Updated: 22-Apr-2002 NATO Review

No. 1 - Feb 1993
Vol. 41 -

p. 12-16


Jaakko Blomberg
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs,
Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Although on the periphery, Finland has felt the power shifts and political convulsions in the European security landscape in a tangible way. History is witness to the reason for this paradox: contiguous to Russia - Europe's Eastern great power - Finland lies in a strategically sensitive location. As Finland seeks its way through the transformation of the European security order in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there are significant but mixed lessons to be learned.

Weak or strong, pursuing an expansive and adversarial policy or collaborating in a concert of great powers, Russia (the Soviet Union) has been a key factor in determining the fate of European peace and stability. Finland has had to adjust its policies to broader arrangements as a result of this situation.

For centuries, Finland was part of Sweden. In the 19th century, having become an autonomous grand duchy within the Russian empire, Finland went through a successful period of nation-building and benefitted from economic and cultural contacts with Russia. But Russification pressures around the turn of the century inspired Finnish resistance, which, in the aftermath of the October Revolution, led to Finnish independence.

Between the world wars, Finland was one of the new small democracies that fell victim to the failure of the League of Nations to prevent the fascist and Communist dictatorships from undermining the collective security system. A workable neighbourly relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union was never reached. Finland's effort to anchor its security to joint Nordic neutrality was of no avail against Soviet aggression in 1939 that resulted in the Winter War, November 1939 to March 1940, with the loss of one-tenth of Finnish territory. In the Continuation War, 1941-44, Finland again fought its Eastern neighbour, to correct the injustices and defend its independence.

The Second World War left Finland in a position imposed by the balance of power and the Yalta security order. While forced to conclude an onerous peace settlement by the preponderant adversary, Finland emerged from the war unoccupied and with her Western democratic institutions intact. Although the Soviet Union began to pursue an expansionist foreign policy, Finland managed to negotiate with it a workable, treaty-based relationship that ensured Finland's independence and provided it with a position of neutrality. Now, for the first time, a democratic Russia, with a new domestic order and foreign policy, is emerging as Finland's neighbour.

Other external factors affecting Finnish security also appear in a new light. Moscow-Berlin-Stockholm is traditionally viewed as the triangle where Finland's fate is cast. Today, relationships among the countries on the Baltic Sea constitute a complex and dynamic framework for Finnish foreign and security policy.

A Nordic nation

As a result of centuries of Swedish rule and Finland's subsequent achievements as an independent democratic country, it is, above all, a member of the Nordic family of nations. Common interests and parallel aspirations in the changing Europe have opened up new possibilities for Nordic cooperation, not only in terms of integration but also in security affairs.

Finland also has special bonds of language, culture and history with Estonia and has felt close to Latvia and Lithuania as well, although their histories have not followed the same path. Finland supports the reconstituted independence of the Baltic states and their democratic development, a process which is a key factor of stability in the whole Baltic Sea region.

Unification has re-emphasized Germany's northern identity and accentuated its role as a major Baltic rim country. Finland expects a growing German contribution to cooperation and reform in the region. Concurrently with German unification in September 1990, Finland unilaterally declared obsolete the stipulations of the Treaty of Paris of 1947 which had imposed restrictions on Finland's peacetime armed forces and acquisition of defence materiel. By nullifying these limitations on its sovereignty, Finland, as a co-belligerent of Germany, closed the book for its part on the Second World War.

The Cold War had brought a new factor into Finland's security environment: the US-Soviet strategic confrontation in the North. Finland's security has been greatly affected by the strategic game of superpower doctrines, weapons and deployments that was played out around the Kola base complex and in the northern waters and airspace.

Despite the implemented and forthcoming deep reductions in strategic and tactical nuclear weapons by the United States and Russia, Northern Europe retains its strategic significance for the residual forces of the superpowers. The political confrontation has evaporated but the destructive capabilities remain.

During the Cold War, NATO became an important part of Finland's security environment. Swedish neutrality and Norwegian and Danish membership of NATO - with unilateral restrictions on the peacetime basing of allied military forces - were essential preconditions for the functioning of Finland's neutrality as a viable security stra-tegy in the bipolar world.

