The role of states and foreign policy are usually considered from the vantage-point of geography and history. Both of these are givens that we can do nothing to change, and therefore these remain necessary perspectives. However they are not yet enough. We can and should also address this subject from the point of view of two realities.
On the one hand we have the old reality of real politics, with states relying on power politics to further their national interests, even at the expense of others if that is possible and permitted. This is the world where dominant threat perceptions are military by nature and where security is about preparedness based on military build-up and alliance.
On the other hand we have the world of interdependence, where it is impossible for anyone to respond to new security challenges on their own and/or by means of power politics alone, but where the only viable way to manage those challenges is through broadly based multilateral cooperation. In this world security can and must be built collectively, and the focus of military resources shifts from territorial defence to crisis management.
Until recently, conceptions of Finland’s position have been dominated by the old-reality world. History has taught us how this region has seen variable degrees of confrontation, competition and collaboration between Baltic Sea states and other states from outside the region. Since the foundation of St. Petersburg more than 300 years ago, the destinies of Finland and Estonia and other Baltic states have been determined by the Stockholm-St. Petersburg-Berlin triangle. Before St. Petersburg and Berlin, Warsaw and Copenhagen were also major influences. There were times when even Paris and London had a visiting influence, although they had no lasting attachment to the region.
Nonetheless these visits have been significant. The most enduring inheritance of the Åland War has been the demilitarisation of the Åland Islands. Another important British visit was by courtesy of the Royal Navy when it appeared at the Tallinn roadstead on December 12th, 1918, in the darkest moments of the Estonian War of Independence when the Red Army had come within a few tens of kilometres of Tallinn. At that time the British influence was at its height in Finland, too, as the collapse of imperial Germany put paid to plans to turn Finland into a vassal state under a German king.
In this new situation Finland leaned on the British to the extent that it allowed them to establish a military base at Koivisto, without any agreement with the Finnish Government, let alone the consent of Parliament. Twenty years later, Finland was reminded about these events by Stalin who justified his demands by saying that they did not want to see a third state once again set up a base on their border, threatening as it would Kronstadt and St. Petersburg.
Paris and London in those days were distant capitals and were not in the position to offer Moscow a better carrot than Berlin in August 1939, and the offer of a stick that was extended to Finland during the Winter War to help fend off Soviet advances with a French-British army corps simply was not credible. In the last instance the Baltic countries and Finland were left to their own devices in trying to work out their relations with the Soviet Union, and of course they chose to go different ways – with well-known consequences.
Would there have been different options open to these countries, and what would have been their consequences? The question continues to exercise historians today. There is no certain answer, and for my own part I would just say that it would have been unlikely.
However at the close of World War II the Baltic Sea was militarily controlled by one single state. These were paradoxical times in that the same parties who in ritual format celebrated the Baltic Sea as the Sea of Peace – Ostsee / Friedenssee – had turned it into one of the world’s most militarised regions. Yet even during the Cold War, advances in arms technology and other developments meant that the rationale for all this was outdated. One indication of this was provided by the Soviet decision to withdraw from the Porkkala base in 1956, almost 40 years ahead of the expiry of the original lease that was signed in 1944.
In the realm of politics, the process of change was accelerated by détente and Willy Brandt’s new Ostpolitik, and above all by the signing in 1975 of the Helsinki Accords from the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Contrary to virtually all expectations, this proved to be an instrument that effectively undermined totalitarian communist parties’ exercise of power.
In the old-reality world, Finland’s position today is stronger than ever. Our independence and territorial integrity are safe. Security and wealth in the country are extremely high by international comparison. We have stable and effective relations with Russia, and membership of the EU has given us much greater leverage over international affairs.
Today, the Baltic Sea could almost be described as the European Union’s Mare Nostrum, but since the EU has neither the need, desire nor the capability to develop into a military superpower, it is no longer associated with the same kinds of fears and concerns as in the old world. True, the EU has problems in its relations with Russia, but beyond those problems it’s important to stress that the EU’s Northern Dimension, where Russia feels it is contributing as an equal partner with the EU, Norway and Iceland, has been an unequivocal success.
The same can be said of the broad cooperation under the Council of the Baltic Sea States CBSS. Networks of regional cooperation, ranging from health and the environment to the security sector, are an efficient and practical way of building up Finnish security and stability in our neighbouring regions.
