August 28, 2015

Finns Move Back Toward Realpolitik

Reuters/Scanpix
Finland's President Sauli Niinisto speaks to the media in Helsinki August 14, 2014. Niinisto is to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in southern Russia on Friday, the two governments said, but a Kremlin source played down the prospects for any breakthrough in the crisis over Ukraine.
Finland's President Sauli Niinisto speaks to the media in Helsinki August 14, 2014. Niinisto is to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in southern Russia on Friday, the two governments said, but a Kremlin source played down the prospects for any breakthrough in the crisis over Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö delivered a speech to the country’s ambassadors. Among other things, the president said Finland could not guarantee the security of the Baltic states. Naturally enough, this statement received much coverage in the local media in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

It’s strange that anyone would expect Finland to guarantee the security of the Baltics in the first place. After all, Finland is not a member of NATO; the Baltic states are. It would mean a non-NATO member guaranteeing the security of the NATO member states, and would say a great deal about NATO itself, not in a particularly positive light.

In his speech, Niinistö alluded to the European Union’s security guarantees as well. It’s true that the Lisbon Treaty does indeed stipulate such guarantees. The Finnish president summed up the situation, recalling that some say the European Union’s security guarantees are just dead words on paper, while others say Finland does have an obligation to defend other EU member states on the basis of those guarantees. Niinistö, however, said the problem is that often the same people talk both of dead text and Finnish obligations.

Considering the harsh reality today, it is difficult to imagine that the EU member states could defend themselves. The European Union has no military and it is no secret that NATO is the guarantor of European security. It is all the more odd to presume that the European Union and not the NATO member states should be the ones NATO’s Article Five. European countries’ defence spending has been in decline in recent years. It took Russia’s aggression against Ukraine before some European Union member states reconsidered their stance on defence spending.

Niinistö’s speech had a broader subtext, which of course ties in with defence of the Baltics. “Europe is now living through its years of danger. It is surrounded by a circle of instability and violence from Ukraine to the Middle East to North Africa,” said the president.

“Years of danger” is not just something a speechwriter came up with– it has a deeper significance. For Finland, “vaaran vuodet” (years of danger) means the period from 1944 to 1948 when Finland was closely controlled by the Soviet Union and it was feared that Finland could also become communist, like the countries in Eastern Europe. In this sense, Niinistö was sounding a warning that Europe’s development could also take a turn in a negative direction.

The Finnish president was open about the fact that a new chapter on Realpolitik should be opened in international politics. In other words, all countries can only count on themselves. And this will bring us back to Finland’s post-war politics. Finland, facing the Soviet Union alone, signed a pact on cooperation, friendship and mutual aid, meaning Finland stayed out of most of the organizations established by the West and had to rebuild its economy alone after the war. Now Niinistö has intimated that those days could return. Although the shift may not be in as dramatic a form as after the war, the stated message of not giving the Baltics security guarantees is certainly a movement toward Realpolitik. The opposite of Realpolitik is usually integration and solidarity between countries. These are the qualities that Niinistö feels have declined.

As we see, it’s easy to understand the Niinistö speech when we think about Finnish history. It’s only to be hoped that Finns will not now start accusing the Estonians of being too chummy with the US, though. As for the Estonians, it is no wonder that they are interested in good relations with a country that offers them ironclad security guarantees.
This piece, originally in Estonian, aired on Retro FM’s European news on 28 August 2015.

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