Russian invasion of Ukraine shocked Finnish people’s sense of security. Having had their own wars with Russia before, Finns started to picture Russian tanks rolling down the streets in Helsinki. Iodine tablets were sold out from drug stores, queues for passport renewals were prolonged and record number of Finns signed up for military training.
Having a 1 340 km long border with Russia and traumatic experiences from history, the momentary panic of the ordinary people is understandable.
Unfortunately, the media and political leaders and representatives were not immune from this hysteria either. On the contrary, those politicians and media outlets who had long been pushing Finland into NATO saw this as an opportunity to beat the drums and push their agenda. Historically, the majority of Finns have never supported joining NATO. Until know. Pro-NATO parties want to use this “shell shocked” status of the nation to expedite the submission of Finland’s NATO application, before blood returns to people’s heads.
The Greens and Social Democratic parties have traditionally opposed joining NATO, but that has changed quickly. Finland’s foreign minister Pekka Haavisto (Greens) said on Saturday, that there is little point in delaying the Finnish bid for NATO as the threshold for Finland seeking NATO membership may grow in the future if Finland does not attempt to join now. Haavisto is right about the threshold raising, mainly because citizens’ support will fade away as the war hysteria wears off, not because NATO will hesitate accepting Finland.
This false perception, that the Ukraine war is a good opportunity to join NATO, is shared by many Finnish politicians across party lines. A momentum which could have been used for novel progress, is being used to trap finland in the past, this time as a participant in the new cold war. This could have been a great opportunity for the EU to strengthen its own mutual security commitment and decrease reliance on the United States, and NATO expansion, which is a main source of friction and conflict as we witness.
Ignoring the years long history of what led to the invasion of Ukraine, media and NATO enthusiasts have been drawing parallels between Ukraine and Finland and exaggerated the Russian threat. Media and twitterati made a big fuss about a violation of Finland’s airspace and a cyberattack, both of which have happened several times before and on regular basis way before the Ukrain war and the present NATO debate.
In realty Ukraine is a totally different case and there is no reason for Russia to show aggression towards Finland, unless Finland provokes Russia with bad decisions. The Ukraine war could have been easily prevented if NATO would have engaged in deescalation and given Russia security guarantees, but back then and several times during the invasion chances of negotiated settlement have been rejected.
Today, while visiting Kyiv, US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said: “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine. It has already lost a lot of military capability… we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability,” openly admitting that the Ukrain war is about weakening Russia and degrading its military, not about Ukrainians or their rights or their wellbeing. This is an admission to this being a proxy war where the US is determined to fight Russia to the last Ukrainan.
Unfortunately this thinking, which could end up being extremely costly to Ukraine, and to us the citizens of the European Union, is in line with similar comments by top EU diplomat Josep Borrell, who also emphasised in a meeting with Zelenskiy in Kyiv, that the faith of Ukraine will be determined militarily.
One argument for the opinion shift in favour of NATO, is that Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed the security landscape of Europe. Even though this invasion can not be defended and should be condemned, we can not deny the fact that it is a reaction to the change in landscape which started with NATO expansion and the 2014 colour revolution in Ukraine. Adding more countries to NATO will just make that geopolitical change worse and pushes the security landscape more off balance.
Some NATO supporters in Finland and internationally have claimed that NATO is a defensive alliance and for that reason, Russia should not be concerned. This claim is utterly false. NATO has not had a single defensive war since its establishment. On the contrary, the alliance, or collection of its members have attacked several countries with tragic consequences. Most importantly, Russia does not see NATO as a peace-keeping coalition, but as an existential threat.
There are two main arguments in support of joining NATO, that it would deter Russia from attacking Finland and if that happens, NATO will come to Finland’s assistance. Both of these arguments are unfounded.
Article 5 of the military alliance, which states that attack on one NATO member is considered an attack on all members has only been invoked once, after the September 11 attacks. Even though this was a terrorist attack by Saudi terrorists, the United States used NATO to attack Afghanistan.
The result was the catastrophic 20 years of futile conflict in the world’s poorest nation, leading to the disgraceful defeat of the United States and NATO and a hasty withdrawal which betrayed millions of Afghans who believed in the Western propaganda. Before that, NATO bombarded Serbia in 1999, and later Libya in 2011. Libya is still a mess, may never become a stable country, and has become a main route for human trafficking into the EU.
Would NATO, or specifically the United States go to war with Russia and start a nuclear conflict over Finland?
