23 August 2004

A country without security problems

By Tapani Lausti

Considering that Finland is a country without obvious military security problems, it is remarkable how many local commentators write as if they actually cherished the idea that sooner or later serious threats might emerge. Of course, the argument is largely ideological and used to advocate Finland's membership in NATO.

The beauty of the argument is that it works backwards as well. The same commentators paint the past in gloomy colours. Here the argument is that Finnish independence was under serious threat from the Soviet Union which was exploring all possible methods to make Finland go communist. This possibility is often exaggerated to the point where the Finns are supposed to feel happily liberated from some kind of near-occupation by its eastern neighbour. A natural corollary to this would be to now finally become a full member of the Western camp, i.e. NATO.

In view of Finland's history, it is obvious that relations with Russia play a central role in Finns' security fears. This makes a rational analysis of security questions often difficult. Pertti Joenniemi, a Finnish scholar working at the Danish Institute for International Studies, thinks that the history of Finnish-Russian relations in the 20th century has made the country's security an integral part of nationalist thinking. Consequently it is hard to see how much the world has changed.

Joenniemi has often in the past used the Nordic countries as an example of a case where no questions of security arise. No one can imagine any of the Nordic countries threatening another militarily. It is simply a non-issue. For most people this is easy to accept but in other aspects of Finnish history it is difficult for many Finns to see that "the drama is over", as Joenniemi puts it. In his view, "security in an immediate and traditional sense is not any more a problem for Finland itself".

According to Joenniemi, this is acknowledged officially by government statements saying that Finland has no "security deficiency" or that "the country's security status is now better than ever before". Russia is now seen as "a neighbour" or even as "a partner". Even the pro-NATO camp avoids using the old expression "enemy".

Joenniemi concludes: "For the first time a possibility is looming that in the national context one can think beyond security. The whole theme can be dropped from nationally important questions and politics can be based on other considerations. Risks and economic competition come to the forefront as concepts giving sense and content to politics." ("Suomella ei ole turvallisuusongelmaa" [Finland has no security problem], Helsingin Sanomat, 21 November 2003)

Unfortunately Joenniemi's analysis has not had much influence. The debate grinds on with all the old suppositions. And if a potential threat from Russia does not suffice to make the Finns run for cover under US protection, fear of terrorism is used as an added reason to give up "dated" positions of non-alignment. Muslim extremists, according to this argument, will not differentiate between "Western democracies".

Here again one finds a strange enthusiasm for supposedly being hated by extremists in the Islamic world. Some more impatient commentators declare that they feel shame if Finland cannot follow the logic of its membership of the EU as a security entity and give up all talk of non-alignment. Not sharing security with other democratic countries against terrorist threat is cowardice, the argument goes.

Thus the idea that terrorists are motivated by hatred of freedom and democracy has been accepted. This is strange in view of the fact that even CIA agents seem to know that much of the Islamic world "resents the US not for what it is, but for what it does — supporting Israel almost uncritically, propping up corrupt regimes in the Arab world, garrisoning troops on the Saudi peninsula near Islam's most holy sites to safeguard access to cheap oil". (We could have stopped him by Julian Borger, The Guardian, 20 August 2004)

Let's try to recap. During the Cold War Finland managed to maintain its neutrality in spite of being a neighbour of a superpower which occasionally tried to draw the country closer to the Kremlin's strategic plans. Now, however, the pro-NATO lobby wants the country to join a military alliance led by a distant superpower which at the same is the world's leading imperialist power with questionable morals and dangerous policies. The superpower which supposedly guarantees the safety of "democratic countries" is actually one of the main sources of instability in the world.

All talk about transatlantic community and commonly shared values only tries to hide this reality. What is needed is serious thinking about Finland's role in the world. If a militarily nonaligned small nation has any contribution to make, one would expect it to mean distancing the country from policies which seek to preserve the West's hold on world's resources and an horrifically inequal trade system. It should also distance itself clearly from the US's destabilising policies in the Middle East and the Gulf. It should stay away from the phony "war on terrorism" and seek a world dialogue where criticism of the West's self-serving policies is allowed.

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