7 March 2005 **** Front Page

Finland and the new Cold War

By Tapani Lausti

Finland’s pro-NATO lobby is trying hard to get rid of what it sees as remains of Cold War mentality. According to this body of opinion, joining NATO and other Western institutions would help the nation to get rid of the shadow of the Cold War. NATO membership would finally prove that Russia has no grip on Finnish politics.

Ironically at the same time Washington is pursuing policies which according to a leading American expert on Russia, Stephen Cohen, are leading to a new Cold War. Cohen lists several American moves in this direction: "the eastward expansion of NATO (thereby breaking a promise the first President Bush made to Gorbachev); the American withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which had discouraged a new nuclear arms race; the bogus nuclear weapons reduction treaty of 2002; and the ongoing military encirclement of Russia with U.S. and NATO bases in former Soviet territories." (The Political Tragedy of Russia, Los Angeles Times, 27 February 2005)

One would think all this would make Finns long for the old days of neutrality. However, in spite of this development, Finnish pro-NATO writers want Finland to get as close to US power as possible. After George W. Bush’s recent visit to Brussels, Helsingin Sanomat columnist Olli Kivinen expressed impatience with Finland’s lack of progress in cosying up to Washington. He was disappointed that Finnish president Tarja Halonen was only allowed to address Bush with a short comment. Kivinen said that "Finnish politicians find it difficult to enter the chambers of power in Washington". (Suomi sivuraiteella, Helsingin Sanomat, 1 March 2005)

Kivinen seems to think that Finnish security must ultimately be guaranteed by US power, as if Washington’s corridors of power were populated by rational and democratically-minded idealists. In Kivinen’s imaginary world everything will be alright when there is "a strategic partnership based on equality and mutual respect, a partnership which takes into account US military supremacy and EU status as a global economic power".

In the old Finnish foreign policy tradition, it would have been deemed madness to align the country with a military alliance trying — in Cohen’s words — to isolate and "contain" Russia. Wouldn’t it be more rational to think that by aligning itself with NATO Finland would be more likely to be drawn into some uncontrolled future conflict.

Why would a small nation like Finland seek protection from an aggressive world power? How can one trust the US government’s judgement when the occupation of Iraq and the whole "war against terrorism" prove that Washington is incapable of foreseeing the consequences of its own actions. Pro-NATO people might respond by saying that the the US cannot anymore alone dictate the alliance’s actions. It is highly unlikely, however, that Washington is seriously interested in anything it cannot ultimately control. There are serious commentators who believe that NATO should be dissolved.

The Finnish pro-NATO camp seems oblivious to these problems. In fact, Finnish NATO enthusiasts’ eagerness to make the country a fully "Western" nation is part of the Cold War mentality. The shame of having had to occasionally suffer Moscow’s bullying has been replaced by a willingness to kowtow to Washington. At the same time, security thinking is only able to take into account military considerations.

Russia, of course, is an important factor in Finnish security debate. Ex-minister and ex-ambassador to London, Pertti Salolainen, writes that Finnish membership in the EU has helped Finland to get rid of its traditional fear of Russia. Salolainen continues: "Who would have believed a few years ago that Finland participates in EU’s military cooperation, sets up rapid reaction forces with among others Germany, Holland and Sweden, and participates in Europe’s arms industry cooperation without being a member of NATO?" (EU pystyy kehittymään johtavaksi talousalueeksi, Helsingin Sanomat, 4 March 2005)

This again shows the eagerness of many Finns to belong to something which during the Cold War was seen as something unattainable, i.e. being a full member of the Western community. This community is seen largely in military terms. Now even joint military projects are seen as something exciting, as if there were no other means to try to alleviate unpredictable and unstable developments. The whole logic seems to drive towards more conflicts instead of trying to secure peace in the world.

In this spirit, initiatives in the EU are trying to adapt "a strategy to become a military superpower and close the defence technology gap with the United States". (High-tech weapons help Europe to close military gap with US by Anthony Browne, The Times, 2 March 2005) Browne reports that the "strategy has proved controversial to EU members such as the Irish Republic and Sweden, who fear that their traditional neutrality is being threatened, as well as in Britain, where there has been concern that it will undermine Nato and its close military relationship with the United States".

This development, as far as I can judge, has gone unreported in Finland.

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