June 2001

Baltic security and NATO

Hesitance over Finland's line on NATO and the Baltic area has created some behind-the-scenes exchanges. According to the regional daily Aamulehti (15 June 2001), President Tarja Halonen has told the new Chief of Defence, Admiral Juhani Kaskeala, to choose his words carefully when speaking of the security in the Baltic region.

Aamulehti's sources say that in a private meeting, the president and the admiral came to the conclusion that they agree about the question. According to the newspaper, the problem is that Kaskeala had presented a view which Halonen was waiting to announce when the moment was right. Kaskeala told the president that he would have taken another tack if he had known about the president's intention.

The whole saga started when Aamulehti put this question to Kaskeala in a press conference:

"From Finland's point of view, how would the Baltic countries' NATO membership affect the conditions in the Baltic area?"

"Every country can choose their own security solutions. If the Baltic countries are accepted into NATO, I think that it would today have a stabilising influence in the Baltic area", was how Kaskeala answered the question.

Kaskeala added that NATO membership would not stop speculations about where the internal minority problems — i.e. Russian minorities — could lead if there was outside pressure.

According to Aamulehti, Kaskeala's statement has been interpreted in various ways. Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen said that the statement was not "necessarily" in contradiction of Finland's official line.

Minister of Defence Jan-Erik Enestam, on his part, defended the admiral's right to express his opinion. Enestam let it be understood that if there is reason for an internal discussion, this will take place.

Aamulehti reports that the admiral's statement was noted in foreign embassies. His statement came soon after Halonen's interview in Der Spiegel magazine. Halonen had to repair some damage caused by her views about NATO and the Baltic countries when she visited Latvia.

Aamulehti comments: "During the last few months, Finland has been forced to make a virtue of necessity and change its earlier cautious view about the Baltic countries' NATO membership."

The newspaper adds that in its change of emphasis, Finland followed Sweden's example.


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