The first ever Nordic Convention on International Affairs (NCIA) was held in late May 2019, over a weekend in the historically rich and beautiful city of Lund. It offered a welcome forum to discuss Nordic cooperation from multiple angles as well as to build connections between future international affairs professionals from the region. A joint effort by three Swedish and one Danish foreign affairs associations, the impeccably arranged event set a standard for what hopefully becomes a new annual institution. Undoubtedly, as mark of its organization and relevance, the event was awarded the Swedish national winner in this year’s EU Youth Prize competition.
Aspirations for tighter Nordic cooperation are on the rise. As a previous FAIA blog post noted, the Nordic Council agreed in 2017 on an international strategy for years 2018-2022, with focus on the Baltic Sea, the Arctic, and the EU. In general, the backdrop for the interest is the increasingly uncertain world, not least the rise of interest-driven politics by existing and emerging major powers – such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea  – and vexing global issues including climate change. It makes sense to come together within this culturally and societally kindred region. Yet, as a recent joint evaluation report by the five Nordic foreign policy institutes point out, actions in cooperation in foreign and security policy still fall short of the full intentions .
The 2019 Nordic Convention on International Affairs offered a versatile vista to the status and prospects of Nordic cooperation. It was organized for the first time as a joint effort by The Swedish Association of International Affairs (UFS) – the umbrella organization for 11 local associations of international associations in Sweden, two Swedish local associations – UPF Lund, UF Malmö, and International Debate CBS from Denmark. Over 100 current and future foreign policy professionals from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland participated and engaged in insightful discussions.
“Youth are the present”
The core of the two-day conference comprised five talks and panel discussions. Topics spanned human rights, Russia, cyber strategies, the global role of the Nordics, climate change, and the nature of contemporary conflicts and wars, among others. The stage was set by the keynote by Morten Kjærum, Director of Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, focusing on human rights issues. Kjærum, also founding Director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, has a long and distinguished career in this area, having held various positions in the European Union and the United Nations. According to him human rights should be seen as the right to a future for everyone. The enduring key basis is the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. UN’s more recent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) supplement this by offering a means to a truly global dialogue on many related key aspects, such as the rule of law.
The Nordics also have an important role. This community of interlinked societies encapsulates something particularly relevant to peace and stability: high levels of trust and low levels of corruption. This is, in short, a key takeaway the Nordics can present to the wider international forum. Sadly, from a global perspective, as Kjærum referred to Freedom House, we have seen now 14 years of steady decline of human rights and democracy. One recent example is the rise of political movements thriving on xenophobia. Kjærum’s anti-dote to this worrisome development is to listen to the real concerns of the constituencies of these movements, such as the impact of digitalization on jobs through automation. In conclusion Kjærum remarked how the idea of economic necessities have reduced the space of political decision-makers. Human rights, instead, need to be prioritized on the agenda.
Saturday continued with a joint session focusing on Nordic security by Hans Mouritzen, Senior Researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies DIIS, and Mikkel Storm Jense from the Institute of Strategy of Royal Danish Defence College. Mouritzen centered in his talk on the challenges of Nordic cooperation, in particularly building on the observation that there currently doesn’t exist a common Nordic policy on Russia. Instead, the relationships between Nordic countries and Russia are by and large bilateral. Although there is clearly a sense of community among people and by extension societies within the Nordic countries two basic obstacles stand in the way. Firstly, each country has its individual geopolitical position. Secondly, there are still jealousness between Nordic countries. Thus, while convergence has happened, cooperation in issue areas such as position towards Russia remains elusive.
Mouritzen also commented on the all interesting security political question of Finland and Sweden: possible NATO-membership. In essence such eventuality will be unlikely because the countries have agreed pursuing memberships only together and importantly both countries have set referendum as for the application of membership (against which the majority of populations in both countries are). Mikkel Storm Jensen provided also a reserved view on Nordic cooperation focusing on cyber security strategies. On the one hand, impressive work has been done in each country individually, with a number of related reports and follow-ups. In particular Storm Jensen regarded Finland as the “gold standard” for societal resilience in the face of cyber threats and being particularly proactive. However, despite all the efforts within the Nordic countries, there is little learning from each other. The limited cooperation then echoes travails of Nordic defence cooperation more broadly (although on practical level Nordefco works, according to Storm Jensen, witness threat intelligence sharing, exercises, and development of informal relationships).