Back in 2018, when Montenegro had just joined NATO, Donald Trump was asked by Tucker Carlsson in a television interview: “Why would my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack” to which Trump responded "I've asked the same question.” He went on to say that Montenegro is a tiny country with "very strong people, who may get aggressive and congratulations, you're in World War III.” He added: "It's very unfair because they aren't even paying and we are protecting them.”
NATO officials soon scrambled to reassert the alliance's collective defence commitment. However, it is obvious, that if the United States decides to sit out a conflict between a NATO member and a power like Russia or China, other NATO members will not react either.
Even though the present administration may think differently, it is probable, that Mr. Trump or someone with similar views regarding Article 5 commitments would be in charge of the US in two or 6 years.
At the time Montenegro (population 620,000) was contributing more troops per capita to the war in Afghanistan than the US.
This brings us to the other edge of the sword. NATO is primarily the foreign legion of the United States and has been used mainly for the purpose of protecting the US hegemony. Once a NATO member, it will be much more likely that Finnish soldiers will be defending US interests in far away countries than American soldiers fighting Russians on Finnish soil. It will be more likely that Finnish F35s will be bombing an African or Middle Eastern country, than US fighter jets attacking Russia over Finland. Finland’s involvement in NATO interventions on the other hand, could make Finland a target of international terrorism.
The most probable scenario in case Finland would find itself in a military conflict with Russia would be an Ukraine model where NATO and other western countries would pump Finland with weapons and supply, but this would happen with or without NATO membership. Maybe NATO planes would go as far as striking Russian military targets inside Finland, but it’s hard to image that they would attack Moscow, igniting a nuclear war. Russia could inflict lots of damage without crossing the border. The cruse missiles hitting Odessa last weekend were fired from the skies over the Caspian Sea.
The notion that NATO will make Finland more secure is a fallacy. Finland will not be able to choose her neighbours and we are stuck with Russia in our eastern border for the foreseeable future. Anyone who has had conflicts with their neighbour knows what a nasty situation that is to be in. Finland has been able to build good neighbourly relations with Russia for 70 years.
Joining NATO will throw all that into the bin.
Military incursion is only one and the most extreme example of a Russian - Finnish conflict. Russia, could use all other elements of hybrid warfare agains Finland if the good neighbourly relations go to wast, and NATO membership will have no use.
Flood of refugees, of the kind which happened during the first months of 2016, and recently by Belarus against Latvia and Poland can be costly to the Finnish image and economy. Both of those cases were solved only through mutual agreement and negotiations with Russia and Belarus respectively.
Even though Finland is preparing for this scenario by changing its asylum regulations, that would not help when thousands of trafficked refugees would show up at the border, or even worse, assisted by Russian military intelligence use the unpatrolled areas of the long border to enter the country. Experts estimate, that addition of mere 100 000 people to Finland’s social security beneficiaries would collapse the welfare system.
Cyberattacks could also intensify and cause a range of problems for Finland, some of which could be disabling and disruptive to the infrastructure, and others could turn out to be costly.
Concentration of army bases and troops close to Finnish borders and the nuclearisation of the Baltic Sea would force Finland to react, which would mean a spike in the military budget, exhaustion of resources and in a worst case scenario placement of US nuclear weapons on Finland’s soil.
Russia has already demonstrated the ability to jam communications and GPS signals and tested the technology on Finland and Norway, once during NATO exercises. A more frequent use of that technology could cause disruption in aviation and other logistical military and civilian activities.
These are just a few examples of hybrid warfare activities which being a NATO member will be totally useless to mitigate. Undoubtedly Russia has wider strategic plans for hybrid war against Finland and Sweden if they join NATO.
Security is not only about conventional warfare. Neighbour’s disputes can become ugly and Finland could become even less secure inside NATO. Lack of cooperation between two neighbours coud affect a wide range of environmental and economic issues with direct effect on our lives. Joining NATO in rush could turn out to be a historic mistake, which unfortunately is being fast-tracked by some decision makers, either due to hysteric fears or unfounded beliefs.
As Erkki Tuomioja, a veteran politician and former foreign minister of Finland told NPR news, a huge amount of emotions and “war psychosis” is involved in the Finnish NATO debate. Tuomioja, a seasoned politician, thinker and pacifist has also suggested a defence alliance between Finland and Sweden as a second option, which is a good substitute for the escalatory NATO membership.
A fundamental characteristic of strong and wise leaders is that they don’t make decisions out of emotions or fear and in haste. Unfortunately for Finland, we lack those leaders now when we need them badly.
What we need now for our fragile post pandemic world is deescalation and demilitarisation, not more arms, new arms races and a new cold war.
Editor in Chief