Some time ago, we said that we would come back to the question of NATO for Finland, as the government has accepted a closer relationship with NATO, with in particular a new observer status in closed meetings and a participation to NATO exercises close to the Russian border. Even if Juha Sipilä denies any intention to consider NATO membership, he however adds “for this government“, meaning it could be a topic for the next one.
Putin recommends a referendum…
The news and radio broadcast service Sputnik International, established by the Russian government-controlled news agency Rossiya Segodnya made an interesting but worrying report of the meeting between president Niinistö and president Putin in Finland at the beginning of summer. It contains in particular some threats (The Russian President went on to note that Russian troops currently observe a considerable distance from the Finnish border in a show of respect, but in the event of NATO accession he asked, “Do you think we’d still act that way?”) but also some sarcastic Russian humor: “The frank conversation between the friendly countries ultimately yielded progress with Russian Putin urging Finnish voters to have a referendum on whether or not to join NATO saying “turn to London, they will show you.”
After this meeting, Finland’s Defense Committee Chairman Ilkka Kanerva said “I am the man who was formulating the text of government’s foreign and security policy program and, of course, we have a very clear commitment of the government to continue our partnership with NATO and in case it would be necessary for Finland in the name of its own security, we may to consider a membership as a possibility.”
Going to help Turkey under US command?
There are however some additional elements to consider, as NATO is not only an organization targeting Russia. The organization is a collective defense organization, dealing with any threat against its member states. That is why:
- it plays a prominent role in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks in the United States
- in 2011, it intervened in Libya to enforce a no-fly zone and to protect civilians
- in 2012, Turkey (member of NATO) asked for NATO support to protect itself from Syrian Missiles. NATO agreed to install MIM-104 Patriot Systems from the United States, the Netherlands and Germany.
The point is that Finland in NATO would be obliged to go to war to defend any member states, including Turkey (which was recently shooting a Russian plane and seems to be a risk today) , and more generally would be more involved than now in the Middle-East operations. It could have consequences. It would also be under US command, as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) is always a US general (since 2016 US Général Curtis Scaparrotti).
Trump to the Baltic states: no help without payment
And the last element which could be considered is that Donald Trump, who seems to lead the presidential race in the last polls (but that could change) has made some worrying comments concerning US involvement in defending the Baltic states. He has in particular indicated that, if he becomes president, US support to NATO countries will be conditional: ” If Russia attacked them, I would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing if those nations have fulfilled their obligations to us. If they fulfill their obligations to us the answer is yes.” As noted by the New York Times, it was consistent, with his previous threat to withdraw American forces from Europe and Asia if those allies fail to pay more for American protection. No surprise that the UK newspaper The Guardian has written that “Putin is surely backing Trump“.
Anybody in his or her right mind would not now discuss NATO membership, but push for the EU defense, which is now a hot topic, because anyway even if NATO supports, any help will come from European NATO countries. For Finland (and Sweden), it seems like the best bet for the moment.
But wait a little… Timo Soini, our Minister of foreign Affairs, is probably still in his mökki, and sending his poor State Secretary to EU meetings about terrorism (look here if you don’t believe me). We should wait for him to come back before discussing further!