teleSUR, 9 September 2014 **** Front Page

Finland – A Neutral Peacemaker Extraordinaire

By Bruno Jäntti

Finnish could not reward the Israeli arms industry for Israel's military aggression.

Most states tend to harbor certain convenient beliefs on the nature of their foreign policy and place in the world. In Israel, for example, it is all about defending the land of milk and honey from constant danger and existential threats. Israel needs to remain the most militarized state in the world since the Arabs only understand the language of force. The EU is full of inexplicable anti-Israel sentiment, if not anti-Semitism. So are all those hair-splitting human rights organizations, not to speak of the Palestine solidarity movement. Even the UN is always after the tiny Jewish state.

The US is the guardian of global virtue. Not only does the US, by definition, defend what's right and just, the US has been assigned the unique task of keeping it all together. The world is a dangerous, complex and unpredictable neighborhood. Thank God we all have Washington maintaining order, promoting the rule of law, fostering democratic principles, championing human rights, but also acting tough when needs be - that's what land of the free, home of the brave is all about.

The notion of Russian exceptionalism is no less flabbergasting. One could go down a long list of such exotic self-images. Indeed, various kind of nationalistic delusions are not easy to rank on the basis of their accuracy, that is the lack thereof. Russian, Israeli and American versions of chauvinistic disposition share some common characteristics. But theirs are not the only forms of nationalistic fantasies.

Enter the Nordic countries. The bastions of egalitarianism, free and top notch education and tireless conflict resolution. I will focus on the case of Finland through a particular political campaign that I've been involved in for some five years.

In 2009, I founded ICAHD Finland, the Finnish branch of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions headed by the renowned political activist and anthropologist Jeff Halper. The same year, I decided that a campaign in Finland was needed to first bring attention to the existence of arms trade between Finland and Israel and then to freeze that trade. Our campaign was launched in early 2010.

Years of campaigning on a specific political goal have educated me on the decision-making process within the Finnish state bureaucracy. Here's a rough picture: Finland has conducted trade in military hardware and technology with Israel for a total of some $ 285 million and the trade will in all likelihood continue in the near future. It is possible that the actual figure is higher, but $ 285 million can be proven from public, yet not very publicized, sources.

The bulk of the trade consists of imports from Israel. Finland has exported some military equipment to Israel, however, this has been relatively small in scale. For Finland, the rationale behind the affinity for Israeli military technology is not based on the understanding that the Finnish army needs the best equipment which, in some cases, means Israeli equipment.

Putting faith in international law remaining thoroughly impotent and dysfunctional also in the future, hence being quite candid and forthcoming, Israeli arms companies cannot get enough of flaunting their cooperation and partnership with the Israeli military. Whereas prospects for prosecuting Israeli war criminals remain slim, individual states could of course exercise rudimentary decency and not reward the Israeli arms industry for Israel's military aggression. Finland, for example, could quite easily adopt such a course of action. But the Finnish government and military pursue different plans.

Let us take a look at the standard depiction of what Finland is all about. The following quote is from a New York Times article on Martti Ahtisaari winning the Nobel Peace Prize: “Part of the style of his diplomacy lies in the longstanding reputation of Nordic countries such as Finland for a studied neutrality in the disputes of others, underpinned by sympathy for underdogs.”

That might indeed be “the longstanding reputation”, commonplace in Finland and abroad. And as far as biased perceptions go, that is probably not the most dishonest of them. Having said that, the above description doesn't quite capture the full picture.

In 2011, I debated Jouko Tuloisela, a prominent official in Ministry of Defence [MOD]. Tuloisela has been among the key figures making the decisions to seal one deal after the other with Israel's weapons manufacturers. Our debate was a public event and it drew a packed audience.

Tuloisela stressed that “as for politics, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland [MFA] is the institution that defines the foreign policy approach regarding the procurement and, if needs be, they [MFA] guide us [MOD] on these matters.”

