THE GOVERNMENT of Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) has unveiled its report on changes in the security environment in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, setting the stage for a historic parliamentary debate on whether Finland should seek membership in Nato.
Even though the report does not make any recommendations about the membership, it does portray the membership in a fairly positive light.
Finland and Sweden joining the defence alliance, it states, would promote long-term stability in the Baltic Sea and enhance the deterrence effect of Finnish defence by establishing it as part of the collective defence of Nato.
A Finnish-Swedish defence alliance would neither be comparable to, nor replace Nato membership, according to the report.
“The report forms the basis and foundation for the parliamentary debate,” Minister of Defence Antti Kaikkonen (Centre) outlined in a press conference yesterday, when asked whether the only possible conclusion to draw is that joining Nato would be in the best interests of Finland.
“The Parliament can then assess whether the overtone of the report is correct and whether it agrees with it, disagrees with it or brings some flavour, additional viewpoints to the report.”
Kaikkonen, Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto (Greens) and Minister of the Interior Krista Mikkonen (Greens) commented on the report yesterday in two consecutive press conferences, first in Finnish and Swedish, and later in English.
Foreign journalists were interested particularly in the security assurances that may be available or may have been requested for the possible interim period between application and accession. Haavisto said Nato and its member states have made it “very clear” that the open-door policy is a very important principle that should not exist in name only, acknowledging that membership alone grants the security guarantees set forth in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
“Nato and member states wouldn’t like to come to the situation that this open-door policy does not exist, that somebody prevents countries from applying for Nato membership,” he told.
“Everybody understands that it’ll take some time – some people say 4–12 months – for all [Nato] countries to make their decision about the possible new Nato candidate. There’s this kind of period where it’s very important that Nato countries also understand the risk of that period and do what they can in those circumstances.”
“We don’t use the expression ‘security guarantees’, which are so clearly linked to Nato’s Article 5. It’s obvious that you get those guarantees only when you’re a Nato member,” he added later in response to another question about security assurances.
Finland’s position, he viewed, is also consolidated by the increase in EU security co-operation following the invasion of Ukraine.
“We have seen a huge mobilisation of humanitarian aid, but also military equipment and military aid, to Ukraine. Ukraine is not a EU country, but still the EU has been very capable to mobilise very effectively.”
Haavisto was also asked what a possible Nato presence could look like in Finland, particularly given the alliance’s effort to reinforce its eastern flank.
“It’s too early to go into any of these details,” he said. “I’m sure the Parliament will also, based on this white paper, discuss all kinds of options, but you also have to understand at the same time that you can’t be a little bit in Nato – you are in Nato or you aren’t in Nato. You of course have all the responsibilities, and at the same time you have all the advantages when you’re a member.”
Kaikkonen stated at the Finnish-language press conference that the defence alliance does not offer any light membership plans, even though countries are able to impose limitations on their membership.
“Nato doesn’t have any light versions of membership, but you either are or aren’t a member,” he said. “But I’d say that if we started pursuing membership, I wouldn’t put together too long a list of restrictions to attach to the application.”
Members of the Finnish Parliament are to start analysing the security environment next week. The process will be grounded not only on the report, but also on closed-door expert hearings that expand on the contents of the report, in some cases with classified information.
President Sauli Niinistö on Wednesday reminded YLE that although Finland should be able to make its decision “well before” the Nato summit in Madrid, Spain, in June, the possible ratification process will take several months.
“Even if it was carried out very quickly, it may be that we’re talking about next spring, the eve of the parliamentary elections. This risk is worth taking into consideration,” he added in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat. “The views of parties are important at this stage as they represent continuity in some sense. The intention is nonetheless that we stand by whatever decisions are made now.”
He also viewed that the report is an absolutely critical instrument in the process, as the debate surrounding it should clarify policy-makers and political parties what the application and membership would entail.
Prime Minister Marin similarly viewed yesterday that a decision on whether or not to submit a membership application will be made in weeks, rather than months.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT