Archive and Chronology of Finnish Foreign Policy

Prime Minister Alexander Stubb’s speech at the Paasikivi Society on 24 March 2015

"The security environment in transition – how will Finland respond?”


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The security situation in Europe is tense, the tectonic plates of the international system are shifting, geopolitics is back – if it was ever very far away.

All this has great significance for Finland – we are not on the sidelines of these developments, nor can we isolate ourselves from them.

We need to understand and recognise that our security policy operating environment has changed. It has changed in a direction in which there is a greater number of risk factors than before. The traditional risk factors have been joined by many new ones, from cyber and hybrid threats via Ebola to terrorism.

At the same time, the old challenges have not disappeared. Today, I will examine our new security environment precisely from this, so-called traditional security perspective.

I will approach the issue via three themes.

I will examine our new operating environment firstly via the change in the global framework, the world politics that we see around us. Already in this context, I will focus on what for us is the most concrete and topical question – Russia.

Then I’ll discuss the challenge set for Finland by the new situation. On the one hand, this is a question of our place in the world; on the other hand, this is about the need to strengthen our own security.

Thirdly, I will consider the means by which Finland should respond to the new security challenge. In other words, I will consider the solutions that would best strengthen our security.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have arrived at the turning points of two eras in the development of the international system.

First turning point: Increasingly serious challenges are being directed at the international system that was built on democratic and liberal principles after the Second World War. That system was to a large extent built by the Western world. It is now being challenged in different parts of the world both on the level of structures and on the level of values. A period of around 70 years is approaching a watershed.

Second turning point: We have also had to witness the ending of a post-Cold War era characterised by a certain idealism. We are now – unfortunately – moving from a world of cooperation that benefited everyone to an increasingly complex world of confrontation and difficult-to-control crises. A period of around 25 years has come to an end.

A symbol of these turning points is, for instance, a desire by a number of different actors to reform existing international structures – although in part entirely justifiably. At the same time, however, of the values of the international system, only those suitable for use at any given time are perhaps being selected. At worst, it may happen that the basic principles of international law are thrown completely on the scrap heap, and uncertainty and protracted conflicts are utilised as an instrument in exercising power.

Living in this time of transition is not easy, also for us Finns.

The situation is not helped by the fact that many of the factors I mentioned earlier are suitable for describing the actions of our neighbouring European power.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I believe that many of us have in recent years, but especially during the last year, found it difficult to believe what we have seen and experienced. Russia’s actions, first in Georgia in 2008 and now in Ukraine, have seemed downright irrational.

Can it be in the interests of any country, however large, to break away from the international treaty system and behave with naked aggression towards its neighbour? Are there not enough horrifying examples of this in European history?

Sir Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister and a Nobel prize winner for literature, said the following about Russia: "Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

Although for us Finns, based on centuries of experience, Russia might not be a riddle, we have to admit, however, that the behaviour, in Crimea and then in Eastern Ukraine, of a Russia that has honed its sense of self-esteem has not only been very unpleasant, but also unexpected.

We have witnessed the return of power politics. Russia defines security in a way that makes its neighbours feel insecure.

This challenge will not pass quickly by. Power politics is here to stay. Russia is not only arming itself rapidly. It has also introduced new methods of warfare, it practises the launch of attacks directly from a peace-time setting, and it is ready to use military force to pursue its political ends.

At the same time, it combines its actions with very strident information operations – even in countries on which it does not exert a direct security policy threat.

Those who expected and hoped for something else have been disappointed. First, during the Georgia war, and now in Ukraine, we have had to learn it the hard way: Russia today wants to be more a maker of its own rules than a follower of jointly prepared ones. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The key question of the second part of my speech is: What kind of security challenge does this new situation set for Finland?

In my opinion, the response to this challenge requires first of all that Finland defines its security policy self-image in a crystal-clear way. In its analysis, Finland must be coldly realistic. We must not end up in a grey zone, nor in the position of a border state – not from our own perspective, nor in the eyes of others.

Our place is in the West. Not between East and West. Our values are irrevocably part of the Western value system.

We stand in the West firmly on our own feet. We are able to defend our own national interests. We ourselves must uphold our interests; no-one else will do it for us. During these times of transition, it is essential to emphasise this.

Having said that, however, I must add that we are not alone even today. We are a member of the European Union, and this anchors us clearly to the common Western security community.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Even so, this is not, in itself, sufficient to guarantee our security. We must also have other factors that enhance our security.

We in Finland currently face a double challenge. Challenge number one is security. Challenge number two is the economy. And these are interlinked. A strong economy strengthens our security.

On the one hand, a strong economy strengthens our international position and thereby increases our security. Also for this reason, we must restore our economy as quickly as possible to a growth path.

On the other hand, a strong economy also makes it possible for us to make the defence procurement necessary to maintain and develop our security.

In terms of our security solutions, the most important aspect of all for us is that we keep our national defence in good shape. The cuts decided after the last parliamentary elections have affected its credibility. They were made for understandable reasons with respect to the balance of public finances, but in the present international situation particular attention must be paid to the adequacy of the defence budget.

Our own defence forces must in any case be in good shape, whether we are militarily non-aligned or someday members of an alliance.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our defence is strengthened further the more we network internationally, and as widely as possible.

Networking alone is not enough, however. We need to ensure that the security policy networks in which we are involved genuinely strengthen our security. For this reason, we must realistically look at what the different options can offer us.

And this brings me to the third section of my speech and to the question: What are the cooperation solutions that would strengthen our security best?

Let’s look first at our Nordic family.

Tightening Nordic defence cooperation via NORDEFCO and bilaterally with Sweden is very welcome for us. Although the Nordic countries do not constitute a uniform group in security and defence policy, developing, exercising and possibly procuring military capabilities together are in the interests of all those involved.

