Expert says Finnish peacekeeping is overrated
Salonius-Pasternak questions motives and effectiveness of involvement in Afghanistan
Why does Finland take part in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, and not in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance?
A Finnish input would be beneficial in many other operations, whereas the conditions that prevail in Afghanistan are very difficult.
When it came out in mid-May that prostitution was suspected in the north of Afghanistan at a women’s prison financed by Finland, the ministers responsible, Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Paavo Väyrynen (Centre), and Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb (Nat. Coalition Party), spoke of very difficult local conditions to explain the situation.
However, Charly Salonius-Pasternak, an expert at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, feels that the setback in Afghanistan reflects on the quality of Finnish peacekeeping activities in general, saying that it is not as effective as people generally would like to think.
“Finland has a good history in peacekeeping, but the image shines more brightly than the reality behind it.”
According to Salonius-Pasternak, the impression that everything has gone well remains strong. People are not used to the idea that bad things can happen in crisis areas.
Salonius-Pasternak together with Jarno Limnéll, an officer at the National Defence College, have drawn up a report about the political and military reasons to take part in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operation in Afghanistan.
Salonius-Pasternak sees Finland’s possibilities of achieving its goals in Afghanistan as slim. He feels that Finland does not have the capability of doing more than helping individual villages.
“Finland does not have the capacity to affect the achievement of the goals of the operation. The task is extremely difficult, so perhaps it is unrealistic to expect success.”
So why does Finland have to be in Afghanistan?
Timo Kantola, the head of the section at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs dealing with crisis management says that if nothing is done, there would be effects on regional security, with widespread reverberations.
“The drug problem would get worse, there would be a refugee problem, and the risk of a regional conflict.
However, the same hazards apply to many different conflicts. Salonius-Pasternak feels that the main reason for involvement is rarely stated plainly:
“It is an important operation for the United States and NATO, and that is why Finland wants to participate. It brings military and political advantages.”
Kantola lists the benefits of cooperation with NATO.
“It has affects Finland’s military defence capability and on the development of cooperative capability.”
The implications of international responsibility are also fairly easy to put into words:
“The motivation is largely unselfish: we want to take part in the development of international security.”
But what is the national benefit for Finland?
“There are no national political reasons why Finland should be involved in Afghanistan”, Salonius-Pasternak explains.
Between the lines it is possible to read that with its involvement, Finland is laying the groundwork for support from NATO and the United States, if it should ever be needed.
One benefit seen by Kantola is the strengthening of Afghan forces in the north - in Masar-i-Sharif, where the Finns are deployed.
But why doesn’t Finland display its military abilities in the south of the country?
“Officers have voiced criticism, asking if the current type of involvement is sending the wrong message to the outside world - that Finns might not be capable of operating in a dangerous environment”, Salonius-Pasternak points out.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Defence Ministry hopes to open direct flight connection to base in North Afghanistan in summer (29.4.2009)
Finland prepares for decades of aid work in Afghanistan (23.4.2009)
New US strategy has Finland reconsidering goals in Afghanistan (6.2.2009)
Finland ignored warnings of prisoner prostitution in Afghanistan (14.5.2009)
Following furore at womeńs prison, Finland reallocates funds to Afghan police stations (8.5.2009)
Prostitution alleged to be taking place in Finnish-funded Afghan prison (7.5.2009)
Finnish Institute of International Affairs - Charly Salonius-Pasternak
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) website