Finland is aligned to EU & NATO - a response to Defense News

Torstaina, 12. syyskuuta 2013     0 kommentti(a)

From a security policy perspective Finland’s choice and identity is clear: Finland has through a web of cooperative relationships anchored itself during the past two decades into the western (EU & NATO) security community. This will not change.

YesterdayDefense News posted and Atlantic Council reposted an article about Finland and Sweden. That such well respected organisations put effort into covering relatively small countries such as Finland and Sweden is of course something to be thankful for. However, the article "Finland, Sweden Mull NATO Option”included some inaccuracies related to Finland’s alignment status and military cooperation with Russia. In short, Finland is completely EU-NATO oriented, and there is no exercise based cooperation between Finnish and Russian militaries.

The article starts by noting that Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö has entered the debate over Finland’s security policy future. The Kultaranta keskustelut initiated by President Niinistö are but one example of his efforts to shake up domestic discussions about foreign and security policies. Most recently, at the annual Ambassador meet, he described Finland’s position as sitting on a fence – a position he felt is at the moment most appropriate for Finland.

What President Niinistö’s publicly expressed thinking does not reflect – contrary to the article – is that Finland should retaining a "non-aligned status” nor of a desire to develop closer military relations with Russia. Any semblance of Finnish non-alignment ended with Finland’s accession to the European Union in 1995. Finland’s current Defense White Paper clearly states that the EU is a political and monetary union, and even goes as far as to note that "Finland is not a member of a military alliance”, emphasizing the subtle difference with being militarily allied – which EU membership post-Lisbon treaty could be seen as being.

Regarding a desire to build closer military relations with NATO, the article is spot on but contrary to what the article suggests there is no need for strategic balancing for Finland. Cooperation with NATO is far deeper than most Finns realize, resulting positive capability development and its certification through NATO exercises. Furthermore, while officially policy agnostic, nearly all Finnish Defense Ministry officials privately argue for even closer cooperation with NATO and most even want to see Finland become a NATO member.

Military cooperation with Russia is for all practical purposes non-existent. Throughout the Cold War Finland summarily rejected all Soviet offers of joint exercises or cooperation, a tradition which though understandable means that NATO member Norway now has more military to military cooperation than Finland does with Russia. Certainly Finland maintains good political and social relations with Russia, now Finland’s largest individual trading partner. People to people interactions are also increasing, as witnessed by the nearly ten million border crossings from Russia to Finland during the past year (despite a strict visa requirement). 

From a security policy perspective Finland’s choice and identity is clear: Finland has through a web of cooperative relationships anchored itself during the past two decades into the western (EU & NATO) security community. This will not change.

Regarding Finland’s and Sweden’s stance on NATO and potential membership the situation is fluid, and as I have previously suggested may change after Swedish elections in 2014. Most likely, both countries will for the next half-decade continue to further deepen their cooperation with NATO, while choosing to not become full members.

For an American view of this, see Leo Michel’s 2011 paper "Finland, Sweden, and NATO: From ‘Virtual’ to Formal Allies?”. For those conversant in Swedish, the paper "Alla talar om Nato, men inget händerpublished by the Stockholm Free World Forum (Fri Värld) provides my take on Finland’s domestic debate regarding NATO membership.

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