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Kokoomus.fi / Julkaisut / Puheet / Petteri Orpo’s speech at the Helsinki Paasi­kivi Society

Petteri Orpo’s speech at the Helsinki Paasi­kivi Society


There is never a wrong or bad time to discuss foreign policy. Especially during times like ours. Major deve­lop­ments are taking place, which require Finland to uphold a solid foreign policy to safe­guard both our natio­nal and inter­na­tio­nal inte­rests.

I am refer­ring to the recent uphea­val we have seen afar as well as up-close. Up-close we are witnes­sing how mili­tary tensions in Europe can evolve rapidly. Russia’s mili­tary build-up in around Ukraine is extre­mely concer­ning and somet­hing we have not seen in Europe since the Second World War.

During the last century, the great powers of Europe divi­ded the small, Finland inclu­ding, into their sphe­res of inte­rest. Echoes of this past are around as Presi­dent Putin is calling for a ‘New Secu­rity Deal’ for Europe. Russia is deman­ding an assu­rance from the West that NATO would not expand. These demands are directly refer­ring to seve­ral states in the vici­nity of Russia.

The idea of Finland’s foreign and secu­rity policy is to safe­guard our inde­pen­dence and sove­reignty to make our own deci­sions. Sphe­res of inte­rest and great power poli­tics of the past, in which others decide over the fates of smal­ler states do not fit into this idea. Russia’s demands concern the very principles guaran­teed by inter­na­tio­nal agree­ments, the respect of borders and the sove­reignty of states and their right to choose their alliances. These principles cannot be compro­mi­sed.

Regard­less of the diplo­ma­tic efforts of past weeks, tensions conti­nue and no scena­rios, even serious ones, can be ruled out at this stage. A full- or large-scale war in Ukraine would be unprece­den­ted and comple­tely diffe­rent from what we have seen for gene­ra­tions. The consequences would be unpre­dic­table and would come with a heavy price as many would lose their lives.

On a slightly posi­tive note, the parties have had dialo­gue with each other. We need a solu­tion that does not under­mine the current Euro­pean secu­rity order or the sove­reignty of states. At best, this prevents the threat of war and brings stabi­lity to Europe. I convey my apprecia­tion for Mr Sauli Niinistö, the Presi­dent of the Republic of Finland, who has made active diplo­ma­tic efforts in diffe­rent direc­tions.

Finland is not facing direct mili­tary threats and our secu­rity is stable. Despite this, tensions in Euro­pean secu­rity are reflec­ting in Nort­hern Europe and we are adjus­ting our prepa­ra­tions as requi­red. Finland takes care of its natio­nal defence in all circums­tances. In addi­tion, Finland conti­nues to advocate for dialo­gue and has strengt­he­ned its inter­na­tio­nal status. Our approach will last through difficult times.

Amid recent deve­lop­ments, it is beco­ming more evident how the space of inter­na­tio­nal poli­tics is narrowing. In my remarks regar­ding the inte­rests of Finland’s foreign, secu­rity and defense policy, the state of inter­na­tio­nal affairs is the star­ting point of my analy­sis. One could say that great power poli­tics or geopo­li­tics never ceased to exist. While this might be true, we require a holis­tic approach to our time and the demands it casts over our foreign policy.

In Finland, our foreign, secu­rity and defense policy are often seen as whole. Howe­ver, I want to assess them intercon­nec­ted but from indi­vi­dually diffe­rent pers­pec­ti­ves. Let us start from Finland’s foreign policy.

Essen­tially the nature of Finnish foreign policy is how we as a small state can either iden­tify or form the condi­tions for inter­na­tio­nal poli­tics that are impe­ra­tive for promo­ting values and inte­rests vital for us. The ulti­mate purpose of Finland’s foreign policy is to promote the well-being of Finns and improve our global influence in the world. As such, our foreign policy is both natio­nal and inter­na­tio­nal at the same time, but these are not mutually exclusive. We cannot isolate oursel­ves in global world nor solve common problems alone. There­fore, we need alliances and part­ners­hips.

The promo­tion of human rights, rule of law and women’s and girls’ rights for example, are essen­tial issues with our like-minded part­ners. They are also somet­hing Finland can offer its expe­rience of globally. Nevert­he­less, foreign policy is not just about inte­rac­ting with like-minded states, and we in Finland unders­tand this very well. It has been charac­te­ris­tic of Finnish foreign policy to seek and build common unders­tan­ding and consult diffe­rent parties, despite the fact that we do not always accept prac­tices and values that differ from ours.

