Petteri Orpo: Finland and NATO – time for the next step
On February 24th Europe woke up to a gloomy morning. The brutal war on Ukraine launched by Russia shocked the whole world. At that same moment the European security changed. President Putin’s war is a ruthless breach of international agreements and Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Russia and Putin should have no illusions of their mistake. Ukrainians did not surrender and have shown heroic determination to defend their country. Attempts to install a pro-Russian puppet government in Ukraine in a matter of days have failed. In fact, the consequences of the war for Russia have been catastrophic. Europe and West and more united than ever and Russia is lonelier than ever. The EU found itself united on hard sanctions and is now seeking to cut its energy dependence from Russia.
Now Russia but bear the consequences. Russia has become isolated from the international community, and its economy and entire financial system are in nearing a total collapse. Demonstrations in Russia are on the rise. Returning to dialogue requires Russia to refrain from military actions and complete withdrawal from Ukraine.
Here in the North too, the development is moving in a direction that Putin’s Russia certainly did not expect. Finland is intensifying its defence cooperation with the United States, Sweden and our other Nordic partners. The public opinion in both Finland and Sweden has historically shifted as the majority support NATO’s membership for the first time.
Now is the time for serious consideration of what this change in the security environment means for us.
For Finland Russia’s proximity is a key geostrategic fact, and the war in Ukraine indicates how the problems associated with Russia’s aggressive behaviour have materialized. Russia is defining its interests in a way that threatens peace in Europe and creates insecurity in others. During the past decade, there have been uprisings in several of Russia’s neighbors, which the Kremlin has sought to violently suppress. Russia seeks a new sphere of influence and wants to halt the democratic development of other countries. Not NATO, but the people’s will to decide for themselves seems to be a threat to Putin’s regime.
The relations between Russia and the West are approaching dangerous times. A lasting détente in the short term or a return to multilateral cooperation with the current Russian regime seem very unlikely. While Finland is not facing direct military threats, it has become evident that we need to re-evaluate our relations with Russia. While we have advocated for good neighborly relations with Russia, its aggression and statements regarding Finland’s possible NATO membership stipulate how even the principles of good relations are subject to rapid changes.
As Russia is openly threatening peace in Europe, we need to look at all means to improve our own as well as Europe’s overall security. There is a broad consensus in Finland that European security has changed permanently. At the same time Finland’s potential NATO membership is on the table. Finland has been a reliable NATO partner since 1994 and today, we have a close political-military relationship. In recent years we have participated in NATO exercises concerning collective security in Europe. In practice, Finland has become completely NATO interoperable during the past decades.
Now is the time for Finland and NATO to look at the next steps. The National Coalition Party has supported Finland’s NATO membership since 2006 and continues to do so. We believe that Finland’s – as well as Sweden’s – NATO membership would improve not just our own security but the overall defence of Europe. Regarding NATO’s defence of Northern Europe, Finland is valuable piece due to our military capabilities and geostrategic position between the High North and the Baltic Sea.
When other countries downsized their militaries and capabilities after the Cold War, Finland did the exact opposite, meaning that we have always prepared ourselves for conventional military threats as well. We never dropped the ball on national defence. Our war-time strength is 280 000 soldiers, not excluding our state-of-the-art defence capabilities. Not forgetting that our F-35 fighter acquisitions will take Finland’s defense budget to more than 2% of GDP for several years.
It is safe to conclude that Finland has been a valuable security contributor in European security and continues to be one. As the pillars of European security are in flux, a common approach to upholding peace and stability in Europe in the future is necessary. In this sense, the time for the next chapter for Finland and NATO is now.
Chairman of the National Coalition Party in Finland