January 1999

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Debate about Finnish neutrality in New Europe intensifies

The changing European security landscape has triggered a debate about Finland’s neutrality and the country’s relations with the Atlantic Alliance.

The highly esteemed Finnish commentator Max Jakobson argues that the approaching NATO membership of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary will change the basic structuretillnato.jpg (19350 bytes) of European geopolitics in a way that will force Finland and Sweden to re-evaluate their traditional neutrality. In a report commissioned by the Swedish Ministry of Defence, Jakobson says that once the Poles, the Czechs and the Hungarians have established themselves as participants in the decision-making organs of NATO – simultaneously maintaining reasonable relations with Russia – the Finns and the Swedes will become worried about remaining outside the Atlantic Alliance.

Jakobson emphasises the need to analyse Finnish and Swedish neutrality in a wider European context. In the current stable situation, neutrality has many advantages, he concedes. It guarantees good relations with Russia and keeps Germany happy. The Finnish and Swedish governments also claim that their current foreign policies serve the interests of stability in Northern Europe as a whole. Jakobson interprets this to mean that joining NATO would harm relations with Russia and could provoke Moscow into putting pressure on the Baltic countries.

"Of course, the Finnish and Swedish governments will carefully evaluate the consequences for the neighbouring countries of their security decisions. However, I think it is unwise to tie these decisions to the possible reactions of other states since we have no way to influence them. This would only lead to a situation where Finland and Sweden would become pawns in the relationship between Russia and the Baltic countries.

"If we presume that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will not be able to become members of NATO in the foreseeable future, Finland and Sweden may be stuck in a sub-area of the European security system which excludes the United States. Our countries would be partly responsible for the future of the Baltic countries without the support of NATO.

"If we furthermore assume that the United States through NATO will continue to be the guarantor of European security, neutrality for Finland and Sweden would mean that they remained second-class players when decisions on European security are being made."

"Two-floor NATO"

The debate on how far Finland should tie itself to the Atlantic Alliance is held back by the fact that the majority of Finns are against NATO membership. The official government position is that Finland will not apply for membership but has a so-called NATO option, which means that it can apply if the need arises. Finland is also actively participating in the Partnership for Peace programmes.

According to Finland's ambassador to NATO, Leif Blomqvist, Finland’s primary aim is to facilitate the country’s co-operation with the Atlantic Alliance in crisis management.

"The ability to co-operate in crisis management creates as a by-product a capacity to receive help in situations of crisis," Blomqvist said in a newspaper interview.

In the Partnership for Peace, Finland has expressed its readiness to participate in everything except what is known as "military infrastructure".

Dr. Weijo Pitkänen, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, has written about a "soft passageway" to "NATO’s hard nucleus".

"The Partnership for Peace programme includes many detailed instructions which lower the threshold between soft and hard security policy."

According to Pitkänen, participation in the PfP means that Finland is intimately tied to the "the new NATO" network.

"From there it is easier to take the decisive step towards the hard nucleus of the military alliance."

Pitkänen writes about a "two-floor NATO", where the upper-floor "new NATO" talks softly about openness, trust, peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, while on the lower floor, the generals speak the traditional language of military preparedness.

The expert opinion on Finland’s relations with NATO is divided into two camps. One sees closer relations as beneficial for the country’s security. The other warns that Finland is drifting towards unknown dangers.

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