From left, Secretary-General of Parliament Antti Pelttari, Speaker of Parliament Jussi Halla-aho, Incumbent President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö and President-elect Alexander Stubb attend Parliament's plenary session during the inauguration of the President of the Republic of Finland in Helsinki, Finland, on March 1, 2024. LEHTIKUVA

Viewpoint
Tools
Typography

Finland is new to NATO’s nuclear alliance. With its legacy of neutrality and diplomacy, the new NATO member has the choice of whether to continue to explore avenues for diplomacy, or whether to turn up the reliance on nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Calling for these warheads to be based in Finland is provocative for threatening a form of nuclear proliferation under the benign term of “nuclear sharing.”

Finland petitioned to become a member NATO in May of 2022 and realized their aim on 7 April 2023. Their accession followed decades of neutrality and nonaligned status. Finland’s 1340 km border with Russia is now boots, barbed wire, and tanks as a function of the military exercises taking place. Finland has shaken free of its self-imposed “Finlandization,” a cautious eastward facing policy adopted throughout the Cold War to avoid antagonizing its neighbor. The indigenous Arctic Sami people can no longer readily roam between Norway, Finland, and Russia as has been their birthright and custom for millennia.

In the current Presidential election cycle, after the nine-candidate run-off election, Finnish citizens were able to choose between Alexander Stubb, representing the National Coalition Party, and Pekka Haavisto, running as an independent, but affiliated with the Green party. Haavisto’s sexuality, combined with voters’ varying degrees of bias rendered the candidate unattractive for up to 45% of conservatives and 30% of liberals, and this dominated the news leading up to election day. This mar in the veneer of Finland’s progressive national identity detracted from other substantive issues:  the war against Russia has eclipsed climate change as the dominating national cause, and Finland has yielded its former diplomatic neutrality for an offensive realist national security posture as part of a NATO nuclear force.

Finland joins NATO with a mixture of understated emotions:  anxiety about Finland’s security, pride in freely expressing national sovereignty, and empathy toward Ukraine’s war against Russia. The public’s overwhelming approval toward joining NATO was well documented in opinion polls following the Russian invasion. Prime Minister Sanna Marin spoke of the importance of not being afraid to bid for NATO accession. Yet Finns were worried about being isolated, like Ukraine, without being a member of the Cold War security alliance. They doubted that the European Union’s Mutual Defense Clause would be a sufficient guarantor of defense assistance were Russia to invade their nation. Finns’ empathy with Ukraine was visceral and clear as the Ukrainian flag dominated Helsinki landmarks, including the train station, unaccompanied by either the Finnish or EU flag. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s words resonated with Finns’ deepest held sentiments, stating that they’d “walked in the Ukrainian shoes” in 1939.

National pride, solidarity, and relief of joining NATO’s security apparatus unify Finns. Thus, the two Presidential candidates seemed close on the key issues of providing ongoing support to Ukraine and standing for the rule of law nationally and internationally. However, with respect to how Finland positions itself within and toward NATO, the two candidates differed. Candidate Haavisto would have kept diplomatic channels open to the Russian president, while Candidate Stubb refuses contact, and has been quick to suspect the Russian Federation of foul play. With respect to NATO’s 2010 adoption of its identity as a nuclear security alliance, Stubb is favorable toward Finland actively participating in nuclear sharing as a host state while Haavisto would have opted for less ambitious participation in NATO nuclear planning. Nuclear sharing entails hosting US B61-12 nuclear gravity bombs which then would come under a nation’s command and control within wartime contexts. Nuclear planning means joining in strategic discussions, and joining in military exercises.

It is highly unlikely that NATO’s command would invite Finland to host nuclear weapons, because US and western European states would actively oppose the idea, and the Alliance deterrent would not be strengthened by such deployments. Neither is it clear that Finland will alter its constitution that prohibits nuclear weapons on its territory. Poland has repeatedly sought to attain nuclear sharing status in order to gain more status within NATO, without any suggestion that NATO deems this warranted. Thus, Stubb’s openness to Finland’s hosting NATO’s nukes may be gratuitous. However, as with Donald Trump’s headline provocation that invites Russia to invade those NATO countries ‘not paying their dues’, regardless of how absurd, still sends powerful signals.

