June 2001

"Doors open to NATO"

Security discussions about the Baltic area continue unabated. In his latest interview, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen did not rule out Finnish or Baltic membership in NATO. According to the regional newspaper Aamulehti (18 June 2001), Lipponen "left the door open to NATO for both Finland and the Baltic countries".

In a radio interview, Lipponen said that NATO membership is each countries' own business. For Finland, however, it is important that there are no grey areas near the country's borders, he added.

"It is not to our advantage to create any grey zones, i.e. a situation where the position of the Baltic countries would remain permanently more or less unclear.

"This we don't want. We want to be a part of the European, or rather Euro-Atlantic security system."

Aamulehti concludes that Lipponen thus agrees with the Chief of Defence, Admiral Juhani Kaskeala, about the Baltic countries' NATO membership. However, Lipponen did not go as far as Kaskeala who said that NATO membership would indeed stabilise the situation in the Baltic.

President Tarja Halonen is reported to have criticised Kaskeala for his statement or at least discussed it with him.

Aamulehti quotes Tuomas Forsberg, the head of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, who says that Finland now seems to accept any decision by the Baltic countries.

As for Finnish membership in NATO, Lipponen says that there is no plan to join the alliance.

"But just in case we should plan it, it would be good to have the doors open."

Lea Ahoniemi from the University of Tampere told Aamulehti that Lipponen included the NATO option already in the government programme.

"It says that Finland is non-aligned 'under prevailing conditions'. This has been interpreted as the NATO option and Lipponen's new statement confirms this interpretation."

"On the other hand, NATO is now interested in enlargement elsewhere, like for instance Asia, and its interest in Northern Europe has diminished. And it does matter also what Russia thinks of all this."

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