Finland hold parliamentary elections in the end of April. At this very moment the leader of Center Party, Juha Sipilä, is negotiating and constructing program of his possible cabinet together with populist True Finns and right-wing Coalition Party.
In international media NATO and security policy were defined key issues of post-election analysis. Russian state-related media, Sputnik and Russia Today stated how anti-NATO forces won the elections. For Russian political purposes it is suitable to underline the loss of Coalition Party, mainly personalized to PM Alexander Stubb. However, security policy issues were underlined in some other media alike.
Even there was debate on NATO and security policy in general during the campaign, they were not key issues in the elections. According my analysis of parties’ election programs, only Left Alliance was totally opposing NATO-membership. The Coalition Party and Swedish Party favoured indirectly possibility to join in NATO with some unclear timetable.
Other parties including three of four larges, Social Democrats, Centre Party and True Finns, mutually agree basic fundaments of Finnish security policy: non-alignment, self-reliant defence and international cooperation. NATO is seen the first and foremost as a partner, not as an ally.
Discussions over Foreign and Security Affairs was started on Monday 11th. There wouldn’t be any significant differences between three parties about the principles of these affairs. During the campaign the possibility of composition of NATO-report was raised on agenda. Parties answered to Mr. Sipilä that this kind of report – separately or together with wider security and defence policy report – can be done during the term. It looks quite clear that the parties will form a consensus and new, broad report will be done.
No dramatic changes for fundaments
Three parties nominated representatives for working groups. According the representative list, working group of Foreign and Security Affairs will emphasize traditional doctrine and fundaments of these affairs. The working group includes e.g. former Minister of Defence Seppo Kääriäinen (cent.), possible forthcoming Minister of Defence Jussi Niinistö (TF) and long-term foreign policy force, ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs Ilkka Kanerva (Coal.). It would be a very huge surprise if the group formed around these persons would dramatically redefine Finnish doctrine.
Is there a need for changes then? The previous report of security and defence policy was written in 2012. It was all together sixth published report; the previous were in 1995, 1997, 2001, 2004 and 2009. The report is already three years old, and if we look intervals between the reports, the new one should be written. Dramatic changes in European security order and highly conflicted relations between EU and Russia after the Crimea annexation and the East Ukrainian war have changed Finland’s security surroundings. Former report should be review and rewritten.
Changed security surroundings
Like mentioned above, the Ukrainian Crisis, as broadly conceptualized, has changed and challenges principles of Finnish security surrounding. Post-Cold War order has been based on mutual agreements and respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty of (nation) states. Russia has broken down these principles by annexing Crimea Peninsula and supporting the rebellions in East Ukraine.
One challenge for new government is how to define security surroundings of Finland? Mr. Sipilä has demanded shared snapshot (yhteinen tilannekuva), shared view of Finland’s situation. This should be also the key point in the working group of Foreign and Security Affairs. And the critical view is also needed. The report of 2012 is inclusive and handles diversely key challenges and threats for Finland from global to local.
However, Russia’s force policy has now changed especially regional challenges. Russia is still important for EU, but it is difficult to define it as strategic partner with broad joint interests and relations. Cooperation is surely needed, but Russia’s unacceptable actions in Ukraine have conflicted the fundaments of shared interest. Trust constructed during post-Cold War period is more or less shattered. Finland should also now review her own perspective and views over Europe’s security situation.
Main question is what kind of policy implementations Finland should do in this new disordered situation? Emphasizing good bilateral relations is not enough anymore. It is of course relevant, there is no need to distain bilateral relations. The point is if there are any more good bilateral relations and what would be prize of bilateral relations disagreeing with EU? Finland has supported sanction policy of EU and followed main lines of EU in Russia-politics in post-Maidan period.
