Finland lies between Sweden and Russia, sharing the second longest land border with Russia of approximately 1,300 km. Due to its geographical position, Finland has a history of occupation by both Sweden and Imperial Russia. Swedish influence from the 13th century is still visible seeing as the second most popular language in Finland remains to be Swedish, and is recognized as an official language in some Finnish municipalities mostly along the coast near to Sweden. In addition, the involvement of both the Russian Empire from 1809 until 1917 and the Soviet Union in the 20th Century demonstrates the deeply-rooted historic confrontation between Finland and Russia on their borders.

Finland’s history with Russia is important in understanding Finland’s foreign policy of neutrality. With the help of secret agreements with Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union invaded Finland in November 1939, when the Finnish government refused to allow the Soviet government to build military bases on Finnish soil. Although the Finnish resistance was outnumbered and militarily under-resourced, the Winter War and the struggle of Finnish military leader C.G.E. Mannerheim became a symbol for the Finnish resistance against the Soviet Union. The Finnish resistance inflicted heavy casualties due to the harsh winter conditions and the Finns’ skills in navigating their terrain.

After World War II ended, Finland signed the Paris Peace Treaty in 1947 and ceded 12% of its  territory to the Soviet Union. Finland’s post-WWII foreign policy was formed as a part of the Paasikivi–Kekkonen doctrine.This policy was based on President Juho Kusti Paasikivi’s will to improve relations with the USSR. Later, Finnish Prime Minister Urho Kaleva Kekkonen built on this policy by adding his ideas of active neutrality, stressing the importance of developing a strong military defense. This was the basis for Finnish-Soviet relations during the Cold War until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Finland’s foreign policy, to this day, takes the Russian relations into its careful consideration as per its history and geopolitical position. In September 2007, the Finnish Minister of Defence Jyri Häkämies famously stated in Washington D.C., The three main security challenges for Finland today are Russia, Russia and Russia. And not only for Finland, but for all of us”. One of the most pressing national security issues that Finland is concerned with at the present moment are Russian activities in the Baltic Sea. The Russian military has been conducting air exercises and patrols to which Finland responded by stating that these actions are invading its airspace. These security concerns have put the idea of joining NATO back on the table for Finland.

In December 2016, Finland proposed a meeting in March 2017 with NATO member states of the Baltic region (Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Germany) along with Sweden and Russia, in an attempt to find an agreement on air-safety measures in the Baltic region.

Finland is a member of the United Nations and joined the EU in 1995; however, it is not a full member of NATO. Finland’s activities with NATO continue to be based on Finnish policy of military non-alignment. Finland works together with NATO in a partnership for cooperative security and participates in NATO-led operations, as can be seen in Afghanistan. Finland also contributed to NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept, an agreement to work with other countries on joint security projects relating to defense and crisis management.

Although Finland has a close partnership with NATO, it is unlikely that Finland will become a full member of NATO. In April 2016, a Finnishgovernment report predicted that a move to join NATO could trigger a strong reaction from Russia. This was echoed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2016 on his visit to Finland, when he hinted that if Finland joined NATO it would be perceived as a military threat towards Russia and would lead to a Russian military build-up close to the land border with Finland.  Moreover, Finland is unlikely to join NATO due to its strong economic ties with Russia. Finland exports many goods to Russia, and this economic relationship is dependent on maintaining positive relations between the nations.

Therefore, the issue of joining NATO is a highly contested subject within Finland. The most recent study by the Advisory Board for Defence Information (ABDI) states that while 50% of Finns view Russia as a threat, 61% of Finns are against Finland becoming a member of NATO. Although Finland has a close partnership with NATO, the combination of history, politics, and economy of Finland and Russia point to the fact that it is unlikely that Finland will apply for NATO membership.

Photo: News conference following Russian-Finnish talks. With President of Finland Sauli Niinisto, March 22, 2016. President of Russian website via Press release. Licensed under Public Domain.

Disclaimer: The content of this article is the sole responsibility of the author and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily represent the official position of the Youth Atlantic Treaty Association Denmark.

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