November 1998                        

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Neutrality said to leave Finland and Sweden weak in future Europe

The approaching NATO membership of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary will change the basic structure of European geopolitics in a way that will force Finland and Sweden to re-evaluate their traditional neutrality.

This is the conclusion of the highly-esteemed Finnish foreign policy expert and historian Max Jakobson in a report commissioned by the Swedish Ministry of Defence. In his summary of the analysis, published by the Finnish national daily Helsingin Sanomat (22 November 1998), Jakobson says that once the Poles, the Czechs and the Hungarians have established themselves as participants in the decision-making organs of NATO – while simultaneously maintaining reasonable relations with Russia – the Finns and the Swedes will become worried about remaining outside the security organisation.

Jakobson notes that many people think that the current Russian crisis does not make it necessary to re-evaluate the Finnish and Swedish neutrality. Russia being weak, there is no military threat in sight and Russia’s security risks are to be found in the South.

The relieved politician, according to Jakobson, draws the conclusion that since there is no threat, there is no need for military alliance. On the contrary, replies the historian, a military alliance could not be better timed.

In Jakobson’ view this is a primitive way of conducting a debate. He emphasises the need to analyse Finnish and Swedish neutrality in a wider European context. In the current, stable situation neutrality has many advantages, Jakobson concedes. It guarantees good relations with Russia and keeps Germany happy. The Finnish and Swedish governments also claim that their current foreign policies serve the interests of stability in Northern Europe as a whole. Jakobson interprets this to mean that joining NATO would harm the relations with Russia and could provoke Moscow to put pressure against the Baltic countries.

According to Jakobson, however, one should not over-estimate the Finnish and Swedish capacity to influence Russian attitude to the Baltic countries.

"Russian policies in the Baltic represent historical continuity rather than tactical calculations in the current situation. Russia aspires to the position of a great power whether or not Finland and Sweden join NATO.

"Of course, the Finnish and Swedish governments will carefully evaluate the consequences on the neighbouring countries of their security decisions. However, I think it is unwise to tie these decisions to the possible reactions of other states since we have no way to influence them. This would only lead to a situation where Finland and Sweden would become pawns of relations between Russia and the Baltic countries.

"If we presume that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the foreseeable future will not be able to become members of NATO, Finland and Sweden may be stuck in a sub-area of European security system which excludes the United States. Our countries would be partly responsible for the future of the Baltic countries without the support of NATO.

"If we furthermore assume that the United States through NATO will continue to be the guarantor of European security, neutrality for Finland and Sweden would mean that they remained second-class players when decisions on European security are being made. They would  have a place neither inside NATO nor in the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council."

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