Finland, Russia and NATO


Monday, 19.4.2010  Blog, not_translated

Glenn R. Gassen writes about the proposal made in Germany that Russia should join NATO. Gassen thinks that this topic should create more discussion and raise interest also in Finland.

In an article for the German weekly Der Spiegel on March 8th a group among Volker Rühe, a former German Minister of Defence, raised the question of Russia’s NATO membership, arguing in favour of enlarging the North Atlantic Alliance to Vladivostok. In Finland the proposal has not so far gotten much attention, although the issue should be of major interest for the country.

Obviously there are plenty of obstacles for Russia joining the former opponent of the Warsaw Pact. In Washington the idea is not new as it was already debated in the early 1990s. And, there are less ideological hurdles now. American commentators have however so far pointed to the existing differences on values and have doubted the Russian willingness to join, but have agreed on the strategic necessity of integrating Russia into European security structures.

The Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski, who is fairly not known for his Russophile mind, has acknowledged that a Russian membership should not be ruled out and that there could be a real plus for European security. However, public opinion in Eastern Europe is probably not of the same opinion.

Russia itself is not likely to yearn for membership either. NATO is still the old rival in most Russians minds. A membership is only desirable, if NATO changed fundamentally. American dominance is not acceptable for Russia.

Last but not least, China must be considered. It would not welcome NATO at its borders and it is questionable, if Europeans would guarantee the Russian borderline in Asia.

Although enlargement to the other side of the Pacific Ocean is unlikely for now, one should think further. The article was written with the intention to reinforce the German opinion leadership on East-West issues and assumes basically that security in and for Europe can only be achieved with and not against Russia.

As a reminder, in the early 1990s Volker Rühe was also one of the first Western decision-makers lobbying for NATO membership of former Warsaw Pact countries from Central and Eastern Europe.

The idea will grow. Germans themselves are not dogmatic on NATO role and are probably first to promote more cooperation. More in general the proposal is the expression of the belief in a common future with Russia. A NATO membership would be just the furthest and most visible step. In the meantime there are many steps to take. However, sometimes it takes a visionary goal to set the right course.

The little reaction in Finland is somehow symptomatic on the other hand, as an example for Finnish dimness on German affairs. It seems completely forgotten that Germany is the closest European ally in dealing with Russia, and therefore is a very decisive partner in the most challenging issue of Finnish foreign policy.

For sure, America can play a more important role, as President Obama  effort for disarmament already gains fruits. But American foreign policy also tends to change from time to time. George Bush  presidency should not be forgotten yet. Germany is finally the much more reliable actor, who keeps the situation stable also in difficult times.

Particularly Finns should think about the proposal, because a Russian NATO membership would be in the very interest of Finland. It would solve its own NATO question and furthermore defuse any future conflict with Russia. Finland as a current non-NATO country could of course not favour membership for Russia officially, but why should Finns not think aloud.

It is first of all Germany and Finland  interest that East-West relations work. A good historic example might be the Neue Ostpolitik. Before Willy Brandt became Chancellor, he visited Helsinki as West-German foreign minister in 1967. He tried to convince President Kekkonen of the new policy, who promised to raise the topic in the Kremlin. Eight years later the CSCE Final Act was signed. Today, in the triangle of Germany, Russia and Finland, which has been so important for East-West relations, the Finnish end should not be a passive one right now.

See also Spiegel online: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,682287,00.html

Glenn R. Gassen is a researcher on Finnish-German relations and a visiting lecturer of Nordic politics in Düsseldorf, Germany. Mr Gassen holds a Magister Artium degree from the Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Düsseldorf. He has also worked as a visiting researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). Glenn R. Gassen is EVA’s Junior Fellow 2009.