Policy differences emerge between ministers at Foreign Ministry
Foreign Minister severely criticised for making ambassadors' reports public
A clear policy difference concerning Russia and NATO has emerged between the two ministers working at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Foreign Trade and Development Minister Paavo Väyrynen (Centre) is sharply at odds with Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb (Nat. Coalition Party) on the impact of the war in Georgia.
Stubb said in August that the day that the war began, August the 8th, 2008, or 080808, was a turning point in international politics.
In an article he wrote on Sunday in Helsingin Sanomat Väyrynen insists that “080808 is not a turning point in world politics, and not even in the development of our continent”.
Väyrynen notes that the war was started by Georgia, and that Russia’s response to the attack was a logical reaction.
The conclusions drawn by Väyrynen on the consequences of the crisis also differ from the views of Stubb. Whereas Stubb said in August that Finland should consider membership in NATO, Väyrynen feels that constantly keeping the possibility of NATO membership in public debate creates uncertainty about the policy exercised by Finland.
“NATO is not in its core an organisation that provides humanitarian aid or rescue services. It is a military alliance, but it no longer offers the same kind of collective security that it did during the Cold War period”, Väyrynen wrote.
He also lashes out at the Finnish ambassadors who sent Stubb analyses of the world situation at Stubb’s request. Väyrynen feels that the analyses of the ambassadors who were critical of Russia “do not give the right overall picture of the thinking of officials of the Foreign Ministry”.
In the view of Timo Soikkanen, a professor of political history, a public disagreement between the Foreign Minister and another minister working in the same ministry, is quite unusual.
“In policy toward the east, where even slight differences in subtleties are easily registered, it is unusual for such differing signals to be heard from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and it is unlikely that anyone especially wants to hear them”, Soikkanen writes.
Soikkanen sees party politics as well as generational differences behind the differences: young people and students are, in the view of the professor, fans of Stubb, trusting in the west and in the EU. Middle-aged Finns, like Väyrynen, tend to appreciate “the Paasikivi tradition, according to which Finland needs to deal with issues bilaterally with Russia”.
“There has rarely been such a great generational split in foreign policy”, Soikkanen says.
Professor Juhani Suomi, a political historian and biographer of former President Urho Kekkonen, criticises Foreign Minister Stubb for giving Helsingin Sanomat access to the assessments on the international situation submitted by Finnish ambassadors. Writing in the Centre Party’s online publication Verkkoapila, Suomi says that the move goes against Finland’s national interest.
“I wonder if anyone would have thought beyond his own purpose-oriented goals and calculations of advantage when implementing this stupid idea.” Suomi writes.
“A breach of confidence has emerged between the minister and his subordinates, which is not easily repaired.”
Also criticising Stubb’s move is MP Markus Mustajärvi (Left Alliance), who left a written question in Parliament as to whether or not the Prime Minister and the Government feel that Stubb has acted lawfully in the matter.
Foreign Minister Stubb himself has said that one reason why he decided to make the messages public was a desire to increase openness.
He emphasised on Sunday that all of the ambassadors were asked for their consent to the publication of the assessments.
“This is our new, open foreign policy. Foreign policy is not an occult science. We need to be able to discuss it”, Stubb noted.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Diplomatic confessions (5.10.2008)