Relations are often more important than weapons. A Finnish KFOR soldier chatting with some Albanian girls in Lipljan, Kosovo in August 1999.
"Finland can best promote stable development in northern Europe in the prevailing conditions by refraining from participation in military alliances, nor have we any security deficit that would make joining NATO an appropriate move for us," says Lieutenant-General Ilkka Hollo, Chief of Operations at the Defence Staff. Finland has limited her cooperation with NATO to crisis management, search and rescue services and humanitarian operations. Lieutenant-General Hollo believes that membership of the European Union in itself also adds credibility to Finland's security policy. The Union has its own foreign and security programme, which Finland has a hand in shaping. On the other hand, only membership of a military alliance provides a military guarantee of security. That is a point that Finnish advocates of NATO membership have emphasised from time to time.
Since 1994 Finland has been closely involved in the NATO Partnership for Peace programme, which is open to all and has the purpose of increasing stability and security in Europe. Its international forms of work were seen as suiting Finland: military peacekeeping exercises, search and rescue exercises, training for humanitarian operations, courses and seminars. "They also include developing planning of security structures and increasing general openness," continues Hollo. "Another name for it would be harmonisation. Many countries have taken the view that these measures could eventually lead to full NATO membership. However, that has not been and is not Finland's goal. For us PfP is a form of cooperation that increases confidence and security. It also improves our practical capability in peacekeeping operations, as experience in Bosnia and Kosovo has shown."
From the eastern bear hug into the Brussels embrace
The Finnish discourse on foreign and security policy has become wide open since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Earlier, the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between Finland and her eastern neighbour had provided for a joint defence against an aggressor in the event of an extreme situation arising. The Soviet Union did on a couple of occasions call for the consultations that the Treaty provided for in relation to this, but Finland managed to avoid ever having to engage in practical military cooperation with her superpower neighbour.
Finland used to assure the West of her neutrality and the East of her friendship. Speeches on the subject of foreign policy had to fit into this pattern and the language in which they were couched came to be called a "liturgy". In the West, and to the chagrin of the Finns, Finland was long regarded as belonging to the Soviet Union's sphere of interest, even though she was a Nordic democracy and not at all part of the communist camp. When the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Finland in 1989 and in his official speech described the country as neutral, his recognition caused general satisfaction. The Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance ceased to be in January 1992.
As a member of the European Union, Finland is clearly part of the democratic West, and the new status that the country has chosen for itself has boosted national self-esteem. The nation has also learnt to conduct its discourse on foreign and security policy in a natural manner as part of independent decision making.
Relationship with NATO always a theme
NATO's military and political role has changed fundamentally since the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, East Germany, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Hungary) was disbanded in 1991. What attitude to take to the alliance has been one of the most talked-about themes in the security-policy sphere in Finland during the past decade. Opinion polls have been conducted in rapid succession and the bombing during the Kosovo crisis led to a sharp decline in the number of people supporting membership. When the subject arises, Finnish political leaders always emphasise that membership is not currently an option for Finland. Yet the question keeps cropping up year after year and the opposite view is also expressed. Some yearn for a NATO umbrella, most believe cooperation along the present lines is the best solution.
In March 1999 General Gustav Hägglund was one of the commanders-in-chief from Partnership for Peace countries who gathered for a meeting in Brussels. In an interview with the newspaper Ilta-Sanomat on 11.3 he said that, although some changes still needed to be made on mainly the technical and tactical levels, Finland was "militarily ready for NATO membership in all essential respects. To improve our interoperability with NATO we have carried through changes in the Defence Forces. For instance, we recently changed the tactical symbols used to mark forces on maps; now we and NATO speak the same `language'." According to General Hägglund, the messages being received from NATO all boil down to the same thing: "The door is open. It is up to you to decide when to step in." At the same time, however, he points out that Finland's participation in training relates only to crisis management, not collective defence.
