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Security for Finland

Security for Finland

The following article is an edited excerpt from Max Jakobson’s new book “Finland – A Lone Wolf”, out this summer from Otava publishers.

Artikkeli on ote Ministeri Max Jakobsonin uudesta kirjasta “Finland – A Lone Wolf”, joka ilmestyi kesäkuussa Otavan kustantamana. Väliotsikoinnista ja otteen toimituksesta vastaa EVA.

The lone wolf seeks its pack

Finally, in 1991, the Soviet Union fell apart. Finland turned its back and sent a team of experts to Brussels in order to connect Finland’s economy to that of the European Union. But at home President Mauno Koivisto pronounced the key word: Finland was to join the EU, not because of the economy, but for the sake of national security.

What did he mean by security? He did not have to explain it: we all understood it anyway. This was in 1994, exactly fifty years since Finland had made peace with the Soviet Union. By joining the European Union Finland would finally feel safe – secure. In Finland, membership was approved by 57 percent against 43 – a clear majority in favour of security. Considering the motives of the Finnish majority, why did we not decide to join NATO as well?

The “NATO option”

In January 1994, President Bill Clinton had declared that it was not a question of whether NATO would admit new members, only when and how. Gradually, during ten years, NATO was enlarged by adopting eight Central and Eastern European countries that had been living under Soviet tyranny. Understandably, Finland did not join the ten new candidate members. Having stopped the Soviet invasion in 1944 and maintained independence, Finland had established normal relations with Russia. What we now have is called “NATO option”: we can decide to apply for NATO membership in case circumstances change.

The debate

For the time being the president and the government are silent. But the public does not hesitate to answer questions asked in opinion polls. A minority hopes that Finland should join NATO in order to defend the country against Russian aggression. Others believe that by relying on our own defence we will avoid Russian aggression. Then there are some who are convinced that we do not need NATO because Russia will no longer start a war, while quite a number of people imagine that if we join NATO the United States will force our boys to be sent to distant wars. And yet, opinion polls reveal that a majority of citizens would accept NATO membership if the president and the government decide that we should join and explain why it would be in Finland’s interest. Let’s wait and see what will happen after the next Parliamentary elections, which will be held in March 2007…

A foot in the door

In the meantime, Finland’s military leaders have developed close relations with American colleagues – never mind Nato. Our politicians have much less contact with American political leaders. We should not complain. The agenda of urgent issues confronting the U.S. president and his advisers is a sick list of a considerable number of nations: Finland is in good health. The American military leaders have a different interest: they want to co-operate with countries that have high quality defensive capabilities – Finland is one of them. Last March Admiral Juhani Kaskeala, who is our Commander-in-Chief, visited the United States, where he was invited to present to American officers the high technology methods that have been developed within the Finnish armed forces. The difference between being a partner or an ally with the United States is razor thin. During 50 years, from 1956 till 2006, Finnish troops have participated in international crisis management operations, first in the Middle East, between Pakistan and India, and in Cyprus, and today in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Afghanistan, with additional peace support operations in Nigeria, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Kashmir, the Middle East and Sudan. In a per capita sense, Finland has been the leading contributor to NATO and EU operations – NATO operations especially.

…but still out

And yet, only about one tenth of Finland’s armed forces take part in international operations. Finland’s traditional position on national defence is unique – within the European Union. The primary task of the military forces is territorial defence, with reserves of 350 000 men founded on general conscription. Every year about 80 percent of the young men of 18–25 years of age receive strict military training. Almost all European states have considerably reduced conscription or given it up altogether. Why not Finland? Kaskeala has replied: “We believe that it is up to us to build such defence capacity and deterrence that any nation would find it too costly to either threaten us with force or place any military pressure on us”. Everybody understands which “any nation” he means.

PHOTO: LEHTIKUVA / HS /CHRISTIAN WESTERBACK