This line should be continued, but Finland has to also look a wider picture. What Finland can do for EU in new disorder? What is Finland’s role in review of ENP and Eastern Partnership? What “good bilateral realtions” means in context of EU-Russia-relations? How Finland is working for promoting stability and security in Europe and neighbouring regions? This kind of review should be done, including aims, visions and some concrete propositions and action plans.
As a small state, Finland cannot do a lot herself. As a member state of EU Finland is and has to be within developing EU’s global actorness and role as supporter of multilateralism in international relations. One of concrete tasks for new report could be characterizing possibilities and hindrances of different security political choices from NATO-membership to non-alignment policy. And this work should be done with proper future scenarios and better than parliament’s Committee fort the Future did last year.
Global challenges – they are still here
An ascent of Cold War rhetoric and vocabulary in political and public debate has been startling fast after the Crimean annexation. East, West, sphere of influence and geopolitics have been reshaped as key concepts of political language not only in Finnish but broadly in Euro-American debate. As historian I am bit worried of this phenomenon. Speaking about new Cold War is not the best possible way to analyse what is going on in Europe. We are not talking about frozen war between two ideologically divided Blocs; Russia is market economy and despite of disrespect of “Western values”, this is not just simply ideological-based conflict.
There are more fundamental questions about re-defining international order and Russia’s role in the system. Highly tensioned Cold War order was still more static than current situation. Warm war in the “European heartlands” did not happen in Cold War period. It would have been too risky for both Blocs. Current situation is different, on the one hand not so tensioned and critical, but on the other more complex, fragmented and more unpredictable.
Emphasizing of Cold War –like political situation should not diminish importance of global challenges. Conflicts, global warming, terrorism, political and religious extremism are challenges for Finland and Europe still. Civil war of Syria and political turbulence in Middle East and Northern Africa illustrates how instable the Southern neighbourhood of EU still is. Lot of work is demanded, and recently debated migration and refugee problem in the Mediterranean is just a consequence of more fundamental problems. Finland should take his responsibility as EU-member and work for improving the political situation not only in EU-neighbourhood but also globally.
I am concerned that new government will focus even too much for national security in narrow sense. New equipment of Finnish Armed Forces is important and acute issue, but it should not be the most central. In strategic level the government should also do guidelines for Finland’s global actorness. How to improve development co-operation? What kind of tasks Finland would have in crisis management? What is Finland’s role in local, regional and global security as broadly understood.
Party leaders have emphasized national benefits more than early 21st century. That is, nevertheless, contested concept. Every politicians, expert and citizen has his/her own definition for national benefit. It can be defined narrowly as nation-state centred, patriotic view of how to keep “the” nation united and borders secured. Or it can be defined widely as combining global, regional and local governance.
Finland and new disorder?
It is clichéd to say to look to future, not to the past. As historian I reckon it is sometimes good to look to the past alike. History can teach us not to consider political phenomena unhistorical. They are unique, but they are culmination of development. We are not living more extraordinary time than our ancestors in Ancient Rome or medieval Venice.
Cold War is historical period, and there are many arguments supporting a claim it ended in early 1990s. Soviet Union is collapsed and Germany is reunified. Vladimir Putin has attempts to construct some kind of look-alike Russian Union, even Eurasian one, but it does not mean return to Soviet times.
That is why we should compare the current events in Ukraine and conflicting relations to post-Cold War period, not time before 1991. Last 25 years Europe has generally been stable. The principles of OSCE have been respected. Despite of fact that Russia has during the last years transformed her policy and pursued to return super power, EU and Russia interlinked. They could politically and economically act quite well without any hazardous conflicts.
This trust is now shattered. New disorder is here, and Finland has to reflect her past and create some strategy for future. Like Mika Aaltola wrote in Suomen Kuvalehti, Finland has been too in love with her Russia-relations. There is no need for aggressions, no need for provocations – and certainly no any Finnish politician is eager to do any such kind of manoeuvres. There is, however, need for critical reflections and re-definition. When circumstances, surroundings and conditions have been changed, also the fundaments of policy should be reviewed.