The Ukrainian crisis and the internal situation of Russia have opened discussions concerning Finland’s relations to other western powers. Especially towards the United States, which is the dominating power in the West.
Since her independence, Finland has always been a western democracy and a market economy. After the World War I Finland joined the League of Nations, and kept close diplomatic relations with France and with the United Kingdom. After the World War II the geopolitical situation changed when Eastern Europe became a part of the communist block, and the Soviet Union regained territories, which she had lost during the fall of the Russian Empire. Finland signed the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union in 1948. Finland’s President Juho Kusti Paasikivi was afraid that the treaty was aimed against the West but Finland used the treaty in a creative manner in order to reject Soviet pressure. The treaty was dismantled in 1992 because the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
In the 1990’s Finland took major steps towards the West by acquiring F-18 fighter jets from the United States. Also by joining NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme in 1994 and the European Union in 1995. Finland’s President, Nobel laureate Martti Ahtisaari became known of his diplomatic skills. Therefore, Finland hosted the summit between the United States and Russia in 1997 in Helsinki. During the summit President Bill Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin agreed upon on the enlargement of NATO. Finland also decided to join the eurozone in 1999, and The Presidency of the Council of the European Union was lead by Finland in 1999. Not to forget Finland’s role as a peace negotiator between the West, Serbia and Russia during the Kosovo War.
Trade relations between the United States and Finland also increased during the 1990’s. One of the most important factors was the rise of Nokia, which became the market leader in the mobile phone market. The Finnish mobile giant used famous Hollywood personalities on its advertising, and Nokia became an active product placement participator in Hollywood movies, television series and music videos.
Hollywood became also interested in shooting movies in Finland. The Jackal (1997) starred by Bruce Willis ja Richard Gere was partly filmed in Finland. Actor Bill Pullman’s History Is Made at Night (1999), an espionage movie, was filmed purely in Helsinki. Both movies would have been censored during the Soviet era in Finland, or at least Finland would have received an angry note from the Soviet Union. Finland received lots of investments and trade agreements from the U.S., and new brands dismounted to Finland. Hence, Finland became an international and open country after the Cold War isolation – western influence became even stronger.
After President Ahtisaari’s presidency, in 2000, Finland began to practice traditional foreign policy, which is quite close to the behavior practiced during the Cold War. However, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen was still in office, and he promoted a core policy in relations to the European Union. Prime Minister Lipponen also met President George W. Bush at the Oval Office in 2002. After his premiership Finnish presidents and prime ministers have not received invitations to visit the Oval Office.
According to President Ahtisaari’s former Presidential Advisor, Ambassador Alpo Rusi, Finnish leaders have tried to receive invitations but with poor results. However, Vice President Joseph Biden met President Tarja Halonen and Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi in 2011. President Sauli Niinistö met the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Finland in 2012. Ministers have also met each other several times. During the 1990’s Russia was also in a very weak internal position, which made relations thinner. However, Presidents have not made official visits since the 1990’s. In contrast, Finnish leaders have met Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev on a regular basis. It can be stated that Finland formed a special relationship mainly around trade relations with Russia, which have weakened during the Ukrainian crisis. Russia’s weak economical situation has also affected Finland. Therefore, there is a need for alternative markets.
But how Finland got into this situation? One of the theories is that when Finland began to practice traditional foreign policy in 2000. It meant that Finnish-Russia relations began to play an important role. It has been stated that Finland’s Russia relations went so far that it began to look anti-U.S. foreign policy, and it favored Russia. Ahtisaari was accused of having too close relations with the U.S. by ignoring Russia. During the 1990’s Russia was also in a very weak internal position, which made relations thinner. However during the Presidency of Ahtisaari Finland kept good relations with the U.S. and Russia – President Ahtisaari visited both the White House and the Moscow Kremlin. President Ahtisaari was also an experienced diplomat. Did he just outperform his successors with his brilliant diplomatic skills?
During the early 2000’s Russia became economically stable, which increased political and business relations with Finland. Russia became one of the most important trade partners. Finland also shared an optimistic vision that Russia would become a western liberal democracy. In recent years western powers have seen that Russia is not moving towards a liberal democratic society. Russia has turned its back to western values, and its economic environment has been in a downturn since 2009 – instability has increased.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine have inflamed relations between the West and Russia. Ukraine and Sweden are currently more pro-NATO than ever before, and this situation can increase pressure towards Finland’s possible membership. Hence, Russia’s current policy only enhances Ukraine’s, Sweden’s and Finland’s membership ambitions in the future.
Trade sanctions between the West and Russia have only worsened its already plummeting economy. For Finland this means that Russia’s weight is almost on the same level as it was in the 1990’s. Therefore, Finnish businesses are more interested in the U.S. markets, and it its estimated that exports to the United States will increase in the future. This means that the U.S. will become one of the key trade partners of Finland. The strategic importance of the U.S. will increase overall.
Therefore, it can be asked, is Finland going back to the foreign policy, which she had in the 1990’s? Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Baltic States have very close ties to the United States. Therefore, it is natural to have the same level diplomatic relations. Finland is one of the most pro-active countries, which is in favor of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Finland has also agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding with NATO in 2014.
President of Finland and major political parties have agreed that Finland should keep NATO membership as an option. The National Coalition Party and the Swedish People’s Party can be seen as pro-NATO parties but they are not actively promoting membership. The Centre Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Finns Party, the Greens League, and the Christian Democrats keep the door open but the Leftist Union is against membership.
“Under the circumstances, no party leader is advocating NATO membership but, on the other hand, all are considering the possibility. Perhaps from this discussion, we can draw conclusions about what could be included in the upcoming governmental policy,” said President Niinistö to the Finland Times in March 2015.
However, it seems that Finland is changing its foreign policy back to the course where it was in the 1990’s, the West provides the ground base, because the international situation looks quite similar.
But Finland is not aiming towards NATO membership.
The Finnish foreign policy, which was formulated in the 1990’s, seems to be the only sustainable course in the Post-Soviet era for Finland.