21 January 2000                                                       

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Presidential candidates fudge foreign policy dilemmas

The campaign for the recent first round of Finnish presidential elections was carried out as if the world around Finland stood still. This accusation came from one of the country’s leading newspaper columnists, Olli Kivinen (Helsingin Sanomat, 20 January 2000).

Kivinen complains that all the candidates did everything they could to avoid deviating from Finland’s "official" foreign policy, "whatever that maybe". They seemed to pretend that NATO’s expansion had no effect on the country’s position during the next president’s term.

"In a rapidly changing world it is not good enough to repeat for the next six years a mantra about a country which stays outside military alliances and takes care of its defence independently from others.

"The impression of a vacuum was accentuated by changes happening in the immediate vicinity of our country. The election campaign was carried out as if nothing was happening in Russia, as if our neighbour had not turned into a power based on military might and security services. This development was revealed by the enthusiasm for the war in Chechnya. No outsider can know how deep this development is."

Kivinen writes that what was ignored during the campaign was a deepening rift between the West and Russia. Eyes were closed to the effects of this development in the Baltic states. Thus the presidential candidates, according to the columnist, ignored the effect on Finland of NATO’s expansion, as well as that of the strengthening cooperation in the foreign and security policy of the European Union.

Journalists, on their part, have helped politicians to maintain their silence on vital issues by not demanding clear statements, Kivinen complains. He thinks this is strange since all the presidential candidates have emphasised the president’s central position in the country’s foreign and security policy.

Kivinen enumerates several important questions. He refers, first of all, to some experts’ view that in actual fact Finland already is under NATO’s protection. A comparison has been made with Sweden’s international position during the Cold War. Kivinen also refers to what he sees as Tarja Halonen’s – the current foreign minister – long-standing pacifist leanings? What effect will this have on her potential role as the supreme commander of the defence forces? And what about the soft attitude towards the old Soviet Union shown by Esko Aho’s Centre Party? What effect will this have on Aho’s attitude towards today’s Russia?

According to Kivinen, it would be helpful for the voters if the candidates during the campaign could reach some kind of agreement about the president’s real powers. Otherwise there is a danger that the answer will be only improvised during a crisis in Finland’s neighbouring areas, Kivinen warns.


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