intent is not a legally binding commitment under national or international law and does not substitute for or invalidate any existing defence agreements, arrangements or memoranda of understanding among the Participants.

For the Ministry of Defence of the Kingdom of Denmark
Trine Bramsen

For the Ministry of Defence of the Kingdom of Norway
Frank Bakke-Jensen

For the Ministry of Defence of the Kingdom of Sweden
Peter Hultqvist

The Danes issued on their Ministry of Defence website further comments on the SOI:

A serious security crisis in the Nordic region would affect us all, and we need to be prepared and equipped to act together in peace, crisis and conflict. Coordination of national operational planning will improve our ability to act together if so decided.

All Nordic countries and surrounding areas are strategically connected and of considerable importance to transatlantic security.

These geostrategic realities result in the need for enhanced Nordic defence cooperation. The trilateral Statement of Intent (SOI) that we sign today focuses on geographical areas of common concern, such as southern parts of Scandinavia, including Kattegat, Skagerrak and the North Sea.

The SOI will help improve interoperability among our armed forces and enable common military action if decided. This may include protection of sea lines of communication and air and sea surveillance, which are important for security of supply in our region.

The SOI is also in line with the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) vision for 2025. The guiding aim of the vision is to improve the Nordic countries’ defence capability and cooperation in peace, crisis and conflict.

We believe in the strength of Nordic defence cooperation. We must continue to stand together and build peace and stability in our region. This trilateral statement of intent will be an important tool in fulfilling our ambitions of strengthening our common security.

The Danish website also includes a more detailed look at their perspective on Nordic cooperation as seen through the NORDEFCO efforts as well.

The Nordic countries have a long tradition for working closely together. This includes within the area of defence and security policy. The Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) encompasses all of the Nordic countries, i.e. Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. 

In recent years, the security landscape has changed markedly – including in Denmark’s neighbourhood. In light of this, the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) is more important than ever and it becomes increasingly relevant in Danish defence and security policy.

The Nordic countries have a long tradition for working closely together. This includes the area of defence and security policy. The Nordic defence cooperation encompasses all of the Nordic countries, i.e. Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and primarily takes place within the framework of NORDEFCO (Nordic Defence Cooperation).

NORDEFCO was established in 2009, with the aim of bringing together a range of separated collaborative forums (NORDAC, NORDCAPS and NORDSUP). The Nordic defence cooperation has evolved significantly in recent years, and especially the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014 became a turning point for NORDEFCO.

In light of the changed security situation, the Nordic defence cooperation has intensified significantly, including within operations, training and exercises, as well as within capability development. Substantial results and progress have been made within a wide range of areas, which all together strengthen the defence capabilities of the Nordic countries as well as the regional security and stability in the region – the details of which appear below. The Nordic defence cooperation is an important priority for Denmark, and it adds on essential value to the broader international defence cooperation within e.g. the UN, NATO, and the EU.
The chairmanship of NORDEFCO rotates between the four Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden (Iceland participates, but does not serve as chairman). In 2021, Finland holds the chairmanship of NORDEFCO, which they took over from Denmark, who was responsible for the task in 2020.

Significant results and areas of cooperation

Among the most significant results in recent times is the agreement on ”Easy Access”, which was ratified in 2016, when Denmark took over the rotating chairmanship of NORDEFCO. The aim of the Easy Access-agreement is to secure easy military access to sea, air, and land territories between the Nordic countries, e.g. through simplifying and streamlining the administrative processes in the countries. This creates an opportunity for closer and more operationally effective Nordic defence cooperation in peacetimes. The Nordic agreement on Easy Access has also given inspiration to other regional security forums that have begun the work to promote military mobility between member countries as well.

Another significant result from 2017 is the agreement on increased radar data sharing (NORECAS), which aims to create an overview of activities in the Nordic and Baltic region. Given the increasing unpredictability and complexity of the regional security situation in recent years, an enhanced and combined picture of the security situation in the region is of great importance. In addition to this agreement, there have been established secure and direct communication channels between the Nordic countries, which means that classified conversations and videoconferences can be held in a closed communication system. This is a unique feature within international defence cooperation. Lastly, a lot has happened within defence capability cooperation, where the Nordic countries a looking to acquire a common Nordic combat uniform by 2022


The shared Nordic interest in strengthening the security in the Nordic neighbourhood is reflected in the ambitious political goals for the cooperation. In November 2018, the Nordic defence ministers signed ”Vision 2025”, which sets out the political framework and ambitions for the defence cooperation in the Nordic region towards 2025 through some general guidelines along with 16 specific goals. Vision 2025 raises the ambition of the Nordic defence cooperation by stating that it should apply not only in peacetimes but also in the event of a crisis or conflict. The aim is, among other things, to make NORDEFCO a platform for close political dialogue, information sharing, and, if possible, the coordination of common Nordic positions on possible crisis situations.

