Militarisation of the mind (Editorial, Polarities/Focus, 2 October 2001)

Editorial by Tapani Lausti

The world has been shaken by the terrorist attacks in the United States. Whilst mourning the innocent victims of these outrages, people are also contemplating seriously what has gone wrong in the world. In some reactions, a will can be discerned to separate real security for human beings from concepts of stability which are connected to big state and commercial interests. In this endeavour, small countries are perhaps better placed because their self-interests are more limited and don't clash as easily with an honest analysis of what security, freedom and democracy mean.

Many people are thinking hard how security can be enhanced in a world where violence is the norm and even peacekeeping is seen more and more in military terms. In this world, television pictures of assault troops and fighter helicopters are images of security. No serious resources are available for crisis management which would be carried out by, say, massive movements of civil society.

One symptom of current security thinking is that most peacekeeping operations have been taken away from the United Nations and given to a military alliance. After the terrorist attacks in the US, the UN has been brought back into the picture to a certain extent but it remains to be seen what the implications in the long run are.

Many Finns have more trust in the UN than NATO, if only because Finland has had an honourable record in participating in UN peacekeeping operations. Most security debate these days, however, revolves around NATO.

Most Finns can't imagine that NATO would be an answer to Finland's security problems, whatever they might be. The terrorist attacks in the US have turned citizens even more against NATO membership. Both supporters and opposers of NATO membership have, however, used the attacks to clarify their thinking.

Those who have been supporting Finland's NATO membership now think that the country should fully participate in the campaign against terrorism. This, in their opinion, ultimately requires NATO membership. NATO-minded people also emphasise the possibility that Finland itself might one day require NATO's protection. They probably have Russia's possible instability or aggression in mind.

Those against NATO membership, on the other hand, think that recent events offer strong evidence of the advantages of non-alignment. The alliance's agreement that Article Five can also go beyond military attacks, and make terrorist atrocities an attack against every member country, provoked some Finnish commentators to ask the question, "what if we had now been a NATO member?" The assumption is that Finland might be drawn into a conflict which has little to do with the country's security interests.

Doubts have also been expressed whether NATO enthusiasm would outlast developments where Finland would end up defending something different from what are perceived as Finnish values. One commentator wrote that he would prefer to defend these values as well as democracy and humanity by using peaceful methods.

In future, there will probably be serious debates about the merits of NATO membership. Amongst Finland's political elite, there is a softly-spoken, but influential, pro-NATO camp. It sees NATO and the US as supporters of Western values such as democracy and human rights. No evidence contrary to these assumptions leaves an imprint in their minds.

George W. Bush can claim the moral high ground with only very few commentators pointing out how appalling the US's own record on human rights is. Partly this silence can be explained by a reluctance to bring unpleasant facts into the discussion so soon after great loss of innocent life in America. But even under less awful circumstances, only dissenting writers acknowledge that much of the West is part of the same world of violence as the unbelievably cruel terrorist strikers — and whatever is said about the state of the world will not make their crime less condemnable.

An innocent attitude towards the United States' big power interests permeates the Finnish pro-NATO camp as well. NATO is seen as a kind of international Salvation Army, an extension of American freedom. Critics of US foreign policies and NATO are often accused of not having been able to leave behind Cold War attitudes. This accusation could be turned around. Uncritical attitudes towards US international behaviour could be a continuation of Cold War attitudes of those who closed their eyes to US-supported atrocities because of the very real horrors of the Soviet camp.

However much the talk in Washington, Brussels and elsewhere is about crisis management and humanitarian intervention, the fact is that the US will always in the last instance see NATO as the defender of its own interests. The United States is a country big and strong enough to create its own rules of action. This creates a constant latent tension between the US and the EU, symptoms of which have been visible also during the weeks after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

For a small country like Finland, these tensions create feelings of unease. Many Finns prefer to stay out such world conflicts. Some, but very few, would like to be in the forefront of a search for new ideas for collective security, ideas which would not just be dangerous illusions of stability-creation, reformulated military doctrines or clever geopolitical analyses. However, much of the debate in Finland today has to do with the dangers of surprise strikes and an urgent need for fighter helicopters. A country which has experienced harsh wars maintains a certain fascination with things military. Security is seen to mean armed defence, even though many experts emphasise that wars between nations are things of the past.

The strange paradox of our time is that whilst the need for civilian crisis prevention and crisis management is obvious, minds have been turning more and more to military ways of thinking.

2 October 2001

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