Finland’s Short-Term Vision

Posted in NATO | 20-Oct-07 | Author: Jukka Aminoff

The following piece is a summary of Jukka Aminoff’s interview with Dr. Risto E. J. Penttilä.

Dr. Risto E. J. Penttilä, President of the Finnish Atlantic Council, says that Finland’s foreign and security policy is in a halfway house. Finland is no longer neutral. Yet, it has not joined NATO. Instead, Finland tries to navigate between NATO and Russia.

Finland’s half-hearted foreign policy stands in stark contrast to Finland’s economic policy. When Finland joined the European Union in 1995, it opened itself to the global economy, businesses went multinational and the country was the only one north of Germany that adopted the euro.

Nationalistic Foreign Policy

Finland has decided to hold on to a policy of military non-alignment. The country seeks to strengthen its national security through the European Union. The problem is that most European Union member states rely on NATO for national security.

For many Finns, military non-alignment seems to be a question of national identity and even nationalism. According to Penttilä, part of the reason for staying outside of NATO is a romantic image of Finnish history. “Finns see themselves as a lone wolf.” In reality, Finland has not been a lone wolf. During the Second World War, Finland desperately sought military assistance from different capitals. During the Cold War it cooperated very closely with the Soviet Union.

The U.S. Presidential Election Plays a Role

Penttilä predicts that the US presidential elections will have a big impact on Finland’s foreign policy. “Finland’s policy of military non-alignment is going to be under close inspection if the new president of the United States reverts to a course of multilateralism.” Penttilä believes that this will strengthen NATO and make it more difficult for Finns to argue why they should “go it alone.”

In Penttilä’s view, membership in NATO would be a natural step for a country that believes in international organizations and in multilateralism.

Increasingly Dangerous Crisis Management – Will Finland Pull Out?

Crisis management operations have become more dangerous over the years. Operations have always been dangerous, but the risk levels have increased.

The short-term question is going to be: How active a role will Finland play in future crisis management and peacekeeping operations?

Penttilä notes that Finland has always been good at tasks where one must wear a helmet. Finns excel in ice hockey, Formula One, rally driving, ski jumping and peacekeeping.

On a more serious note, Finns will have to realize that modern crisis management missions differ greatly from old-fashioned peacekeeping operations. “Darfur is much more dangerous for blue helmets than the Golan Heights ever were.”

Non-alignment Means Militarization

Penttilä believes that joining NATO would make security policy “more political” in Finland. “At the moment security policy discussion focuses on hard core military issues: Do we have enough manpower and equipment to defend our country. If we joined NATO, discussion would become more political.”

Finland’s western neighbor Sweden is likely to put an end to obligatory military service. Penttilä believes that Sweden’s decisions will have an important impact on Finland’s policies even if the geopolitical position of the two countries is quite dissimilar.

At the moment, there is a consensus over Finland’s compulsory military service. Indeed, many oppose membership in NATO because they believe membership would lead to an all-professional army. Penttilä does not agree. According to him it is up to the individual member state to decide what to do with its military service.

Margin or Core

Finland has two choices: The first one is to stay outside of NATO and continue to be a lone wolf. The other choice is to join NATO and become a normal member state of the European Union in this respect as well. Be it as it may, Penttilä does not expect Finland to take a decision in the foreseeable future. “There simply is no urgency in the Finnish debate yet.”