Last week, on 17 June 2016, the Finnish Government published its white paper, Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy*. It was about time, since the previous one was prepared in December 2012, under a very different strategic environment in the Baltic Sea region. The 34-page Report analyzes Finland’s operative environment, the drivers of change, and the goals and key priorities for Finnish foreign and security policy over the next four years.
The Report begins by stating that the Finnish strategic environment is in a state of flux. This is bad news for a small, law-abiding country like Finland. The report then calls a spade a spade: “During the past ten years or so, Russia, through its actions and interpretations, has challenged the essence of the European security regime, and has destabilized it.” As a consequence, the security of Europe and the Baltic Sea region have deteriorated. Against the Finnish traditional grain of handling Soviet and later Russian actions with kid gloves, the Report does not mince words: “Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and created the crisis in eastern Ukraine”. A more tense security situation in Europe and the Baltic Sea region means that “the use of military force, or a threat thereof, against Finland cannot be excluded”.
How does Finland plan to cope in this new security environment? First, the Report emphasizes the strengthening of the European Union. For Finland, the European Union is a value community. Finland aims at bolstering the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, which according to the Report increases security and stability in Europe and adds to the influence of the Union.
Finland “promotes the development of defense cooperation within the EU so that the Union and its Member States can be better prepared to meet the security requirements of the future and to improve their crisis resilience”. In the same vein, “EU’s solidarity clause (Article 222, TEU) and the mutual assistance clause (Article 42.4, TEU) strengthen the Union as a security community and increase solidarity among the Member States”. Finland also supports closer defense cooperation between the Member States.
Another way of coping with the new strategic environment will be deepening cooperation with Sweden and the other Nordic countries. Cooperation under the auspices of NORDEFCO (Nordic Defense Cooperation) will be intensified. A special status is given to Finland’s bilateral cooperation with Sweden. The Report states: “Foreign and security policy cooperation with Sweden is wide-ranging and it is promoted on the basis of shared interests without any limitations”. This wording goes way beyond anything found in the previous Government White Papers, and more is to come: “Defense cooperation with Sweden will be developed to cover operational planning for all situations. Examples of this may include the defense of territorial integrity or exercising the inherent right of collective self-defense pursuant to Article 51 of the UN Charter”.
The Nordic context as a whole is important for Finland: “By acting in unison the Nordic countries can strengthen security in their neighborhood, and increase their influence in international questions. Likewise, by acting in unison, they, among other things, intensify their relationship with the United States”.
There is a new emphasis in the Report on how important a partner the Unites States is for Finland. The text on the United States merits to be quoted at length: “The commitment of the United States to NATO and its military presence in Europe continue to be essential to Finland’s security. Cooperating with the United States, both bilaterally and within the framework of NATO, is needed for Finland’s national defense. Finland will intensify its security policy and defense cooperation with the United States: the goal is to strengthen the national defense capacity by especially developing interoperability, materiel cooperation as well as training and exercise cooperation”.
Relations with Russia continue to be important, and the EU’s common positions form the basis for Finland’s actions. Russia’s isolation does not serve anyone’s interests, but “the precondition for such improvement is, however, that Russia comply with international law and its other international obligations”.
Russia is Finland’s neighbor, and Finland aims to maintain stable and well-functioning relations with Russia. That includes economic cooperation as well as regional and cross-border cooperation. At the same time, it is essential to support the Russian civil society and maintain direct contacts between citizens.
According to the Report, NATO is the key actor in advancing transatlantic and European security and stability. It is important to Finland that NATO continues its Open Doors Policy, i.e. that NATO membership remains open to all those European states that have the capacity and qualifications to advance the goals of the North Atlantic Treaty. For Finland, NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities Program (EOP) is seen as a useful instrument in maintaining and developing its NATO partnership.
What about a full NATO membership for Finland? The Report first reminds the reader that “as Finland-NATO relationship is being deepened, it must be kept in mind that partnership cooperation neither includes any Article 5 based security guarantees nor obligations.” Interoperability achieved through cooperation ensures the elimination of any practical impediments to a possible membership for Finland in a military alliance. Yet, a full membership is not in the offing any time soon: “While carefully monitoring the developments in its security environment, Finland maintains the option to seek NATO membership”.
Thus, deep practical cooperation as a partner with NATO but not a full membership in the Alliance continues to inform Finland’s NATO policy. This conclusion dovetails with a special Government Report on NATO that was published late March this year.**
The Government’s Report will be submitted to Parliament for general debate in late June, and it will be complemented by another Government’s Report on Finland’s defense policy and military security later this year.