Finland and NATO – what lies ahead

-Ritesh Kumar

Finland is a country situated to the northwest of Russia. It’s the focus of attention nowadays along with Sweden, both of which were earlier neutral but now have shown an interest in joining the US led NATO in light of the current military operations of Russia in Ukraine. Here, we are going to talk about the history of Russia-Finland relations, Finnish relations with both the blocs during the cold war, reasons for its neutrality and its historical relations with EU and NATO.

The Winter War(1939)

Finland always wanted and had good relationship  with Sweden . Also France and the UK, especially after right wing government came in power post the civil war in 20s. Now if we look at the map,the Russian city of St.Petersburg is pretty close to Russia-Finland border and the Gulf of Finland. The then USSR wary that other powers might use this proximity to attack Soviet territory proposed a territory swap with Finland to make St.Petersburg safe ,which Finland refused. This ultimately culminated in the Winter War in which after initial losses and setbacks ,the Soviets started gaining the upper hand gradually and before the end of hostilities, had gained huge swaths of territories inside Finland along with the whole gulf of Finland.

Finland lost and signed a treaty later . Nobody came to rescue. Sweden openly said no intervention and declared neutrality. France and the UK couldn’t decide on a combined response either. Since the the Finns have adopted a careful policy of balancing between both poles and remaining neutral in principle.

The Cold War

During the Cold war, Finland never formally joined either sides, neither the NATO nor the Warsaw pact. It also never joined the European Union but kept its trade window with the west open in the form of FINEFTA (Finland-European Free Trade Association). To balance this, they also made a trade pact with the Soviet block named COMECON(Council For Mutual Economic Assistance). Between these two, Finland focussed its attention more towards FINEFTA. Further Finland also rejected the Marshall Plan of US which was setup to provide financial assistance to a war torn Europe after WW2. A neutrality treaty was signed between the USSR and finland.

1990 – Fall of the USSR and joining the EU

Finland ultimately joined the EU in 1995 taking advantage of a then weaker Russia. Following that, Finland also became a member of NATO’s partnership for peace programme made to create ties between NATO and non-NATO Euro-Atlantic states. This enabled Finland to share intel with NATO countries and take part in exercises which happen regularly even in Finland. Further the EU agreement also contains a mutual defence clause against armed aggression and terrorist attack, promising retaliation from member states according to the UN charter guidelines. It’s officially not NATO but it’s still there.

Ukraine incident and its effect on finnish popular opinion

Before the  start of Russian military operations in Ukraine, the popular opinion in Finland regarding joining NATO was practically nonexistent. During the Crimea annexation in 2014, only 20% people were in support of joining NATO. Even during the Russian buildup in january this year, only 28% Finns supported joining NATO. But all this changed after Russian forces entered Ukraine in late February. In March 53% finns were in support of joining the NATO. This prompted the government to ultimately apply for a NATO membership which was followed by an application from Sweden.

Obstacles in the path – turkish and croatian objections along with hungarian uneasiness

As NATO charter requires unanimous decision over inclusion of new member in NATO and not a majority vote ,any one member can ruin the prospect of Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Turkey,Croatia and Hungary have been more vocal about it with Turkey especially raising allegations towards both Sweden and Finland of harbouring Kurdish insurgency elements.

Turkey alleges that Sweden and Finland not only harbour these insurgents but also let them have a free reign to influence terrorist activities against Turkey ,in which according to Turkey it has lost around 40 thousands citizens in bomb blasts and other attacks throughout the country. Turkey might also be concerned about its loss of strategic privilege if Sweden and Finland join NATO, negating its monopoly of providing the only naval front capable to mount an attack on Russia. And Turkey is a heavy weight in NATO provided it’s the 2nd largest military in NATO after US and has been a very active member since 1950s.

Croatia can also hold the expansion hostage citing Bosnian Croats plight in Bosnia-Herzegovina where it alleges that Bosniak majority government is usurping the rights of ethnic Croats which the three prospective applicants of NATO, don’t pay attention to, especially Sweden and Finland.

Hungary’s President Orban has already said they will do anything to avert a war between NATO and Russia , stating it is highly adversarial for any further provocations towards russia. They are likely to go along with Turkey and Croatia when it comes to vetoing the prospective members.

It will be interesting to see what new geopolitical realities emerge after this in both the scenarios of inclusion or not of Finland in NATO.

– Ritesh, Alpha Defense

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