Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Finland and NATO: The more things change, the more people insist nothing significant is changing

An initiative to create a more inclusive and advanced partnership structure for a handful of non-NATO member countries that participate in NATO operations was unofficially unveiled over the weekend. In Finland the news was mainly reported as an opportunity for Finland (and Sweden) to participate earlier in the decision making and planning processes of operations that they would contribute resources to.

If you divide, roughly, NATO’s mission into Chp.V mutual defense and rest of world operations, this means Finland could get a stronger say in the mandate and operational planning stages of the latter types of operations. To an outsider it might, therefore, seem that Finland de facto would enjoy NATO membership:

  1. The Finnish military is completely interoperable with NATO standards
  2. Finland participates in two major NATO operations (KFOR and ISAF)
  3. Finns have commanded NATO troops in the Balkans
  4. Finland has military liaison officers in both NATO and US Commands
  5. Finland (according to this initiative) would be able to directly influence the planning and decision making processes of NATO operations.

Yet, the outsider would undoubtedly have missed the subtlety that even if this new advanced partnership structure would become operational, Finland would not have made any binding commitments to militarily assist the other western states, upon whose continued stability its own economy and national security rests. Finland would also not be able to veto a NATO operation – even if in its opinion the said operation would contravene the spirit of international law.

For all those who are afraid that Finland would become a target of terrorists if it were to become a NATO member I have some sad news: Soon it’ll be impossible for anyone but the top politicians in Finland to tell whether Finland is a NATO member or not. Certainly no one contemplating acts of terrorism in Finland – because of Finland’s participation in NATO operations - could tell the difference.

On a more serious and final note; Finland has committed itself – at least morally – to assisting countries in Europe that suffer from a security threat. Few politicians question the expectation that in the event of a grave industrial, nuclear or environmental accident, assistance would be both sent by and received by Finland. This could be called the ‘civilian chapter V promise’. Yet, if the threat were of a military nature – or at least where the response had to be of a military nature – Finland has made it unequivocally clear that because the threat is of a military nature, Finland cannot be counted upon to help. For a country with such a long history of seeing threats in the world through the prism of ‘broad security’, it is surprising that military security threats and their common passive deterrence is such a low priority. The deafening silence of politicians on this new initiative, and the insistence of the Finnish Ministry of Defense spokesman that this initiative will not cause any substantial changes, tell volumes about the need to have an actual, open, non-election time, debate in Finland about NATO and its role in advancing Finland’s, Europe’s and the world’s security interests. Let the debate begin!

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