Is Now the Time For Finland to Join NATO?

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At the moment there is a growing movement in Finland lobbying for Finnish membership in NATO.  The security policy debate surrounding the idea came to being in 2014. With NATO-Russia tensions on the rise, and the geopolitical situation around Finland deteriorating, NATO membership began to look appealing to a limited number of Finnish citizens and politicians. For a period of time afterward, the debate went dormant. In recent weeks, though, it has flared up once more. Finland is a member of the European Union, however, it has remained outside of NATO for fear of antagonizing its eastern neighbor Russia. Finland and Russia share an 800+ mile border and a complex history.

During World War II, Finland and Russia fought each other twice. The first time was during the Winter War of 1939-1940 when Russia attacked Finland. The second conflict was the Continuation War from 1941-1944 that saw Finland align itself with Germany following the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Following this war, as well as the end of the Second World War, Finland and the Soviet Union signed peace treaties that allowed Finland to maintain its sovereignty, though at the cost of giving the Soviet Union great influence over Finnish domestic and foreign policies. This is where the term Finlandization stems from. In the International Relations field, the definition of the term is as follows: The process by which a major power forces a smaller neighboring country to abide by the former’s foreign policy rules, in exchange for allowing it to keep its nominal sovereignty political system intact.

During the Cold War Era Finlandization dominated Finnish politics at home and abroad. The nation maintained cool relations with Western Europe and NATO in order to appease the Soviet Union. Some experts and scholars point to it as a textbook example of appeasement. Most Finns who lived during the period counter with the argument that their participation in Finlandization was strictly Realpolitik: to ensure survival. After the demise of the Soviet Union, Finland started to integrate itself with the West, assuming a more active role in European affairs.

In recent years, NATO-Russia tensions in the Baltics have influenced Finnish politics and society. Though most Finns appear to oppose NATO membership for the moment,  there is less resistance to Finland having forged closer ties with NATO. Finnish military forces have taken part in military exercises with NATO nations. With all of this in mind, it comes as little surprise that an increasing number of Finns regard their neighbor to the east warily. Hannu Himanen, Finland’s ambassador to Russia until 2016, is openly advocating Finnish membership in NATO. Following the four years he spent in Moscow, Himanen appears convinced his country should stop concerning itself with provoking Russia and focus on its own security. Specifically, by joining the Atlantic alliance.

The Finnish presidential election is scheduled to be held in January, 2018 and there is one openly pro-NATO candidate in the pack of seven contenders. Nils Torvalds, of the Swedish People’s party, is not expected to win, though he does appear determined to begin a national debate on the subject of Finland joining NATO. “Finland should join NATO now that the sun is shining. When the thunderstorm breaks out, we’ll already be sitting in another boat,” Torvalds told a Finnish newspaper.

He might have a point. Where this debate goes now remains to be seen. However, the topic of Finland possibly joining NATO is worth exploring between now and the end of the year.

 

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