I wish you a warm welcome to the Kultaranta Talks that we now exceptionally arrange here at the Presidential Palace.
When I opened the first Kultaranta Talks ten years ago, I said that we should avoid cross purposes and seek openness and transparency. I have considered this to be the connecting theme of Kultaranta Talks for all these years, and I hope this to be the case this year as well. Almost every time NATO, Russia and Finland’s security overall have been at the centre of the debate, sometimes with a little encouragement. In 2014 the title of the opening session was: “The bear has woken up, what about Finland?“. We had an open discussion then too.
Indeed, we do have a lot to discuss once again. The main theme is “Tougher competition, deeper divisions – How will Finland respond to new global challenges?”. As customary, for two days, there will be intensive dialogue on Finland’s foreign and security policy and our international position.
The past year has been historical. Through determined work, we have succeeded in strengthening the security of Finland and the Finns and our international position in a situation in which the world around us has become more insecure and unstable. This is no small achievement.
But the work for safeguarding Finland’s security and well-being is never fully done. We must continue it unceasingly. We must always keep our eyes on the horizon. The world is in a rapid state of flux, and we cannot keep on looking back.
The way ahead is winding and still partly obscured. The future of Ukraine and Europe is now being forged in the merciless furnace of war. Finland and the Western community continue their strong support for Ukraine. Not only because Ukraine is a sovereign state that has been subjected to a cruel and illegal war of aggression. But also, because the outcome of the war has direct impact on what the future security order in Europe will look like and on what also our position in the world will be.
Only a sustainable and just peace in Ukraine can lay the foundation for a future in which the rules of international justice are observed and where the big do not consider it their privilege to subjugate the small. Only a sustainable and just peace in Ukraine can lay the foundation for a stable future in Europe.
The global world order is also currently being forged into a new shape. The Russian invasion of Ukraine increased the tensions in the global arena. Russia has been making deliberate efforts to further intensify the resentment felt towards the West in various dimensions.
Namely, many developing countries feel suspicion towards the Western countries. Whether deriving from indisputable historical injustices or the feeling of exclusion from international decision-making, this must be taken seriously. I would pay special attention to the BRICS group, the attraction of which would seem to be growing. As far as we know, 19 countries have expressed interest in joining the group. If this were to happen, the group would represent significantly more than half of the world’s population.
A group of countries called those sitting on the fence has also emerged – some of them big and influential. But there are differences between those sitting on the fence: some have their feet dangling on the Ukrainian side of the fence and others on Russian side. With both groups, we should seek dialogue and increased mutual understanding.
In my own encounters I have noticed that, for many, Finland is a noteworthy partner to discuss with. Based on our own experience, it is easy for us Finns to understand that nations have a long historical memory that stretches across generations.
In the UN General Assembly, 141 countries condemned Russia’s actions right away. From the beginning of the war until today, the number of countries supporting Ukraine has remained at the same high level. Those voting in favour of Russia can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Despite this, I predict that the forthcoming UN General Assembly high-level week in next September will be quite colourful and interesting.
The West is used to being the one showing the way, expecting others to follow its example. However, the popularity of the Western model of democracy has not grown. If anything, it is on the decline. Of the world population, maybe about one quarter lives in what we call Western democracies. The others live in different kinds of societies. What if, in a few decades from now, we are in a situation in which we are the ones being shown the way? As I have pointed out, we must also talk with those – and perhaps in particular with those – who see the world differently from us. We cannot consider sharing our worldview a prerequisite for dialogue and cooperation.
A big and far-reaching issue is the relationship between China and the United States. If it were to seriously exacerbate, or even to evolve into a crisis, it would be disastrous to the whole world. This is the overall picture through which we must navigate, and these are the kind of questions we will also examine at the Kultaranta Talks. The firs panel tomorrow is entitled “The new era of geopolitics – is the world becoming divided”
Great power competition is also heating up in the field of technology. Our competitiveness and national security are becoming more and more tightly entangled with the development of revolutionary technologies, such as artificial intelligence and biotechnologies. I would draw your attention to two things: the pace of technological development is accelerating and, in this sector as well, the world seems to be dividing into blocs.
When I was visiting the US West Coast in March, I once again had an opportunity to see how the Americans are boosting cooperation between technology companies and the public sector. We should also increase such collaboration. Enhancing security is our joint objective. Tomorrow, we will also be discussing technological competition and security.
In August 2012, at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs’ annual meeting of Heads of Mission, I expressed a thought many others have stated as well. It went like this: “Currently I do not see any reasons that would make it necessary for us to join NATO. Membership would also require the support of the majority of the public, and we should not think that public opinion could be swayed merely by a declaration of intent voiced by the political leadership. It would require facts and phenomena that the majority of the public would recognise as speaking in favour of Finnish membership.”
And this did happen. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was such a fact. As there seems to have been a little bit of a competition over who took Finland to NATO, for the sake of honesty, I must say that it was the Finnish people who did it. And, in all honesty, I must add that we political decision-makers are also part of the people. We also recognised and acknowledged the facts.
The conditions for joining the alliance were historically favourable for us. In Finland, there was an extensive consensus on the matter. Russia had its attention elsewhere. NATO was ready and willing to welcome us in a rapid schedule. And Sweden was now also ready to move together with us.
When the opportunity opened up, we seized it without delay. It did contribute to the matter that we had been making determined long-term efforts to enhance our defence capability and build our NATO compatibility. We had built the readiness to take action the moment securing Finland’s security so demanded.
In April, Finland joined the defence alliance NATO, standing strong and unified. I highly appreciate the careful consideration and the strong unity that were reached in Parliament, the Government and parties. I considered and still consider it important that the NATO decision was firmly anchored in the Finnish society. Therefore, I want to express my thanks to everyone involved in the NATO accession process.
We have successfully completed our accession process to NATO. The military integration process was closed in the beginning of this week. Now we need to focus on the future: what kind of a NATO member we will become, what are our goals in the alliance, and what is expected of us? How can we give the best possible support for Sweden’s quick accession to the alliance? This issue will also be discussed tomorrow under the title “Finland as a militarily allied country”.
I personally consider that Finland’s most significant contribution to NATO’s joint defence and deterrence continues to be that we keep our own country border secure. At the same time, it is self-evident that Finland must participate in defending the whole alliance as our size and capabilities allow.
We have enhanced our security also by deepening the cooperation with our key partners, including, first and foremost, the Nordic Countries and the United States. During my terms in office, I have visited the White house several times. The discussions have always been very open and on security cooperation there has been a shared understanding. This I intent to continue.
In the very early stages, I also discussed with President Biden about support and safeguarding our security during the accession process. It was obvious that our cooperation would intensify.
A logical continuation to this are the recently opened negotiations with the United States on the Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA). The DCA will be an important piece of our security network. The negotiations will take their time. And this is quite all right, as, in this matter as well, I consider it extremely important that the Parliament is kept involved and informed of all twists and turns.
This year we will return to a similar format we had during the first Kultaranta Talks in the sense that, again, the talks will be held between Finns only. The participants will include a large number of people taking responsibility for Finland’s direction, security and well-being from various sectors.
For me, this is the last time I am hosting Kultaranta Talks. So, this is the right time to express my thanks to all the guests and those who have participated in the discussions through all these years. But, first and foremost, I want to thank all staff members who have made these gatherings possible in practice with their competence and hard everyday work year after year.
These times have shown how valuable it is to have broad-based discussion and, on its basis, build shared understanding when making major decisions. I wish that these Kultaranta Talks will be held in a bold, multivoiced and most of all open spirit. Thank you.