October 2001

NATO pot boiling

Current international uncertainties have triggered another round of debate on NATO membership in Finland. Or, as the regional daily newspaper Aamulehti (16 October 2001) put it: "Prime Minister Lipponen lifted the lid of the NATO pot and it immediately started boiling."

Aamulehti was referring to a radio interview in which Paavo Lipponen said that it was necessary to have a full public debate on the issue of Finland's possible NATO membership. According to the left-wing newspaper Kansan Uutiset (16 October 2001), this represented a change in tone from the government. Hitherto the ministers have turned down an assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of NATO membership.

"Now Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen says that we need an open investigation into the matter. The reason for the change of view is clear: indeed, the world is not the same after the terrorist strikes of September 11 and what has been happening since."

In the radio interview Lipponen said that Finland has an opportunity to rethink the question of NATO membership when the next national security report is prepared in 2004. There is a tone of sarcasm in Kansan Uutiset's reaction:

"So the Finns have official permission to discuss NATO. Permission has not been needed, however. Interested parties have been able to discuss the matter."

The regional daily Turun Sanomat (16 October 2001) writes that "for the first time, foreign policy leadership makes it plain when Finland's NATO membership might be possible".

"So there is a timetable now if one wants to grab it. Some security policy experts have even concluded that Lipponen would like to carry on as the leader of the Social Democratic Party and take Finland into NATO.

"Whatever Lipponen's thoughts, as Prime Minister he has been in a privileged position to observe how the European Union and NATO have been approaching each other in deeper co-operation. Most EU states are also NATO members and almost all Union applicants also want to join NATO. The terrorist strikes in the United States also emphasised NATO's role in fighting a common enemy. As Prime Minister, Lipponen has clearly seen that remaining outside NATO also means remaining outside its decision-making process."

Turun Sanomat points out though that in the present situation it is not easy to bring Finland into NATO, as only 20 per cent of the population wants to join.

"NATO's gradual transformation from a purely military alliance into a political and crisis management organisation will probably ease citizens' prejudices. Presumably Russia's more flexible attitude towards NATO will have a similar effect.

"Finland's political leadership does not see the threshold into NATO as high as before. At the same time, one must remember that so far non-alignment has been a good choice. However the world is changing and there is no reason to remain a prisoner of the past. There are arguments for and against. As the Prime Minister stated, now is the time for discussion."


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For more related articles, go the the NATO section of the archive

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