It is true that a residual divide still exists within the Baltic Sea region. Six countries are involved in NATO – two so-called old NATO members and four new ones – and two are militarily non-aligned. And then there is Russia, whose relationship with NATO can be described as ambiguously dialectical. Nevertheless this old-reality set-up need not, nor should it be allowed to stand in the way of all the cooperation that we need here in this new reality.
None of this means, however, that the shadow of old military security threats has altogether receded. There are understandable historical reasons why concerns and fears over these threats continue to linger in people’s minds, even if they are outdated in the context of today’s world. Even if power politics is no longer able to deliver any lasting benefits anywhere in the world, and certainly not in the Baltic Sea region, maintaining a certain preparedness is nonetheless justified so long as there are still leaders and other stakeholders who have not yet realised this. This applies equally to the perpetrators and the victims of power politics.
Power politics confrontations can also be eased and defused, as was done even during the worst periods of the Cold War. There are still significant amounts of weapons in the Baltic Sea region that need to be reduced. Regional initiatives to this effect are always welcome. However these weapons are primarily deployed for reasons other than reasons related to the region itself, so therefore any reductions will most likely be achieved as part of broader and more inclusive disarmament and arms control regimes and agreements.
However, it makes sense for countries in the Baltic Sea region themselves to take active part in developing the disarmament and arms control agenda. It seems that the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), which was introduced before NATO’s expansion and which has been on ice since 2007, has had its day. For most Baltic Sea countries joining the CFE, designed to limit the number of conventional arms in individual countries, was not even possible. As the CFE world more generally no longer answers the questions related to maintaining and increasing confidence and openness, it is necessary to start debate and discussion about a new kind of conventional arms control regime that reflects the changes that have happened in the practices and structures of armed forces. Getting this issue positively onto the agenda could be the most concrete achievement of the OSCE Helsinki+40 anniversary.
What, then, is Finland’s position in the reality of interdependence?
This reality is constantly gaining in strength. The most important factor driving this trend is population growth, which from 1945 to 2013 has seen the world population explode from 2.3 to 7.2 billion. The biggest global challenge of all is to halt this ecologically, socially and economically unsustainable development.
Foreign and security policy must reflect and take account of both worlds. Even recourse to power politics cannot be completely ignored, because even if power politics alone no longer brings lasting benefits, there are still leaders who continue to live in the old reality.
This is why these two realities and responding to them are the key pillars of Finnish foreign policy.
It follows that the most important foundation of foreign policy is the recognition that in this world of growing interdependence everyone, including Finland, is tied together in an ever-tighter web of economic interactions, but also exposed to global and other non-state-based threats.
Even in the best case scenario, we might have no more than a few decades to meet the global requirements of ecologically, socially and economically sustainable development.
If we are unable to do this, we will have to prepare for the eventuality that apart from everything else, it might give cause to an increased propensity to traditional power politics and military conflicts. If such conflicts break out over the control of natural resources, it is possible that they will no longer be about oil reserves at all, but about an even more valuable liquid, i.e. clean water. Life without oil is possible, life without water it isn’t.
In the world of interdependence it is also necessary to answer the question of how we can maintain the current highly successful welfare state model. Like the other Nordic countries, we pride ourselves in the strength of our highly advanced Nordic welfare state that is based on efficient and uncorrupted administration, open democracy and the equal treatment of all people. A key condition for our future success is that we continue to uphold and develop this model.
However the sustainability of our welfare model cannot be taken for granted, nor does this depend only on our own will and ability. Many of the economic and social policy tools that have been used in developing our model are no longer in the exclusive use of national decision-making as they used to be in the past. The recognition of this has been one of the motives for our joining the European Union, which if it wants to and if it knows how can put these tools to more effective use than we can on our own.
Finland’s current and future position is above all else European. Our primary channel for exercising influence over world affairs is through the EU. The biggest threat to the EU is its dwindling legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary citizens.
EU expansion has been crucial to the strengthening of stability, welfare and democracy in Europe. The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the EU as possibly the most successful peace project in world history is well deserved, but only if the Union remains open to all countries that meet the membership criteria and that want to join in.
In other respects, however, the EU is undeniably in trouble and needs to reform, and here I am referring not only to economics and the management of the eurocrisis. The mistakes made in managing the eurocrisis and the EU’s fundamental institutional flaws undermine the Union’s legitimacy in the eyes of citizens and have led to a severe crisis of democracy. The Union can no longer be built on wisdoms passed from the top down by the euroelite; it needs to be based instead on respect for openness, democracy and the Union’s own decision-making rules.
