Visiting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) and President of Finland Sauli Niinistö during their joint press conference after their meeting during the visit of The North Atlantic Council's (NAC) in Helsinki, Finland on Monday, October 25, 2021.


As the Finnish Government launches a process to consider the nation's NATO membership, while the frightening news from the war in Ukraine floods the media, all of us living in the country need to stop and think about how we got into this situation and where to turn now.

Perhaps we also need to reflect on why we have not sought to join NATO earlier.

This is not the first time Russia has invaded a neighbouring country in recent times. We might mention the invasion of Afghanistan for which many Western nations boycotted the Moscow Olympics. But not Finland.

Then we might mention the invasion of Georgia, the occupation of Czechoslovakia. - even the bloody suppressions of pro-independence uprisings in Chechenia and Hungary.

Admittedly all these had their unique historical and geopolitical circumstances. However, there were two things common to them all:

A. They were events that shocked and upset many Finns when they occurred.

B. No Finnish government ever even suggested we should consider joining NATO because of them.

Why now?

The suffering and deaths caused by the Russian invasion and the flight of over four million refugees are certainly extremely upsetting. More so because of our modern access to graphic coverage in mainstream and social media. The public's empathetic response to the victims of war is understandable and commendable.

But this cannot be the main reason why the government now wants to consider joining NATO. The past conflicts were also frightening in their day and the invaders were often even crueler.

An oft cited explanation for past stability, the doctrine espoused by President Paasikivi after the last war - adopted by his successor, President Urho Kekkonen, that maintaining cordial relations with the country's biggest neighbour was the cornerstone of Finnish foreign relations. Finland should always remain a non-aligned nation between East and West. From crisis to crisis this was a precept repeated by both Russian and Finnish leaders that kept peace on the border.

What is different this time? Ostensibly nothing. The border remains quiet and Russia has not made any invasion threats except for Putin’s warnings about supporting Ukraine's war effort and joining NATO, which would have "consequences". This is hardly different from previous conflicts. But Finland stayed out of them, and the long peace went on.

In less than two weeks, the government of Sanna Marin changed all that. First with arms shipments to Ukraine and now by beginning this process to consider NATO membership. All the textbooks about the virtues of Finland's non-alignment, its internationally recognised role as peacekeeper and the convenor of the Helsinki Conference which created detente between East and West - all gone out the window with hardly a headline from the lemming media ready to eat out of Marin's and President Niinisto's hands.

The Defence Security Report leased to Finland’s parliament before Easter only obscures the government's reasoning for a worrisome political retreat. The sudden turnaround in arms shipments to war zones is not even discussed. Nor is the growing danger to peace and security globally due to illegal spying and cyber activity by the U.S. and its NATO allies, the unilateral withdrawal by the US from nuclear weapons limiting treaties with Iran and Russia, not to speak of the growing number of illegal invasions.

The security of the world, and particularly of Europe, seems dependent on a coordinated outcry against these dangerous activities by non-aligned countries. It is exactly the wrong time to be joining some of the worst offenders.

Why NATO now? This question cries out to be asked but the Finnish media is hardly asking it- let alone providing a critique.

In 2015 during and after the Maidan crisis which led to the ousting of a Ukrainian President favouring good relations with the Russians, the US Congress and the Canadian Government, both Nato countries, decided not to provide weapons to elements of the Ukraine military, like the Azov Battalion and Right Sector, because of neo-Nazi's propaganda and racist attacks... The then US Undersecretary of State, Victoria Nuland, was cited by many credible sources (like the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute) as being the key manipulator in the 2014 coup to remove Ukraine's president which led many of the country's Russians to flee to Donetsk and Luhansk in the east which both subsequently declared independence. This began a civil war in Ukraine and may have shocked NATO countries like the U.S. and Canada to stop their arms support to right-wing terrorist elements- although in 2015 the US changed its mind. Apparently getting at Russia was the priority.

Did Finland set any restrictions to exclude children or self-identified neo-Nazis from receiving the arms it was sending to Ukraine? Restrictions similar to those which two NATO countries had previously adopted after what was obviously considerable intelligence work. Apparently not.

Finland had just agreed to purchase five dozen modern fighter jets from the leading NATO power. Hardly a member of parliament, particularly on the government side, was able to avoid the crowd of US military lobbyists which swooped down on them before the deal was closed. One might suspect all these pro-NATO visitors, could have something to do with the government's willingness to now begin considering joining up.

Do we really want to be mixed up in arms shipments which might get in the hands of neo-Nazis- and apparently even child fighters- in a war apparently started by pro-Nato spooks and clandestine diplomacy manoeuvres? Just one example of the kinds of intrigues and illegalities carried out worldwide by the lead NATO power and other members, as exposed by the revelations of Assange and Snowden.

All signs indicate the trouble in Ukraine is to a large extent due to the machinations of the US and its NATO allies based on a doctrine of unrestricted expansion. And in many other places besides which they have invaded and bombed at a great cost in human suffering- like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya to name a few. Such unprecedented and extensive invasions set the stage for a new era of military violations of the UN Charter. Putin was clearly taking notes the while.

Is this the sort of league Finland wants to get involved in for security reasons? Particularly now when Russia has militantly reacted to NATO expansion and neo-Nazism- even if these reasons seem quite exaggerated?

Might not continue humanitarian help and committed peace diplomacy- something which seems in short supply right now- offer a better way? Standing up for peace has always required courage but of an altogether different order than sabre-rattling.

Is this uncertain and risky choice to cozy up to NATO really preferable to seventy years of peace and security based on a policy of non-alignment and peace-building during which Finns have prospered and for which they have gained the respect of the world?

Ahti Tolvanen

General Secretary, Finnish Foreign Scholars Forum r.y.

Retired lecturer in social sciences at Helsinki University

Formerly a journalist at Thomson Reuters

This is a "Viewpoint" opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of The Helsinki Times. This column is not fact-checked and HT is not responsible for any possible inaccurate or incorrect statement in this article.