With the battle against climate change to limit emissions to a 2 ºC temperature rise, and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist’s 90 seconds to midnight countdown combined with a new and intensifying arms race, suggestions that Finland participate in “nuclear sharing” are a dangerous distraction. They jibe with an old fashioned “tough guy” masculinity, and embrace nuclear proliferation (NATO has not based nuclear weapons in any new states since the NPT was negotiated in 1967). They fail to grasp the disproportionate nature of the nuclear security dilemma, threatening the survival of billions worldwide to deter a local invasion with conventional arms.

Finland is new to the nuclear security dilemma, and with Stubb’s presidency, celebrates its new-found importance in a security alliance that predated the Warsaw Pact and outlived the collapse of the Soviet Union. Created by the colonial powers Belgium, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States, each with their own struggles to maintain order over subjugated territories, NATO currently represents the wealthiest nations with the highest consumption levels. It is the most powerful alliance the world has ever seen. As well, the leading NATO power, the US, was recently seeking full spectrum military dominance over all nations.  Some viewed this to be humanity’s best hope to relinquish global security needs to the US, which then over time will be the sole remaining dominant superpower. But others point out that this is a fantasy, that the US rivals of China and Russia will never let this happen without sparking World War III. 

NATO membership creates a strong dependency on the United States and its (often inconsistent) foreign policy. Israel is a case in point demonstrating how disproportional force that can be marshalled by a local hegemon, in this case a state with a secret nuclear arsenal. Israel remains outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty widely promoted by the US, yet justifies its military strikes against alleged nuclear facilities in Syria and Iraq, and potentially against Iran, by accusing these states of violating their NPT obligations. President Biden continues to stand by while Israel daily wreaks havoc on Gaza. US allies, including Finland, did not vote for the initial October 2023 United Nations resolution for truce, did co-sponsor the December 2023 humanitarian ceasefire. Finland is purchasing advanced weapons systems from Israel.

Finland has a long and proud history in managing difficult and complex relations involving a far more powerful neighbour, alongside an approach to global politics that recognizes the importance of diplomacy and agreements.  Some believe that it was the 1975 Helsinki Accords that created a process that ended the Cold War.  Now that Finland has joined the NATO nuclear alliance it has a chance to use its experience to emphasise defensive approaches and broad concepts of security that could genuinely strengthen common global security.

Dr. S.M. Amadae, Politics, University of Helsinki and Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, Cambridge University (see recent related publications)

Dr. Paul Ingram, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, Cambridge University

Recent related articles, events, and research projects

  • NATO: One Year In,” Public Panel, University of Helsinki, 13 March, 2024
  • Dynamic Public Support for Finnish Defense Policy, University of Helsinki
  • Advocating Nuclear Disarmament as NATO Members— Lessons from the Past and Possible Routes ahead for Finland and Sweden” by Thomas Jonter, Stockholm University, and Emma Rosengren, Swedish Institute of International Affairs. 2 H-Diplo | Robert Jervis International Security Studies Forum, Policy Roundtable III-2, NATO and Nuclear Disarmament, 9 February 2024
  • Top gear security: Finns’ expectations for NATO membership”
    SM Amadae, H Wass, M Hentunen, J Tukiainen, A Weckman, M Laine
    NATOpoll Policy Brief 1, University of Helsinki, 2023.
  • Guarantees for multifold security concerns: Finns’ expectations for security and defense policy in in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential elections
    SM Amadae, H Wass, J Eloranta, T Forsberg, M Hentunen, I Käihkö, M Laine, J Lehtinen, J Tukiainen, L Valkama, J Vuorelma, A Weckman, NATOpoll Policy Brief 2, University of Helsinki, 2023

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 position of The Helsinki Times. This column is not fact checked and HT is not be responsible for any possible inaccurate or incorrect statement in this article.

HT

Partners