Nordic cooperation is enjoying something of a renaissance. This applies to all fields and not just to Nordic defence cooperation, which is currently in a dynamic stage and attracting the most interest. Practical cooperation includes exercises, training, crisis management, acquisitions and surveillance activities, and the countries involved can also vary. All five countries are not involved in all the activities. Often it is a case of Norway, Sweden and Finland joining forces, but from our point of view the prospects of deepening cooperation are obviously the greatest with Sweden.
It remains unrealistic and unnecessary to try and create any kind of broad defence alliance between Finland and Sweden. Both countries will continue to make their own independent decisions in the future, but they have always looked first at what their neighbour has intended to do. Today none of these decisions pertaining to security are made without prior mutual consultation. This effectively minimises the likelihood of sharply different decisions.
However in the broad field of security it is still possible to significantly develop Nordic cooperation, and there is good reason to do so. Indeed my Nordic foreign ministerial colleagues and I have agreed in the autumn to draft a joint strategy document in this area.
The Nordic countries are also united by a joint declaration of solidarity, although that has received only little attention. In Finland, much more focus has been given to Chapter 7, Article 42 of the EU Treaty, or to what we know as the ’security guarantee clause’. Its relationship to the Nordic declaration of solidarity and other obligations of EU countries remains unclear and open to interpretation.
Indeed, I have proposed that in the case of the Nordic countries, the problem of overlap could be resolved if Norway and Iceland acceded to the EU Article concerned under a similar arrangement that they have for joining Schengen. This would have the added benefit of forcing the EU to do some serious thinking and come to a common understanding on what this Article means and entails in reality.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a recurring complaint in Finland that we don’t have enough discussion and debate about foreign and security policy. On closer inspection what this usually means is that the person or people making this complaint have had no response to their calls for Finnish membership of NATO.
There is a definite imbalance, or should I say asymmetry here. Most of the noise is made by those who want to see a change in our current non-membership status of the military alliance. These voices are also given ample exposure in the media. Those who don’t see any need to change in the status quo do not see a reason to engage in such debate, for several reasons.
Commentaries in favour of NATO tend to be rather repetitive in their insistence and therefore the prospect of responding to these commentaries is less than enticing. Indeed responding in itself already gives the initial commentator in a position of advantage, leading to an impression of the respondent on the defensive. As Finland has no plans and no reasons to join, and as the firm majority of Finnish people have no desire to change the status quo, the constant revisiting of this issue feeds uncertainty and unfounded expectations that changes are under preparation.
The same image is created and conveyed by Finnish media, who after every meeting between American or Russian and Finnish government officials, will always put as their first question what these visitors think about Finland’s membership of NATO. When they then get the entirely predictable response – from the American side that Finland is welcome and from the Russian side that they don’t really like the idea – then the headlines give the impression that these visitors have been to Finland for the sole purpose of making this point, even if there has been no discussion of this matter whatsoever.
There is also an asymmetry in the way that those who are happy with how things stand today do not feel it is wise to defend their position with the same kind of absoluteness as advocates of membership are inclined to do. This is because they are prepared to accept that the so-called NATO option is kept open – which merely means that the question can be revisited if circumstances change.
Another factor that impacts on the debate is that many people are reluctant to join in if that means they might have to voice criticisms of other countries in a situation where there is no need in this way to burden relationships in any direction. This can mean either Russia, the United States or both.
It is clear that Finland’s membership of NATO can be both supported and opposed on different, but both also on similar grounds. One crucial divide runs between whether or not Russia is considered a military threat to Finland. In both cases that position can be used to justify both membership and non-membership of NATO.
This four-field can be raised into a cube by asking a number of additional questions. One is this: Would Finland’s membership of NATO affect the current stability and predictability of the Baltic Sea region and would it create new tensions? Another possible additional question might ask whether the person in question would take a different attitude to NATO membership if there were a change in the foundations or the presence or absence of military threat.
We can all slot ourselves into a suitable position in these four-fields and cubes. But we need to do more than that. We need to be able to explicate and define the benefits and drawbacks of military alliance in other than just the old-reality world of real politics and power politics, which are the primary points of anchorage for the questions just discussed.
