Column - Tuesday 20.1.2004

Finland, NATO, and Russia


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By Max Jakobson

Debate over NATO membership is ultimately a debate over Russia, albeit indirectly. When President Tarja Halonen emphasised in December last year that "Finland does not face the kind of threat to its national security that would, as such, require us to change our basic solutions in security policy", she could not have meant anything other than that we are not threatened by Russia - after all, no threat can be expected from any other direction.
Russia certainly does not threaten us now, but there is a very broadly accepted notion that history repeats itself, and that Russia will gradually rise from its downtrodden position. For instance, Mauno Koivisto writes in his book Venšjšn idea ("The Idea of Russia", 2001), that Russia's weakness is a temporary state of affairs: "The Russians will find ways to strengthen their internal order."
He goes on to write that in a topographic sense, Russia is a "country of plains", and that this affects the formation of their thinking in security policy matters. Plains nations need to enhance their security by enlarging their territory and by forcing neighbouring nations into submission. According to Koivisto, a territory is part of Russia when it has once been taken over. "In that respect, according to their way of thinking, we also still belong on their side."

Many who feel this way also believe that we must join NATO quickly to avert the consequences of a plains nation on the advance. However, Koivisto feels strongly that Finland must not join NATO. He argues that Russia has been "broadly speaking a good neighbour" to Finland, and that NATO membership would ruin our relations with Russia.
Most Finns, who in their heart of hearts fear that Russia will rise and become a great power again, are thus divided into two opposing camps in their conclusions on how to deal with the issue: some want Finland to seek refuge in NATO membership before it is too late, while others want to stay out of NATO, lest Finland anger Russia, or in order to stay hidden away on the sidelines of a turbulent world.
There are also other types of arguments presented for and against NATO membership. For instance, Koivisto's successor as President - Martti Ahtisaari - has said that he feels that Finland should join NATO regardless of Russia, because only by doing so can Finland demonstrate that it is part of the Western world. Otherwise, he argues, Finland would remain overshadowed by memories of Finlandisation.

The opposite view has been expressed by the pacifist organisation, the Committee of 100, at its 40th anniversary celebrations last August. In response to the question of whether or not pacifism is a "relevant ideology in the planning of security policy", Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja answered: "Absolutely! To the very greatest!"
Tuomioja continues to carry a peace symbol on his lapel. Not only does the Committee of 100 oppose membership in NATO, it also wants to cut defence spending by at least one third, and to put an end to compulsory military service.
From the point of view of pacifism, globalisation cannot help but affect developments in Russia. The world is opening up, national boundaries are not an impediment to the movement of information or money, markets are expanding, economies are merging, and the movement of people is also constantly becoming more unfettered. All of these kinds of developments are taking place in Russia as well.

It is undoubtedly the ultimate goal of President Vladimir Putin to raise Russia from its present state of degradation back to the status of a great power. The goal is both to promote the country's economy, and to modernise its defence forces and develop new weapons systems.
But Putin is not looking for the "idea of Russia" from the past, when Russia expanded its strength by isolating itself from the rest of the world: this would no longer be possible under modern conditions. Putin has declared that Russia has made a historic choice, under which the key goal is a "broad-based approach to Europe and real integration with it".

The conclusion that can be drawn from this is that Russia's rise will not be a threat to Finnish security; on the contrary, it will offer new opportunities for our foreign trade.
I feel that this is possible. But we cannot be sure that the direction indicated by Putin will come to pass. We know from experience that unexpected changes can take place in Russia. At different times in recent decades, Russian policies have been to Finland's advantage or to its detriment.
The basic task of foreign policy is to prepare for the worst. NATO membership would serve this goal. It is often compared with fire insurance, which means that if our country is attacked, we will receive help from NATO member-states.
However, the main advantage of NATO membership lies elsewhere. Not a single NATO member state has faced an attack since the establishment of the defence alliance in 1949. The effect of membership is a preventive one.

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 16.1.2004

Max Jakobson was the Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations from 1965 to 1972, and Finland's Ambassador to Sweden from 1972 to 1975. He is probably the country's best-known international commentator and the author of several works on recent Finnish history.

Previously in HS International Edition:
 Former President Ahtisaari: NATO membership would put an end to Finlandisation murmurs (15.12.2003)
 Social Democrats hold key to Finnish NATO decision (18.2.2003)
 Ex-President in new book: Finland neglecting relations with Russia (11.4.2001)

Helsingin Sanomat

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