It was up to Finland to give sufficient reassurances to the Soviet Union that Finland would not let its territory become a basing area or transit route for military aggression against the Soviet Union. At the same time, Finland had to fend off Soviet efforts to turn the bilateral treaty relationship essentially into an alliance with military integration and political coordination.

Although the Soviet Union did not fully recognize it until 1989, Finnish neutrality was functional and gained a broad international standing. In this context, it was important to convince Finland's neighbours to the West and the Western powers that Finland would ensure the inviolability of its territory in all possible circumstances.

A national defence capability commensurate with the security environment was a necessary element in a policy that aimed at neutrality in the event of war. Although Finnish neutrality was not predominantly based on military deterrence, Finland built up, by a consistent long-term effort, a national defence that was, and continues to be, up to the task as a denial capability. The Finnish people have demonstrated both in times of war and peace a strong resolve to defend their independence.

Neutrality provided Finland with an instrument for promoting an active policy of regional and European détente and security, and Finland aspired, through such efforts, to alleviate the effects of international tension on its own position.

Within the CSCE process, Finland, together with other neutral and non-aligned countries, helped to overcome the repercussions of the East-West division and contribute to its peaceful transformation. At the same time, neutrality gained in legitimacy and esteem as a choice of policy and a line of action in Europe. By the time the Cold War came to an end, Finland had established itself as an equal among the European armed neutrals.

Stability in the East

As a Western democracy, Finland welcomes the fact that Europe is unifying around a set of common values and principles. Yet, the end of the Cold War is affecting Finland's foreign policy and international position. Stabilizing the democratic transition and economic restructuring that are under way in Russia are essential to Finland's security and well-being. And a stable security environment is an important factor for such a peaceful transformation in Russia. Finland can best contribute to this process - which is very much in its own national security interest - through transfrontier cooperation and by promoting the development of the neighbouring regions. To this end, Finland is an active proponent of more efficient coordination and allocation of international support and assistance to Russia.

Respect for the sovereign equality of the Baltic states is also indispensable for stability and progress in our subregion. Finland will do its utmost to support a fruitful development of Baltic-Russian relations on this basis. In this context, we encourage the use of CSCE instruments for fact-finding and the settlement of disputes.

As the withdrawal of Russian forces from Central Europe and the Baltic states has increased - at least temporarily - the numbers of Russian troops and materiel near our borders, we have started a dialogue with Russia on increased transparency and openness. We shall also be active in using the CSCE forum for a new kind of security cooperation on European and regional levels.

Together with other traditionally neutral countries, Finnish neutrality is going through a process of fundamental change. With the end of the political and ideological division of Europe and the introduction of the community of values inherent in the CSCE principles, the basis for neutrality has largely evaporated. Finnish policy and actions in the new Europe are based on the realization that the course of international relations will be determined by the extent to which these common values and principles are respected.

The most evident consequence for Finland of the new spirit is, of course, the fact that the wide gap in values and ideology that existed in our relations with the Soviet Union is disappearing. Now, for the first time, Russia is committed to the same international values and principles as Finland in the community of European states. The new bilateral agreement of 1992 on relations between Finland and Russia is thus based on these common CSCE principles.

European integration

At the same time, as a result of the growing interdependence and internationalization of the market economies, Finland's society and economy are going through a deep restructuring process together with other comparable Western countries. In this situation, Finland has decided that it can best secure its national interests and further its international aspirations by joining the European Community.

Although the immediate motivations for Finland's decision to apply for membership were economic, the fundamental implications for my country's security policy in the changing world were fully appreciated. Its membership application in March 1992 has launched a new phase in Finland's foreign and security policy. For the first time, it is aiming at full participation in the process of European political and economic integration.

