22nd May 2022


The pros, and cons, of Finland joining Nato

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The Finnish Nato debate returned with a vengeance last week as a result of Russian aggression on Ukraine, with opinion poll figures flipping almost overnight : for the first time 'yes' to Finnish Nato membership got over half of popular support, at 53 percent.

What is more, two citizens' initiatives were presented to parliament in Helsinki, one demanding Nato membership and one demanding a referendum on Nato membership.

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Both gathered the needed 50,000 signatures in a matter of days. Political parties and individual politicians are notably reconsidering their views.

The debate, in fact, got so heated that the Finnish president Sauli Niinisto decided to give a statement on Thursday (3 March) recalling that "In times of extreme change, we must keep a cool head".

Niinisto then flew to the US to meet president Joe Biden on Friday. .

If there is a headlong rush to Nato, it is almost so much so, that there is no time to discuss and debate: public opinion would seem to lean towards getting inside the North Atlantic alliance as quickly as possible , to minimise the impact of Russian reactions that a membership application is expected to lead to.

This has changed the vision as to what the steps towards membership would be.

Thus far, one of the main questions has been how to ensure and demonstrate necessary domestic public support for Nato membership.

Ideas for, and against, a referendum have been aired, plus the idea of making this a central question at the parliamentary elections of April 2023.

And yet, how central would the question actually be? There is no longer much of a debate between the parties, which increasingly agree on the issue.

More haste, less speed?

In such a rush, there would not be time for lengthy reports on implications of membership, either.

Five years ago, a thorough evaluation of possible consequences was conducted and commissioned by the ministry for foreign affairs; following a similar one in 2007. If there was to be a third one, but this time about the experiences of the first years of membership.

But is this all so clear cut?

In the rush, the central points about what an eventual membership negotiation phase could bring have yet been discussed. It is as if the procedure was simply one of sending in a letter of application and then being accepted.

For the Nato side , it would be important to retain the regular process of negotiations with the aim of ascertaining that the candidate fulfils the criteria.

In the case of Finland, there are hardly problems on this front, the country is already so close to full membership through its enhanced partnership, information exchange etc.

Given that Finland would actually enhance Nato with its important defence capacity, and even more so when potentially joining alongside Sweden, the country might want to stop to actually discuss issues that might be clarified in potential membership negotiations.

Nuclear weapons is one such issue, and it's not much spoken about in Finland.

Nato membership would make the issue relevant, and the country's view on nuclear sharing would need to be clarified.

Even more importantly, it is important to think about maintaining the possibilities of deep defence cooperation among the Nordics and in particular with Sweden, irrespective of Nato membership.

Defence cooperation with Sweden covers times of peace, crisis, conflict and war and includes operational planning for all situations, and there are "no pre-set limits to deepening this defence cooperation", as the government's Defence Report (2021) puts it.

It would be in Finland's and Sweden's interests to be able to maintain and deepen their bilateral defence cooperation even if both were in Nato.

Should Nato membership need some time to materialise, it might now frustrate many people.

However, the delay might be productive for better defining a full picture of Finland's defence policy commitments and interests.

Author bio

Dr Hanna Ojanen is research director at the politics department at Tampere University in Finland, and adjunct professor at the Finnish National Defence University's department of warfare, and an expert on European security and defence, including EU-NATO -relations, and Nordic security.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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