New Wind in Finland’s Foreign Policy – Back to Realism

Posted in Europe | 20-Feb-08 | Author: Jukka Aminoff

Jukka Aminoff is WSN Editor Finland.

Finland has always been a country with a sense of cold realism regarding its foreign and security policy. Balanced neutrality has been and still is the key phrase for Finland. Maintaining good relations with all countries has always been a sensible policy for small countries - especially for Finland.

Finland had a four year period of global idealism which was a good try, but the results were very thin. A global governance program with unclear solutions and golden words didn’t gain credibility among other countries. There were also complaints about Finland’s foreign policy. Finland was isolating itself from the surrounding world and at the same time planning a program of global governance. However, there was one thing that remained the same, namely active relations with Russia.

When the government coalition changed from a center-left coalition to a center-right government, almost everything reverted back to active and realistic politics.

After the 2007 parliamentary elections, the National Coalition Party, pro-West on foreign policy issues, stepped into the new government as the second-largest parliamentary group. The Centre Party remained the largest party and the Social Democrats plummeted to the third position. The leading Centre Party has always been cautious and realistic regarding foreign policy issues. The new government launched a diplomatic round with European countries and especially with the United States. Finland had good relations with the US, but the level of activity was on a standby level. The new government pushed the power button on with regard to transatlantic relations.

Outside NATO – but for how long?

One of the biggest questions for Finland is what its relationship to NATO should be. There has been much debate over this issue. Is Finland a militarily non-aligned country although Finland supports the EU common foreign and security policy? The easiest answer is to say that Finland is inside the EU and outside of NATO. But is Finland a militarily non-aligned country? Here comes the problem.

The EU is not a military union because the EU’s military strength comes from NATO. The EU does not have its own military forces. Here comes the problem for Finland. Finland lacks influence when the question is about developing NATO and the EU. Finland supports the EU’s foreign and security policy, but Finland cannot influence NATO, where all the military power sits.

Finland also has a second problem. The cost of military equipment is growing all the time and maintaining its own defense system is going to be tremendously expensive in the future. Finland already has difficulty funding its welfare state, even with a high level of taxation.

Support for NATO membership amongst Finns is at 25% and nearly all of the remaining 75% are against membership. A few years ago, the Finnish people were asked in a poll whether or not they would support Finland’s membership in NATO if the Finnish president and the Finnish government were to say yes. The result was that the majority of Finns supported Finland’s membership in NATO. People are also careful to say yes to NATO because they are afraid of Russia’s reaction. People believe that remaining outside of NATO would maintain good relations with Russia and there would be no problems.

Well, Russia is going to set high duty rates for raw wood materials that would do serious harm to Finland’s wood and paper industry; remaining a non-member of NATO is not going to save Finland from having problems with Russia.

The Finnish Institute of International Affairs published a report that says Finland’s membership in NATO would only cause temporary harm to relations with Russia. Relations would normalize in a short period of time.

The pacifistic movement gives paradoxical statements on Finland’s possible NATO membership. Remaining outside of NATO would mean less militaristic policies. This is not the case.

Finland is now a lonely wolf that must bare the high cost of a military structure of its own. A totally independent military structure would mean more taxpayer money being spent on defense and there would be less money for funding of other services.

Military non-alignment also means that Finland has to keep its compulsory military service. Membership in NATO would open the possibility to change the compulsory military service to a selective military service. At the moment some young people are in jail in Finland because they have refused to serve in the military.

The Finnish center-right government is going to publish a security and defense policy report during this government period. The report will reveal what Finland’s decision towards NATO will be.

Jukka Aminoff is WSN Editor Finland.