Suomen ulkopolitiikan asiakirja-arkisto ja kronologia
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Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the opening of the 242th National Defence Course on 7 November 2022

Ladies and Gentlemen

National Defence Course number one took place in the spring of 1961, just before the building of the Berlin Wall. Since then, we have lived through three decades of Cold War, and then three post-Cold War decades. Now we have moved on to something new that is still very unpredictable.

Today, you are starting your course in an exceptionally tense world situation. The atmosphere is even chillier than during the Cold War. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought war to Europe. The situation in the Korean peninsula is once again sensitive. Tensions between the United States and China are growing. In the midst of energy and economic concerns, Europe as a whole is facing a difficult winter.

In more peaceful times, the national defence courses have sometimes had to use a great deal of imagination to create sufficiently difficult crisis scenarios. That is certainly not the case now. There are plenty of problems in the real world to solve.

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We are undoubtedly living in dangerous times. Focusing on threats and risks is now not only understandable, but also necessary. We need to be vigilant in detecting real hazards. We need to be alert in identifying potential threats. Even those that seem very unlikely.

When we, as a society, prepare for the future, we must immediately fix anything that may still lay loose. Potential vulnerabilities need to be identified and patched up. However, threat identification must be just a tool, not an end in itself. Over-emphasising threats will only lead us to end up doing our opponents’ work for them. Fuelling uncertainty will not increase our security.

And most importantly: there is no reason for uncertainty. There is no direct military threat to Finland. Our security is in a good shape, our level of preparedness is high. I would like us to talk much more about all the things that make us feel secure, not just the dangers.

As the order number already indicates, your course is part of a long tradition. It is at a time like this that the value of national defence courses becomes even more apparent. Your backgrounds and life experiences are different. But the goal is common. National defence, Finland’s security. That is what you are here to strengthen together. Building our much-talked-about resilience, our crisis resistance. And showing what it consists of.

Because that resilience is not about abstract top-level structures. It is about people. Very practical and everyday things we do together, in all walks of life. And, above all, about a mindset.

That we can and dare to lean on each other’s strengths. That we can and dare to trust each other. And that we have the courage and determination to face challenges and threats. When we can do this, Finland as a nation can trust in itself. Together we are strong, in all kinds of times, and we will overcome any difficulty.

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The dramatic developments of the past year have sparked a debate also in Finland about whether something should have been done earlier and in a different way. Should our relations with Russia have been handled differently? Should we have applied for membership of NATO earlier?

Of course, there is always room for self-criticism. It is good that we look for mistakes in our past. And where missteps can be pointed out, lessons should be learned. But also self-criticism should only be a tool, not an end in itself.

I would like to draw attention to the fact that we have not been subject to much criticism from the outside. Instead, we have received all the more appreciation. In the field of diplomacy, for our clear-cut and straightforward communication with Russia. In the field of defence, for both our conscription system and the performance of our Defence Forces. In terms of comprehensive security, both for our preparedness and for our culture of working together.

Our strengths are thus widely recognised and acknowledged. There has been outright amazement elsewhere at how ready Finland is to become a NATO member. Even the voices that were still heard in the spring, doubting that Finland would simply seek the protection of NATO’s wings, have changed as the facts have come to light. As a member of NATO, Finland is seen as strengthening the Alliance as a whole. This confidence is also reflected in the historic speed of the ratification process.

I have gained the impression that Finland is appreciated precisely because we do not always make a big deal of what we do, we just do it. If necessary, with a minimum of noise, but always reliably and thoroughly. What has worked before our NATO membership could also be a good guideline during membership. Less noise, more action. It has become very clear to me that this is what is expected of us.

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The decision to apply for NATO membership is a fundamental change in Finland’s political history. But it doesn’t change everything. NATO membership will be part of our foreign and security policy, not other way round. But despite the fact that our NATO partnership has grown ever closer over the years, the decisive step we are now taking is a big one. Concretely as well as mentally. Finland will become a militarily allied country.

There seems to be a great enthusiasm now in Finland for us to take also new steps while this current phase is still in progress. Some would like to define Finland’s future NATO profile in advance. Others, on the other hand, present ideas about things that should be placed in Finland in the future.

I personally think it is important that we focus on the current accession process. Which, as I said, is a major change in itself. Finland has applied for NATO membership, no more, no less. When applying for membership, other countries have not made any specific demands or restrictions in advance, and neither does Finland. Finland’s profile as a NATO member will naturally evolve over time, according to changing circumstances, through practical work and our national decision-making.

As a member of NATO, we will have additional security both from the common deterrence and the common defence of the Alliance. As a member, Finland contributes to the development of both. It is important to understand that nuclear weapons are an essential part of NATO’s deterrence. We certainly still have a lot to learn about the nature of nuclear deterrence; we will only participate in the discussions on it as members. But it is clear that for NATO, nuclear weapons are specifically an instrument of prevention, not an end in themselves. I recall the joint statement by all the permanent members of the UN Security Council at the beginning of this year: a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

In recent days, talk about nuclear weapons has rapidly become commonplace, also in Finland. I consider this a dangerous development. Let me make it clear: even if we do not impose any restrictions on our membership of NATO in advance, Finland has no intention whatsoever of bringing nuclear weapons onto its soil. Nor have I seen any indication that anyone is offering them to us.

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Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine has forced us to adapt to a new reality. We are living in a time of war in Europe. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight for that. Ukraine has every right and every justification to defend itself. Russia has no right and only wrong reasons to attack. So far, there is no sign that either side is prepared to give in on its premises.

Finland’s position is clear. It is not for outsiders to dictate conditions to Ukraine, which is fighting for its own territorial integrity, within its internationally recognised borders. The decision to continue the defence is that of Ukraine, and of Ukraine alone. As part of the Western community, Finland will continue to support Ukraine and the people of Ukraine as long as it is needed.

However, there is also a danger in the way in which war talk has become commonplace in the past year. It should not be forgotten that every day that the war is going on means death of people. Continued war will not bring sustainable security to anyone. Only peace can do that.

Even in times like these, we must be able to and dare to talk about peace. It is certainly not about appeasement of an aggressor who blatantly violates international law. It is not about being gullible, it is not about being soft, it is not about being naive. It is not about us losing our preparedness. It is about the ultimate goal being to bring about peace, to stop the killing. That is where all wars end in due course.

There is reason to explore conditions for peace also beyond the war front. It is through diplomacy that space is created for these seeds of peace. That is why I have welcomed the efforts of French President Macron and German Chancellor Scholz to maintain a dialogue, or at least the possibility of one, also with Moscow. Peace is such an important goal that we should spare no effort to achieve it. Peace is worth all efforts, even those that turn out to be futile. That too is national defence.

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Dear National Defence Course participants,

When I last spoke at a similar event in autumn 2018, I said that I knew from my own experience the scale of the challenge that awaits you here. This will certainly the case this time, too. But perhaps now it is even clearer how important things are putting you on the spot. I would like to wish you a very rewarding course in national defence.

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