In the old-reality world, NATO membership is not, for me at least, nor for the majority of Finnish people, justifiable on grounds that it would be necessary for our own security, or that its benefits overall to our security would outweigh the drawbacks.
If in this reality alliance cannot be justified, how can it be justified in the reality of interdependence, or as a response to what are known as extensive security threats?
At this juncture it is necessary to remind ourselves what military non-alignment means in the world of interdependence and what it doesn’t. Non-alignment is not neutrality in the sense of the old-reality world. Finland dropped its definition of foreign policy neutrality when it joined the European Union almost 20 years ago. Military non-alignment is also not a statement of policy orientation, but simply indicates that Finland is not a member of a military alliance or is in no comparable contractual relationship.
When membership of NATO is considered in the reality of interdependence, the first thing we need to remember is that the military alliance that is NATO was founded in the old-reality world of power politics in 1949. As this reality has receded in favour of interdependence, the military alliance has had to rediscover its role and to justify its existence through new challenges.
In connection with this transformation process, the NATO Lisbon Summit in 2010 adopted a new strategic concept for the military alliance. That concept retains the principle of collective defence, as set out in Article 5 of NATO’s Charter, at the heart of the organisation’s function – nothing else would have been acceptable to the Central and Eastern Europe countries that joined after the Cold War – but it also gives equal importance to crisis management preparation and response activities as well as to the promotion of cooperative security.
Partnerships set up in the latter context have involved not only Finland and other European non-aligned countries (excluding Cyprus and Malta) and NATO accession candidates, but also other partner countries from as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. Almost all partner countries have also contributed to NATO crisis management operations under the UN Security Council’s mandate in the Balkans and in Afghanistan.
NATO is unrivalled in its preparedness and capacity to conduct demanding military crisis management operations. The challenge for NATO is that in today’s world, it may be easy to address the military part of a crisis based on superior power resources, but that is not yet enough to ease and resolve crises. NATO wants to expand its expertise base and means of action, but it will never be able to provide as wide a range of crisis management tools as the European Union.
Apart from military capabilities, the European Union has at its disposal a vast range of other tools of civilian crisis management, economic cooperation, trade and state-building, even though the coordinated use of these tools still leaves much to be desired. The United Nations, too, has a similar range of tools and means in place, if the expertise of all its specialist organisations can be put to effective and coordinated use.
In the reality of interdependence, the promotion of cooperative security is a global task. NATO’s area of operations has accordingly expanded from the North Atlantic region to cover the whole world – this in response to the observation that the military alliance must operate ”out of area”, or else it will be ”out of business”.
This begs the question, firstly, that if the military alliance goes ”out of business”, is that such a bad thing? Surely that would be a globally desirable state of affairs? And even if this is not yet how things are seen in today’s world, it might well be a feasible vision for the future.
In order to succeed sustainably in the global promotion of cooperative security, NATO must also enjoy undivided confidence throughout the world and operate within the parameters of legitimacy established on the basis of the UN Charter and decisions.
This not easy to achieve given the different views within NATO on its direction and principles of the exercise of power, above all on opposite sides of the Atlantic. In contrast to the situation during the Cold War, membership of NATO nowadays requires a commitment to democracy, but even within this basic framework NATO represents a more heterogeneous community of values than the EU. If anything, the differences in this respect have been growing rather than narrowing.
It would certainly be undesirable if NATO’s global role contributed to increasing division and confrontation. This, too, is an entirely possible scenario, especially if BRICS cooperation, which is still in the process of evolving, continues to expand and develops into a counterpole.
To summarise, then, the following are the key points with regard to Finland’s relationship with NATO.
– Finland takes the view that the protection provided by Article 5 of the NATO Treaty would not enhance its security, and therefore does not consider it justified to take part in the ensuing obligations.
– Finland takes full advantage of the opportunities presented by NATO’s partnership cooperation in order to develop its own defence, and based on case-by-case consideration is prepared to actively contribute to developing cooperative security as well as to contribute to UN mandated crisis management operations and training exercises.
– In the world of interdependence Finland hopes that NATO can constructively contribute to strengthening cooperative security, but does not take the view that Finnish membership of NATO would improve our chances of working to advance global security.
– Finland is actively involved in developing the international security architecture and is prepared to revise its policies based on the opportunities created by policy changes.
– There is no need in the foreseeable future to revise these basic premises. The foreseeable future extends beyond the next parliamentary elections and the drafti