November 1998                                

Finland's role in Europe subjected to 'realist' analysis

Max Jakobson, Finland in the New Europe. Foreword by George Kennan. The Washington Papers/175. Praeger 1998.

Review by Hannu Reime

The internationally best-known Finnish political commentator Max Jakobson has written a new book, a kind of summary of the changes in the world and their effects on Finland since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It also contains a review of the history of Finland as a national entity, meant as a background to those foreign readers who are not acquainted with this peripheric, yet undoubtedly Western nation.

It tells much of the high status of Mr. Jakobson inside the Western intellectual establishment that his book is co-published with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, an institution where figures like Zbigniew Brzezinski and others of equal fame and similar political disposition have been active. The foreword to the book has been written by no less a person than George Kennan, the nonagenarian éminence grise of US diplomacy and historical scholarship.

Those readers who know Max Jakobson's previous writings, e.g. his book on the Winter War diplomacy, or his numerous articles and shorter commentaries in the International Herald Tribune and elsewhere, recognize his lucid style also in the new book. The text is extremely readable and well composed.

Mr. Jakobson is generally regarded as a representative of the realist school in international relations. In this respect, too, he does not disappoint his readers. Commenting on recent changes in the world – 'globalization' – Mr. Jakobson likes to quote the Communist Manifesto, where Marx and Engels predicted how capitalism is going to "create the world in its own image". You may be a conservative commentator of the 'Establishment', like Jakobson himself, or a revolutionary socialist, and still accept the same factual analysis.

There are, however, some surprising bouts of naiveté here and there in Jakobson's account. Being labelled as a 'realist' does not always mean that you are right.

So for example, in discussing UN mediations in international crises, Max Jakobson refers to the efforts of the Swedish diplomat Gunnar Jarring in the Middle East after the June War of 1967. Jarring "shuttled for quite some time between Jerusalem and the Arab capitals, but to no avail. But when Henry Kissinger appeared on the scene things began to happen", Jakobson writes on p.77. Well, "things began to happen": a new war broke out in the Middle East, the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, as a direct result of Kissinger's take-over of the US Middle East diplomacy from the Secretary of State William Rogers, who supported Israeli withdrawal in exchange for mutual recognition and peace. We know the consequences of Kissinger's 'realism'.

Finland, of course, is the main focus of Mr. Jakobson text. It's the story of a small country that has partly through its own efforts, partly by good luck connected with excellent timing, managed to keep its democratic system largely intact despite enormous threats. According to Jakobson, Finland has now taken its place in the Western camp without any ambiguity. Jakobson's attitude to notions like 'neutrality' is instrumental; they are not eternal and immutable values, but instruments to advance what is called 'national interests'.

Max Jakobson's overall conservatism can be seen in his comments on European integration. His view on the European Union is a Gaullist one: l'Europe des patries: "To drain the nation-state of its vitality would leave large parts of Europe's population rootless and disoriented", Jakobson writes on p.118. The 'nation-state' is quite a permanent and stable notion in Jakobson's analysis.

In general, the closer he comes to today's choices, like Finland's membership in NATO, the more careful Jakobson's formulations are. He has no detailed suggestions for a correct answer of his own to the many questions that are still open. This is not meant as a criticism. Perhaps, it is wise policy from a commentator as thoroughly conservative as Max Jakobson.

Hannu Reime is a commentator on international affairs in the Finnish Broadcasting Company.