By joining its core, Finland would be in a stronger position to support peaceful change in Europe towards a unified area of democracy, prosperity and equal security, which the Paris CSCE Summit of 1990 established as the common goal. At the same time, Finland's security will be placed in a new framework. As an EC member, it would support the independence and security of the Community and its members in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity, and would expect similar support in return for its own independence and security.

The precise security and defence implications of EC membership for Finland are, however, difficult to predict with any accuracy. As a member, Finland would participate constructively in the common foreign and security policy of the developing European Union and accept its objectives concerning defence policy and common defence as determined in the Maastricht Treaty.

In the ongoing European transformation, Finland is not seeking new arrangements to improve its military security. While applying for EC membership, Finland maintains the essentials of its neutrality: military non-alignment and independent defence. In negotiating for membership on the basis of the Maastricht Treaty, Finland recognizes that its national defence may become part of a broader common arrangement as integration proceeds further. But such a change would be up to the unanimous decision of the Union members, among which Finland would be an equal participant, possibly in 1996 or thereafter.

The Western European Union (WEU) has invited member states of the future European Union to accede to the WEU or become observers. As the WEU is an integral part of the development of the European Union, Finland will accordingly, and in due time, consider the question of establishing a relationship with this organization. In any case, membership of the European Union would bring into being new types of responsibilities for Finland in international security cooperation. The most immediate and challenging among these may be the need to contribute to a joint capability of the Union for crisis management, peacekeeping and peace enforcement. The basis for Finland's role would be our long-standing and widely recognized record in UN peacekeeping.

Irrespective of its future defence arrangements, Finland is prepared to accept greater responsibility for sustainable and equitable security in Europe, which is an urgent and compelling task. Finland is a consistent supporter of the strengthening of the capability of the UN and the CSCE.

The commitments and decisions of the Helsinki CSCE Summit in July 1992 (1), enhanced by the decisions of the Stockholm Council meeting in December 1992, outline the functioning of cooperative security for the region among the CSCE and other mutually reinforcing European and transatlantic institutions and organizations. This security architecture provides a workable basis for the common task of preventing, managing and settling conflicts and promoting a peaceful transition to democracy and a market economy. The main challenge concerns the political will for concerted action and the efficiency in using the instruments made available by the joint decisions.

New structures

It is vital for a small country's security that any new international structures in Europe be inclusive and prevent any new division of the continent. Changes in the framework of alignments should promote common security and stability.

Zones of political and economic instability and under-development, as well as zones of insecurity, will undermine security for all of us, not least for a country bordering on the present socio-economic welfare gap. As President Mauno Koivisto declared in his remarks to the College of Europe on 28 October 1992, Finland wants "to keep the areas immediately around us as politically and militarily stable as possible". It is our assessment that Finland can, in the foreseeable future, best promote stability in its subregion by remaining militarily non-aligned and by maintaining a credible independent defence. We believe that this policy can be reconciled with accession to the European Union on the basis of the Maastricht Treaty. We are also convinced that our interests vis-à-vis Russian developments are compatible with, and similar to, those of NATO and the wider Western community.

During a meeting between President Koivisto and NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner in Brussels on 28 October 1992, it was stressed that contacts between Finland and NATO are a natural part of the intensifying European dialogue. Finland recognizes and appreciates NATO's role as a significant contributor to stability in Europe. Particularly timely are the new forms of security cooperation such as peacekeeping within the CSCE framework or military transition which is being promoted among the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union by the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC).

As the evolution from the Cold War to cooperative security is also a key element in promoting stability in our security environment, Finland applied for, and was granted, observer status within the NACC. We look forward to benefitting from information on the military changes in our subregion by means of the NACC. Furthermore, such military transition issues as defence planning, democratic reform, conversion, and defence-related environmental hazards are of great interest to Finland and the NACC's recent emphasis on peacekeeping could make a valuable contribution to security in Europe.

Finland has a lot at stake in the building of cooperative security and is ready and willing to contribute to this process in full.


(1) See "The July CSCE Helsinki decisions - a step in the right direction", Victor-Yves Ghebali, NATO REVIEW, No.4, August 1992, pp. 3-8.

© Copyright by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1993.