Partnership for Peace deepening cooperation
Finland is participating in nearly all sub-areas of the Partnership for Peace programme. Finns attend dozens of seminars and other events each year, ensuring that useful and up-to-date information and skills are also obtained to help meet national defence needs. That is not to say that Finland's role in PfP cooperation is entirely that of pupil; the country also has a great deal to give. For example, the Finns have been gaining experience of peacekeeping since 1956 and have contributed more than 40,000 personnel to various operations. "We really have a lot to export to even strong military powers," emphasises Lieutenant General Hollo. "The feedback that we have received has made very enjoyable listening."
The Finnish Embassy to NATO in Brussels opened in spring 1998. There Ambassador Leif Blomqvist and his twenty or so subordinates handle both normal diplomatic business and all the work that lively PfP cooperation involves.
EU's limited crisis-management capacity
It is an embarrassment to Europe and especially the EU that the continent needs American military power to sort out its own crises. However, the truth has had to be looked in the eye. "Because the USA is part of it, NATO is currently the only military community that can lead and conduct operations of the kind that we have now seen in Yugoslavia," says Ilkka Hollo with soldierly unambiguity. "It is the only alliance with the ability to deploy strategic forces and a command system facilitating the operation of a large crisis-management organisation."
The first steps towards a common defence policy for the Union were taken at the summit in Cologne in June 1999. It was decided then that the EU would itself undertake any crisis-management tasks that arose. To be able to do so, it would need to have credible military force at its back. The events in Kosovo have shown that for the moment a credible EU military force means NATO. Other alternatives are still at the germination stage as political solutions.
From Warsaw Pact to NATO
A fact easily overlooked is that also Russia is a NATO peace partner, although its engagement in this category could not be called particularly active in comparison with, say, Finland. Russian forces have taken part in exercises once; as a rule, Russia sends only observers. NATO has been trying to encourage Russia to play a more active role, but so far with meagre results. Under the terms of the charter which NATO and Russia signed in 1997 to define their relationship, they have established a Permanent Joint Council to serve as a consultation and cooperation forum.
The former eastern bloc countries Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are NATO's newest members. Their accession has increased the alliance's regional credibility. In Lieutenant General Hollo's view, it will take years to transform the military structures that were part of the Warsaw Pact for so long and develop them to the point where they harmonise with those of NATO. "No studies have been carried out, of course, but Finland's capacity for cooperation in crisis management bears comparison with anything thanks to our long experience of peacekeeping and frequent participation in PfP activities. Where crisis management is concerned, our forces should be ready to enter the picture as quickly as a plug is pushed into a socket. Finland has signed up for the Planning and Review Process (PARP), which concerns international crisis management and forces earmarked to take part in it: a mechanised battalion, an engineer battalion, an infantry battalion and two naval vessels. Of these forces, most of the first-mentioned is deployed in the SFOR operation, the engineer battalion was in the IFOR operation and the infantry battalion (part of the Finnish Rapid Deployment Force) is taking part in the KFOR operation. The PARP does not include air units, but some of the measures that our Air Force has taken make it possible for NATO transport planes to use Finnish airfields. Of course, all of this is strictly confined to crisis management."
The Nordic countries also cooperate in the field of crisis management. Standby forces from Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark have been earmarked for the Nordic Coordinated Arrangement for military Peace Support (NORDCAPS): headquarters personnel, battalions, engineer units and logistics units. This frame of reference has been working well; one example of that is the Bosnia operation, in which a Nordic-Polish brigade served with distinction. The headquarters staff is multinational and each country contributes one battalion.
One example of practical cooperation in training was Nordic Peace 99, an exercise held in Finland in the spirit of PfP in September 1999, A total of 1,900 personnel from Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland took part and observers from Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania attended. The exercise simulated a peacekeeping operation involving both military functions and cooperation with the civil authorities, international humanitarian organisations and other bodies.
The Finnish peacekeeping battalion is busy with the most demanding task in its history to date. It is in Kosovo, serving under NATO command for the second time. Its strength is 760 men and women. In a tense situation where violent outbursts are common, the respect that the Finns enjoy and their experience are money in the bank. The battalion is likely to be there for a long time. When I asked Lieutenant General Hollo how many years he expected the Finns to be in Kosovo, he replied: "It might be more appropriate to ask how many generations of peacekeepers will be needed there."