A high official from the MOD emphasizing on record that the foreign policy deliberation on procuring military equipment from abroad falls under the mandate of the MFA. Fair enough.

This was in 2011. What has ensued is a somewhat tragicomic, ongoing multiyear period: the MFA claims that procurement of military equipment is an MOD affair while the MOD says that foreign policy considerations are part of the MFA mandate.

In other words, the MFA and the MOD are both reluctant to take responsibility for the Finnish-Israeli arms trade. I have to admit, that is a little peculiar. We are talking about a basic form of international trade that is being conducted openly by the Finnish authorities. We are also talking about hundreds of millions of US dollars of taxpayers' money.

Instead of providing the usual mundane, bureaucratic, yet relatively forthcoming response, the two relevant ministries are  still , after a number of years, engaged in awkward attempts to evade responsibility for the trade. Back in 2009, I was prepared for great many things, but I didn't see this one coming.

When I was taking a closer look at how the MFA portrays the Finnish foreign policy, I bumped into the following:

"Finland promotes human rights actively everywhere in the world. Human rights are among the priorities in Finland's foreign and security policy and they are addressed in all sectors consistently and with initiative. Transparency and cooperation with the civil society form the baseline for both Finnish and international human rights policy."

The quote is from a the MFA briefing titled "Human rights and Finland's foreign policy”. Our organization has grown quite fond of that quote. In other words, Finland conducts arms trade with Israel for hundreds of millions of US dollars, pours big money into the pockets of Israeli weapons companies which directly benefit from, and are complicit in, Israel's egregious occupation policies while the MFA and MOD both belittle their responsibility for the trade.

What is one to make of this? Is the obvious conclusion that Finland “promotes human rights actively everywhere in the world” and that “human rights -- are addressed in all sectors consistently and with initiative”?

Due to constant campaigning, there has been gradual improvement in the level of awareness of the existence of the Finnish-Israeli arms trade among the Finnish general public. Besides this positive development, one can also notice something different. Whereas in the press and popular culture of most EU countries there exists a tradition of discussing and critiquing the foreign policy of their respective governments, such a tradition is at best fledgeling in Finland.

Foreign affairs are of course discussed in the Finnish media, however, the more specific, and at times more pertinent, question of the role of Finland in international politics is addressed much less. What proactive steps should the Finnish government undertake regarding the Israeli occupation and apartheid regime in the Palestinian territories? What specific courses of action should Finland propose in Brussels for other EU member states and the union as a whole regarding Israel-Palestine? Such questions are very rarely asked.

One factor that has contributed to the underdeveloped state of domestic discourse on Finland's role in the world has to do with the deep-seated perception brought up above. The notion of Finland being a conflict solver, with “studied neutrality in the disputes of others, underpinned by sympathy for underdogs” (as the New York Times puts it), besides its inaccuracy, serves as an effective buffer for critiquing Finnish foreign policy. Here Finland differs from countries like the US, Russia, Israel and many others. Whatever one might think about the internal debate in Israel about Israel's role in the world, how often do we hear an Israeli claiming that Israel is a conflict solver which always prefers peaceful means over military means, which promotes human rights everywhere all the time. Nor is such a claim prevalent in the US nor in Russia.

Hence, albeit our campaign to end all forms of Finnish-Israeli arms trade has gained and keeps gaining considerable support, we also elicit some confusion among many Finns who are, in principle, receptive towards our advocacy work. The confusion often stems from an overwhelming surprise: how can peace-loving Finland conduct arms trade with Israel for hundreds of million of US dollars?

Soon we will begin a new phase in our campaign. Needless to say, it won't take long until we will be faced with better organized opposition and bigger challenges than the Finns naive thoughts about Finland's role in the world. When it comes to campaigning, it's never a bad idea to keep in mind what Ronald Reagan, something of an activist himself, once said: "while I take inspiration from the past, like most Americans, I live for the future."


The archive: Bruno Jäntti, Middle East


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