No seating problems for Finland in Riga
By Olli Kivinen
Finnish security policy suffered a serious blow last week. No members of the Partnership for Peace, which Finland and Sweden belong to, were invited to the Riga summit of the North Atlantic alliance NATO. Finland did not face the seating problem familiar from summits of the EU, because there was no need to look for an extra chair in Riga, or to set an extra plate for the Finnish President and Prime Minister - or for anyone else.
The official reason was the shortage of hotel rooms and appropriate meeting facilities. However, the reality was different. The world is full of meetings where high-ranking delegates arrive in the morning and leave in the evening. The Partnership countries had been invited to the three previous meetings.
The meeting revealed the naked truth: NATO showed the partners where they stand. This is the conclusion that can be drawn in spite of the fact that the most important topic of the meeting was Afghanistan. It is in that country that the soldiers of Finland and Sweden work with NATO proving their credibility.
With its gesture, NATO confirmed to everyone the self-evident fact that important decisions are made among members. Finland remains decisively absent from the table at which decisions are made that inevitably affect our security policy - the table which is the most important place where transatlantic relations are nurtured.
Because of the increase in anti-Americanism, the politics of our country is satisfactory to the majority of our people. A completely different matter is to what an extent lurking on the sidelines will serve the interests of our country. In recent years it has been seen that dealing with the relationship with the United States, which has been defined as one of the important goals for the government, is stumbling. In spite of holding the EU Presidency, Finnish leaders do not have a direct link with the most important decision-makers in Washington. This is the case, even though our foreign affairs leadership has worked under high pressure to attain that goal.
To repeat in plain language: security policy reforms that affect us are constantly being made in Europe. This basic fact cannot be explained away. We are not involved in deciding on these reforms. The central issue in the whole NATO question in the years that have gone by has been that of maximising Finnish influence.
Fortunately Finland has close relations with Estonia, which has been assigned by NATO to be the guardian state of Finland’s Peace Partnership status. As a NATO member, Estonia is involved in planning, decision-making, and the flow of information - so we can hope to stay abreast with events.
The situation is confounded by talk of EU security guarantees, whose hollowness was pointed out by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Finnish Parliament in connection with the debate on the EU’s constitutional treaty.
As a security factor the influence of the EU is political and economic, but not military. After Romania and Bulgaria join the EU at the beginning of next year, we will be in a situation in which 21 of the 27 member states of the EU will be dealing with their military defence within the framework of NATO. In six "non-allied" member states there are 27 million residents. The number corresponds to about five percent of a population that will soon reach 500 million. The idea of developing the EU’s own, functional military defence systems parallel to NATO because of the historical traumas of six small countries is not particularly realistic.
Finland and Sweden tried before the Riga meeting to achieve some kind of a system of more efficient partnership, with whose help they might take part in decision-making and planning, when the question is one of operations in which they are involved. The attempt failed because a few European NATO countries were opposed to it.
The matter was given to a committee for consideration and it will be revisited at a high level in 2008. This means that Finns will continue to have to get their information through unofficial means and make do with having the actual decisions and planning made among the member states. Hopefully progress can be made on this on the practical level in the coming years.
The arrangement promoted by Finland and Sweden has similarities to the relationship that Norway has with the EU, which is organised through the European Economic Area (EEA). In theory, EEA members negotiate with the EU, but in reality, the EU makes the decisions, giving the EEA countries the option of taking it or leaving it. In practice, the EEA countries have to agree to what the EU says, because otherwise they would endanger their positions. The EU could also begin to engage in selective implementation of agreements. In the EEA and in the NATO partnership arrangement there is a situation in which decisions have to be accepted without the right to intercede.
Finnish decision-makers are not to be envied. For domestic political reasons they need to look at the anti-NATO sentiments of the people, paralysed like a small mammal might be when facing a rattlesnake. Ahead of the elections, the situation is especially uncomfortable, as could be seen by the panic reactions of leading politicians to the recent speech by Defence Minister Seppo Kääriäinen, who said that if Finland does not want to join NATO, it will have to spend more on defence.
The purpose of the panic was to pre-empt security policy debate shortly before the election. The backgrounds of the actions have been pondered in different areas, and the most credible assessment would seem to be that the government parties were afraid of division in their own ranks.
There are many influential people among the Social Democrats and the Centre Party, who disagree with the official line taken by their parties. The depth of the panic is reflected in ministers’ comments about a "market disturbance" caused by the discussions, or of planning for guerrilla warfare in defence. Chechnya is a good source of photographic and video material of what a guerrilla war with modern weapons is like.
Leading politicians are experienced figures, whose patriotism is not in question. They know well what kind of responsibility they have in security policy, because world developments are always unpredictable.
Decisions need to be made with a perspective of years and decades, and not on a quarterly basis. The burden of the decision-makers is increased by historical experiences of how dangerous it is to neglect security policy.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 5.10.2006
Previously in HS International Edition:
Sweden more positive than Finland toward NATO Reaction Force (11.12.2006)
Finland not to join NATO Response Force (5.12.2006)
Opposition leader welcomes NATO initiative, Prime Minister sceptical (30.11.2006)
Finland to be invited into NATO rapid action force at Riga summit (29.11.2006)
Finland and Sweden make proposal to NATO on peace partnership (17.10.2006)
OLLI KIVINEN / Helsingin Sanomat