The relationship between NATO and Finland may be closer than is generally thought. According to a report in the regional daily Turun Sanomat (5 February 2001), NATO sources see no obstacles to actual membership. These sources say that joining the alliance would not be problematic. However, the decision is left to the Finns.
Turun Sanomat also writes that the Finns tend to remain silent on the fact that their country is able to ask NATO for military assistance in a situation of crisis. This possibility emerged when Finland joined the Partnership for Peace in 1994. The document which allows for this eventuality is not a state agreement and thus has not even been translated into Finnish. The paper points out that the agreement does not commit NATO to give such assistance.
In background briefings, NATO officials also said that at least one Baltic country will be able to join the alliance in the next few years. There seems to be some difference of opinion, however, as to whether the Baltic countries should be allowed in simultaneously or one at a time. Some strategists have also asked what NATO would gain with their membership. These experts see these countries as military burdens.
NATO sources told Turun Sanomat that Finnish membership would not change the alliance's strategic calculations. Some European countries, however, are worried that NATO's enlargement to the East would create tensions with Russia. These countries would rather see the Baltic countries join the EU first and delay the question of their NATO membership.
A high-ranking NATO source said that this cautious attitude sends the wrong signal to Russia. According to Turun Sanomat, the countries in question are Sweden and Finland. They have been eagerly promoting the Baltic countries' EU membership but have not publicly expressed opposition to their NATO membership. However, this seems to be the way things are interpreted inside NATO.
NATO fears that with the support of some non-NATO countries Russia would gain a veto in the enlargement process. The question of the Baltic countries' membership also echoes old Cold War feuds. The Americans remember these countries primarily as victims of Soviet aggression. According to this view, they will only be safe from Russia when they are fully integrated with the Western democracies.
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