The first day of NCIA ended in a panel discussion on the global role of Nordics. Hanna Waerland (President of UFS) moderated the lively discussion between Henrik Normann (CEO of the Nordic Investment Bank, Iris Asunmaa (President of the Fnnish Young Europeans), Leo Wallin (ambassador of the Swedish branch of WEF’s Global Shapers), and Jonas Nøddekær (International Director DanChurchAid). Nordics were called for to step up and defend the liberal world order and human rights. Further, for Nordic countries one important impetus is formed by SDG #17 dealing with global partnerships showing the way. Within the discussion the classic maxim that “youth are the future” was articulated in the form that “youth are the present”. In short, it is essential to bring youth within decision-making now, not later. Also the potential of Nordics to spread understanding on education emphasized. And the panel wouldn’t have been complete without the stressing a key asset of Nordics, trust – starting with the peoples’ trust on their governments.
Nordic countries should take a leading role in addressing climate change
Sunday, the second and final day, opened with the pressing topic of climate change. Peter Bjerregaard (Market Regulation Manager at E.ON. Denmark) chaired the panel on Nordic involvement in the global climate challenge with Richard Gröttheim (CEO of AP7 Retirement Fund), Susanne Stormer (Vice President of Corporate Sustainability and Chief Sustainability Officer at Novo Nordisk), Johan Schaar (Associate Senior Fellow with the SIPRI Peace and Development Programme), and Lotta Vellin (youth representative to the COP24 conference).
Schaar made the case for the role of Nordics. The countries have both a responsibility – being part of creating the issue – as well as a good position – financial resources, open democracies, and stability – to take lead in addressing climate change. A real example of this actually happening is the 2014 COP24 conference, where as Lotta Vellin observed on the spot, Nordics acted as a group within the EU representation to influence the outcome. Richard Gröttheim brought forward the view how a fund can use investments as a tool to make impact, for example by being an active owner through changing a company from the inside and black list actors who breach international agreements. Indeed, how private sector actors approach the issue is important. Susanne Stormer disclosed how Novo Nordisk has started to zoom into its whole supply chain after an observation that it’s own production accounts only 7% of the footprint. To address this a systemic change is needed where the mindset is switched from mitigation of climate change to adapting to a new future, where for instance, the circular economy is put to the center stage. Schaar rounded off the panel on the potential conflict impacts of the climate change by painting a grim outlook: if the current trajectory is not changed we’re heading for a disaster. In view of this, besides trying to alter the trajectory, the UN Security Council needs more emphatically to consider climate change as a security risk. Also the capacity for conflict resolution in the most risky areas needs to be increased – especially recognizing the conflict-potential over natural resources.
The convention was concluded by a talk by Thomas Van Hare, with background in the US foreign and defense policy-making establishment, now based in Sweden as Director of the Defense Technology Innovations Program. Van Hare used a broad brush to discuss the state of contemporary global challenges in the face of rampant change and increasingly tripolar world of Russia, China, and the liberal US/EU constellation. As an over-arching framework to analyze the situation he used a “four wars” view, characterizing contemporary conflicts from the perspective of military, political, economic, and cultural factors. One emerging thread from the diverse talk was the idea that it’s a fallacy to consider us living in an “increasingly dangerous world” as many would have it. Indeed to Van Hare the Reagan era if anything was positively dangerous. The risks we now have are similar to previous era, in particular when looked through the four different aspects of conflicts and war. In conclusion, going forward Van Hare emphasized the important role of inclusion, fairness, morality, and ethics. Above all, the future of the world really depends on our capability and willingness to engage in rational analysis – that is, to think.
NCIA brings together current and future Nordic international affairs professionals
The official program was supplemented with a career fair, ample opportunities to connect with other delegates, and, of course, a traditional Swedish sittning on Saturday evening offering a more laid-back get-together involving eating, drinking, and singing. As an overall conclusion, what became evident is that there is clearly a good basis, room, and a need to enhance and facilitate cooperation within the Nordic countries on multiple levels. Bringing together future Nordic international affairs professionals through a conference is thus a welcome addition and a very practical way to engage in dialogue – within the event and in future through the connections established. Its relevance and solid organization was also recognized by winning the Swedish national award of the 2019 European Youth Prize. One can only hope that NCIA will be institutionalized, and what was witnessed in Lund, Sweden over the weekend of 25-26 May this year will become an annual event.
Master’s degree student of international conflicts at King’s College London War Studies department. Jouni participated to NCIA 2019 as a representative of FAIA.
Cover photo: City of Lund