Finland At NATO’s Doorstep?
February 10, 2015
Finland at NATO’s Doorstep?
By Johannes Hautaviita
In broad terms, NATO’s mission in the post-Cold War era has been at odds with international law and the purpose of the United Nations.
The events in Ukraine have triggered public discussion in Finland about NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Similarly in 2008, the crisis in Georgia prompted commentary on Finland’s security policy and the NATO option. Following both of these crises, NATO supporters in particular, mainly from the right-wing National Coalition Party (NCP), have moved to put NATO on the public agenda.
U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks indicate, not surprisingly, that the U.S. embassy in Helsinki and pro-NATO advocates in Finland have been working for years to reframe the discussion about NATO in Finland and pave the way for Finland’s eventual accession into the military alliance.
While the Finnish public has remained opposed to membership, the conflict in Ukraine could prove to be a more significant game changer in this regard than the crisis in Georgia. But even without a significant shift in public opinion, a move towards membership in the near future can’t be discounted out of hand. Indeed, Finland’s Prime Minister and chair of the NCP Alexander Stubb is advocating for applying for NATO-membership during the following electoral term.
Meanwhile, in the midst of the conflict in Ukraine, Finland together with Sweden, took steps to strengthen their ties with NATO. Both countries signed a Host Nation Support Agreement with the military alliance, establishing a “special status” (Stubb) with NATO. The agreement, according to Defense News, contains “a protocol under which Finland and Sweden would allow, by invitation, NATO to deploy land, naval and air force assets on Swedish and Finnish soil. Under this arrangement, Finland and Sweden would agree to provide Western alliance forces full logistical support, including barracks, transport and munitions.”
Polishing NATO’s image in Finland
A U.S. diplomatic cable from September 2008 noted, that “Finnish officials have inserted NATO into the public sphere since the crisis [in Georgia] began. References to NATO have sprung more often from the National Coalition Party (NCP), the center-right government coalition member that favors NATO membership.” The cable continues: “While not openly challenging the current security policy, Stubb seems to be testing the consensus.”
Following NATO’s 60th anniversary event in Helsinki in 2009, Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Finland cabled to Washington that the event and Stubb’s speech in particular contributed to a more “fact-based debate” in Finland about NATO. He continued, “We are coordinating with other NATO Member State embassies, the MFA, think tanks and the Atlantic Council on other events during this anniversary year that will contribute to that debate.”
Aware of public opposition to NATO, another U.S. diplomatic cable from October 2008 deplores the fact that “Many Finns retain a vision of NATO as a bulwark against the Soviet Union – and now Russia – and not more broadly as an alliance of collective defense and common values.” In order to change this “outdated” perception, the US embassy in Helsinki set as its mission to “promote greater understanding of the Alliance in the wake of the conflict in Georgia” through what it called “NATO tours”.
The rebranding of NATO’s mission has been a constant challenge for the alliance ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threat of which was the official reason for NATO’s existence. The ongoing pro-NATO campaign in Finland can be seen as a peripheral part of this effort, to justify the continued existence of NATO.
One of these “NATO tours” to promote “fact-based debate” took place in early 2010. During the seminar in Helsinki titled “Nato’s New Strategic Approach – Comprehensive Approach to Crisis Management”, Stubb stated, that
Nato is an essential part of our own European and global security environment. It has projected security and stability in Europe, including the Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea, over the past six decades. The alliance also continues to serve as a bedrock of Transatlantic co-operation. Nato and the EU are the most successful peace movements of the western world.
NATO – a peace movement like no other?
Drawing attention to the refusal to acknowledge the history of NATO’s involvement in terrorist operations in Europe during the Cold War, Finnish investigative journalist Bruno Jäntti wrote in Al Jazeera in April 2014, that “The public debate on Finland joining NATO has been marked by misrepresentation and historical amnesia.”
Operation Gladio was the codename for an extensive clandestine NATO operation in Europe that went undetected for decades. It organized underground stay-behind military structures in a number of European countries (including Finland), collaborated with right-wing extremist and terrorist groups and undermined the democratic processes of the states targeted by the campaign.
But even if one looks only at the period after the end of the Cold War, the lofty rhetoric about NATO’s track record obscures and ignores some of the alliance’s more problematic aspects.
In his article on NATO enlargement published in 1998, eminent Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis wrote: “historians — normally so contentious — are in uncharacteristic agreement: with remarkably few exceptions, they see NATO enlargement as ill conceived, ill-timed and, above all, ill-suited to the realities of the post-Cold War world.”
Thus, many were critical when NATO continued to expand in the 1990s without a credible reason and in direct violation of promises made to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Today, NATO has expanded all the way to the borders of Russia, threatening its perceived geostrategic interests.
While Stubb would have it that NATO has been one of the most “successful peace movements of the western world”, whatever NATO’s role in provoking the ongoing confrontation with Russia, it can hardly be seen as an exemplary performance in peace building.
Indeed, it may be useful to ask what the US reaction would have been had a Russian-led military alliance expanded to the Western Hemisphere and begun installing missile defense systems close to the borders of the US?
In broader terms, NATO’s mission in the post-Cold War era has been at odds with international law and the purpose of the United Nations. For instance, during the war in the former Yugoslavia in 1999, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated, that NATO’s actions constituted a “threat to the very core of the international security system”.
Security arrangements relying on military alliances that use force unilaterally to further their own interests, will not foster peace and security. This can only be achieved through strengthening the international legal order and the United Nations in the interests of all of its member states.