Bilateral defence cooperation particularly with Sweden is very valuable for us, and a strong indication of the close relationship between our countries. The impressively extensive joint report recently published by the Finnish and Swedish defence forces as well as the numerous forms of cooperation included within it tell their own tale.

Nordic cooperation, any more than close defence cooperation with Sweden, does not, however, bring to Finland treaty-based military security. The aim in both areas of cooperation is not to build a military alliance; the objective is to identify common synergies and develop forms of cooperation in time of peace.

A defence alliance is, of course, theoretically possible, but agreeing one would require the preparation of a treaty in which no party has shown any interest. And, in addition, we should remember that Iceland, Norway and Denmark are in any case allied members of NATO.

Our cooperation networks also extend elsewhere, of course.

For us, the USA is a close and important partner in many areas. In defence matters, this is expressed via extensive bilateral materiel cooperation, whose flagship is the F-18 procurement and maintenance upgrades, and the associated building of air-to-ground capability. Close dialogue with the USA on the development of security and defence technology is vitally important for Finland.

And, of course, it is worth mentioning once again our membership of the European Union, which has been to date the most significant choice in terms of Finland’s international status and, more broadly, for our security.

Developing the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy recently stimulated lively debate in Finland. My message here is clear: A country like Finland that does not belong to a military alliance has no reason to downplay the role of the European Union as a security community. A strong European Union strengthens Finland’s position.

At the same time, it is clear that a common army is not being created for the EU. A large majority of the EU Member States does not consider it necessary to create for the Union common defence arrangements, because 22 of the Member States belong to NATO. Over 94% of EU citizens live in member countries of NATO.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The relationship of Finns to the Western defence alliance NATO has a nearly schizophrenic quality. On the one hand, we have been in close and highly beneficial Partnership for Peace cooperation since 1994, such that as partners we have been one of the best, if not the best, student in the class. On the other hand, we have perceptions of NATO and its operating practices that are founded on myths, delusions and second-hand information.

I have clearly stated my own view on NATO. I think we should apply to become a member of NATO – we should have already done so twenty years ago.

For example, as President Ahtisaari has stated about NATO membership: Finland should belong to all the organisations to which the Western democracies belong – and this has nothing to do with, say, the threat of Russia.

NATO is a defensive alliance that is not a threat to anyone. It consists of the countries that joined it voluntarily, and the decisions there are made together, with consensus. Each country makes its own sovereign decisions from its own points of departure. The core of cooperation is encapsulated in the security guarantees given by member countries to each other.

In addition to security guarantees, NATO members participate in decision-making on matters that directly affect today’s Europe, including Finland. On NATO’s current agenda, for example, are contingency planning for hybrid war, cyber attacks and information operations as well as counter-terrorism activity.

I see NATO membership as the next logical step of Finland’s long-standing foreign and security policy line, our country’s Western integration.

The solution is, of course, completely in our own hands. And the solution must have the support of political decision-makers and the Finnish people.

In Finland, there is a lot of talk about what is the "good time” to apply for NATO membership.

It may well be that there is never an optimum good time to make security policy choices. It is never easy or simple. It is the duty of responsible decision-makers, however, to check during a tense international situation whether the country’s insurance policies are in good order. Those who wait for a state of profound peace and international political harmony may well be disappointed in their expectations.

I have myself stated that in the next parliamentary term we need to undertake an up-to-date study of the possible effects of NATO membership. It would be good to carry out this study together with Sweden. This must not, however, be a condition for preparing a study, because Sweden will decide its own policy line, on its own timetable.

The most important thing is that the next Government Programme does not rule out the possibility of NATO membership in the same way as it was ruled out in this parliamentary term. To my mind, this was a mistake. It was a security policy price that had to be paid for a six-party Government base.

Opinions among the Finnish people also seem to be becoming more positive in relation to NATO. A recent survey commissioned by the Finnish Business and Policy Forum (EVA) found that Finns’ NATO opposition has significantly decreased. In a corresponding survey made two years ago, only 14% of Finns supported NATO – and now, one in four. The proportion of people opposing NATO membership, on the other hand, has fallen from 65% to 43%. As many as 32% of respondents were uncertain.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This result tells me that we have to engage in open discussion about our security policy solutions, forgetting our prejudices. In this, we politicians bear a heavy responsibility.

We must remember that, once again to quote Winston Churchill: "It‘s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.”

Our security policy operating environment has changed. We must remain vigilant.

Firstly, we need to see the global framework of the situation, the big picture of world politics.

Secondly, we need to know our place in the world and to identify what we need to strengthen our security.

Thirdly, we must, through an honest, unprejudiced deliberation, choose those solutions that will best strengthen our security.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The next Government will have two important tasks whose significance is above all the rest.

One, restoring the Finnish economy to a growth path.

And two, responding to the transition in our security environment. The next Government needs a common understanding of the security situation just as badly as it needs that in economy. I have outlined the basis of this understanding here today.

Based on the common understanding, we will be able to strengthen our own national defence capabilities and tighten our international cooperation. This also means an open debate on NATO membership. Possible NATO membership would require four steps:

We do not rule out the possibility of NATO membership in the Government Programme.
We undertake a study of NATO membership.
Membership has the broad support of the country’s foreign policy leadership.
Membership has the support of the Finnish people.

In 2011 some of the political parties – also of those who entered the Government – put their head in the sand when confronted with unpleasant economic facts. Finland has suffered from that mistake, but realism has gradually begun to spread more widely.

I hope that in 2015 we do not repeat the error of four years ago, this time when it comes to security.