Finland, Portugal, crisis management and international commitments
By Kari Huhta
When you hear the word “peacekeeping”, watch out. Someone is trying to fool you.
Politicians spoke regularly of peacekeeping already in the previous electoral term, and the word will be used even more in the new one. Crisis management is called peacekeeping mainly to awaken nostalgic images of the past. Now this imagery is being offered as a substitute for Finland’s international commitments.
The imagery is being enthusiastically dug up as Finland is in spasms with its commitments. Statements of pain on the Portuguese bailout package and other stability measures of the EU are not individual difficult matters that ease once they are done with. Finland will need to answer repeatedly how it will shoulder its responsibility in Europe and in the world. Saying that Finland does not really need any more of these challenges will not slow down the pace at all.
Until now, Finland has managed to strengthen its position in the midst of the changes and crises affecting Europe by virtue of hard work. Mental images are not enough.
It is hard for outsiders to understand what has happened, and it's not that easy for Finns either.
The outcome of the April elections suggests that a majority of Finns continue to support an active and responsible international role for Finland as a European country. However, the True Finns have risen to a central position with less than a fifth of the vote. They feel that the rest of the world is mainly a place that is full of foreigners.
The weight of the True Finns is amplified by the strange situation after the elections in which the other parties are trying to trip each other up on the path to the government, and in which commitments that they have previously made are not necessarily valid any more.
The situation is quite reminiscent of the political crisis in Portugal which was sparked by domestic tactical manoeuvring. The crisis toppled the government in March and pushed Portugal at an accelerating pace into a situation in which it became dependent on support from other EU countries. This was heavily criticised in Finland.
Both Finland and Portugal have caretaker governments. The difference is that Portugal will have elections a month from now. After the elections, Portugal will probably adhere to promises it made before the elections.
In Finland, promises are in danger also after the disputes in Portugal and in other matters than the EU economic crisis alone.
International crisis management is among the upcoming issues to be dealt with. Consequently, much talk is to be expected on peacekeeping.
Luckily Finland will not have to decide on its possible participation in the EU-led crisis management operation in Libya at the same time as it deals with the Portuguese bailout. Other countries are also dragging their feet on the matter in the EU.
Nevertheless, the matter will come up when Finland’s role in the NATO-led forces in Afghanistan is evaluated. According to the plans, the time for this evaluation would be at the end of the year, but the process is in full swing now.
The situation in Afghanistan changed quickly when US special forces shot the big-time terrorist Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on Monday.
The emphasis in NATO is that the killing of Bin Laden was not supposed to affect the Afghanistan operation, and it was undoubtedly wise to let it have an impact only on the Taleban who supported bin Laden, against whom the NATO forces are fighting. However, it is impossible to prevent it from having an impact on the NATO operation.
Afghanistan had been raised already before US helicopters made their way toward Pakistan.
Reactions sparked by the electoral success of the True Finns have included repeated comments according to which crisis management is actually not very suitable for Finns, whose speciality has been traditional peacekeeping.
There are two key problems with this claim. For one thing, there is no such thing as “peacekeeping”; at the very best, it is an over-advertised product.
Finnish law does not know peacekeeping. Not even the planned participation once again in a UN operation in South Lebanon is referred to as peacekeeping.
Soldiers can be peacekeepers, but the operations are crisis management .
Under the law, Finnish soldiers can be sent outside the country only for crisis management, or on missions that are pure disaster relief. They must not be sent to war, and peacekeeping was removed from the text of the law in 2006 when the crisis management law was passed.
Even at its best, classical peacekeeping worked only in places where peace already prevailed, or where the sides to a conflict were striving for it. Usually it led to embarrassing situations, forcing the blue-helmeted soldiers to stand by as the horrors unfolded.
In Lebanon Finns have learned about the reality of peacekeeping as helpless onlookers – and in 1984, as hostages of a Christian private army. Peacekeepers of other countries have looked on during the Rwanda genocide in 1994 and the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1995.
This is the reason why the move was made to crisis management, which allows for the greater use of force, but which also includes civilian action.
When politicians in Finland speak of peacekeeping it is possible that some are not familiar with the law on crisis management. However, many know it quite well. Politicians consciously speak empty thoughts while attempting to appeal to listeners’ emotions.
Talk about peacekeeping is a phenomenon of our times: Finland’s international commitments are opposed through the use of mental images of the past, which are bereft of content. They only hurt Finland.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 8.5.2011
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finland pressed for stand on Portugal (9.5.2011)
"What the Finns need to know about Portugal" video goes viral and sparks flame war on YouTube (9.5.2011)
Despite risks, no cancellations for crisis management duty in Afghanistan (6.8.2009)
US Marines learn crisis management skills in Finland (30.8.2005)
KARI HUHTA / Helsingin Sanomat