In the face of a growing threat from terror, cyber, and hybrid challenges, Vision 2025 assesses that there is a need for a closer cooperation within all of these areas. Moreover, the aim is to strengthen the inter-operability, deterrence, and cooperation on total defence in the Nordic region.

The ambition for the strengthening of the Nordic defence cooperation extends beyond the Nordic region. Thus, it is a stated ambition in the vision to strengthen the Nordic-Transatlantic partnership, and to further develop cooperation and dialogue with the Baltic countries. This includes capacity-building, where the Nordic and Baltic countries have developed a program together with a special focus on Georgia, which provides a framework for increasing the cooperation and dialogue.

In the area of operations, Denmark cooperates with Norway and a range of other countries on the deployment of transport aircrafts to the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA in Mali. The deployment is part of a Nordic-initiated rotation scheme, in which the participating countries are responsible for deploying aircrafts to the UN mission on a rotational basis. The rotation scheme ran until November 2020. Sweden has previously contributed to the rotation scheme.

In addition hereto, the Nordic countries are working together on arranging movable training teams for NATO’s mission in Iraq. This cooperation includes the Baltic States as well.

Danish NORDEFCO chairmanship in 2020

Denmark served as chairman for NORDEFCO in 2020. Strengthening the Nordic defence cooperation was a significant goal for Denmark during the chairmanship. The implementation of Vision 2025 was therefore one of the most important priorities.

The Danish chairmanship put forward ambitious goals in order to succeed in creating results on a number of specific points set forth in the Danish chairmanship priorities. Although the COVID-19 crisis affected the meeting activity in NORDEFCO, there continued to be a substantial progress within all the prioritised areas in 2020. The secure and direct communication channels established within NORDEFCO were especially part of securing the maintenance of the close dialogue despite the limits caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Nordic ministers of defence kept in close contact during the crisis and used, among other tools, the newly established crisis consultation mechanism to mutually provide information and exchange experiences and ideas for the handling of the pandemic and its consequences for the armed forces.

The COVID-19 crisis has therefore emphasised the importance of the close Nordic cooperation within NORDEFCO, especially including crisis management. For a summary of the most significant results accomplished during the Danish chairmanship of NORDEFCO in 2020, please see the NORDEFCO Annual Report 2020.

Finland takes over the chairmanship in 2021

Finland serves as the chairman of NORDEFCO in 2021. The Finnish chairmanship priorities can be found here.

The country holding the chairmanship is responsible for leading and developing the cooperation in accordance with the goals described in the NORDEFCO Vision 2025. This includes the responsibility for organising and hosting the semi-annual ministerial meetings, the annual meeting of  the permanent secretaries of defence as well as a number of other regular meetings in both the political and military columns of NORDEFCO (read more about the NORDEFCO structure and meetings on nordefco.org). If the COVID-19 situation does not allow for physical meetings during the Finnish Chairmanship, the meetings will instead be held virtually.

The ministerial meeting in the fall will, apart from the Nordic ministers of defence, also bring together the ministers of defence from the Baltic States in a separate Nordic-Baltic ministerial meeting as well as the ministers of defence from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland in the context of Northern Group. Holding the meetings in continuation of each other creates opportunities of synergy between the different arenas, not to mention the possible widening of perspectives on regional security developments and challenges.

Our own interpretation of Nordic cooperation is part of a broader trend line of key states within a region seeking to shaper greater integration of defense and security efforts.

These clusters of states are redefining the operational realities of the alliances among liberal democratic states.

A new ‘cluster’ of European nations with a common security objective has quietly emerged recently in the form of focused military cooperation and coordination among the Nordic nations, Poland, the Baltic States, and the UK. This cluster is operating in close cooperation with the US military. The Danes, Norwegians, the Swedes and Finns are cooperating closely together on defense matters. Enhanced cooperation is a response to fears of Russian incursions, which are not new, but have roots in centuries of Russian interaction with Northern Europe…..

Nordic defense and security cooperation are part of a broader global trend in which clusters of states are working together to enhance their ability to enhance their defense and security against the return of Russia and the rise of China. Clusterization is the next phase whereby liberal democracies do more for themselves in their joint defense rather than simply relying on diplomatic globalization initiatives through organizations like the EU or NATO to do that for them.

Robbin Laird and Murielle Delaporte. The Return of Direct Defense in Europe: Meeting the 21st Century Authoritarian Challenge . Kindle Edition.

Also, see the following:

Finland Issues New Defence White Paper, September 2021