Unfor­tu­na­tely, we are increa­singly opera­ting in an envi­ron­ment, where great power rela­tions have come under crisis on many issues, making it difficult to uphold an inter­na­tio­nal rules-based order. We see for example, a dete­rio­ra­tion of arms cont­rol agree­ments and wider disre­gard for inter­na­tio­nal agree­ments. For Finland, this is a nega­tive tide, as a func­tio­ning rules-based inter­na­tio­nal order is the primary secu­rity guaran­tee and thres­hold against crises for smal­ler states.

Many speak of a new Cold War, but this analogy is mislea­ding. If we would have a tradi­tio­nal Cold War at our hands, it would be easy for us to draw from the past the right means to solve today’s problems. This is not the case, howe­ver. What has chan­ged? For one, in modern great power poli­tics no aspect of poli­tics is over­loo­ked, and the dyna­mics are in a flux. Along­side tradi­tio­nal mili­tary means there are multi­face­ted measu­res of exer­ting hybrid influence, as well as the secu­rity inte­gra­tion of commercial and tech­no­lo­gical issues. The bottom line is that this modern compe­ti­tion is not merely about mili­tary build-ups. The evol­ving rela­tions between China, the United States and Russia forms the most distinc­tive framework of inter­na­tio­nal poli­tics for Finland both natio­nally and as a member of the Euro­pean Union.

Star­ting from Russia. After all, Finland’s foreign policy has tradi­tio­nally been linked to Russia’s deve­lop­ment and how Finland should live with its eastern neigh­bor.

Russia can be consi­de­red a recur­ring chal­lenge for Finland for two main reasons. The first of these is Russia’s super­power iden­tity, which mani­fests itself in its unwil­ling­ness to adapt to a regu­la­ted rules-based order. Russia is keen on making its own rules instead of adap­ting to the rules agreed upon toget­her. The second reason is the imba­lance in Finland’s bila­te­ral rela­tions with Russia, which limits Finland’s ability to influence Russia’s overall foreign policy. Most of the issues that affect the state of our rela­tions with Russia are those over which Finland has only a limi­ted ability to influence. In other words, Finland is the size of itself when it comes to Russia’s foreign policy, but the puzzle is how Russia is often the size itself in Finland’s foreign policy.

For Finland Russia’s proxi­mity is a key geostra­te­gic fact, and the war in Ukraine indica­tes how the chal­len­ges associa­ted with Russia have not vanis­hed. Russia is beco­ming more unpre­dic­table, and a lack of its trans­pa­rency makes it difficult to evaluate the source of Moscow’s inte­rests. This feature of Russian foreign policy is inten­tio­nal and increa­ses risks as we can never be too certain of Russia’s inten­tions and means. Based on expe­rience, Russia is not afraid to shy away from harsh ways to advance its inte­rests.

A lasting détente in the short term or a return to multi­la­te­ral coope­ra­tion with the current Russian regime seem unli­kely. For us, the situa­tion is twofold as Russia defi­nes its inte­rests and secu­rity in a way that raises insecu­rity in others. The result is that we have had to build strengt­hen our natio­nal resi­lience and mili­tary deter­rence to curb Russian acti­vity.

As a neigh­bo­ring country, it is wise for Finland, not least for stra­te­gic reasons, to uphold dialo­gue with Russia and indicate willing­ness to seek solu­tions in appropriate ways and circums­tances. Predic­ta­bi­lity in our bila­te­ral and multi­la­te­ral rela­tions in the with Russia is in Finland’s inte­rests. Howe­ver, the asser­tive nature of Russia’s foreign policy is having a nega­tive reflec­tion on our bila­te­ral rela­tions too. The crisis in Ukraine insti­ga­ted by Russia and its recent state­ments regar­ding Finland’s possible NATO members­hip stipu­late how even the principles of good neigh­borly rela­tions are subject to rapid chan­ges.

On the one hand, while remai­ning one, Russia is also showing symp­toms of a decli­ning great power. The tigh­te­ning of the current administration’s autho­ri­ta­rian grip, the outstretc­hing of poli­tical oppo­si­tion, the stir­ring up of mili­tary tensions and the econo­mic problems fores­ha­dow difficult times. It is also geopo­li­tically noteworthy how many of Russia’s large neigh­bors have expe­rienced upri­sings over the past 15 years. Howe­ver, they have been repres­sed violently or by armed means as Russia seeks to secure what is percei­ves as its sphere of inte­rest.

The esti­ma­tions of the rela­tions between Russia and the West look gloomy and predict a cool season. Our foreign policy must be prepa­red for this. We are facing a long game when it comes to our Russia rela­tions, in which we must brace oursel­ves for sudden chan­ges. Above all, this will require Western unity and the ability to stand upright when we are tested. In Finland, too, we are not immune to disrup­tion and chal­len­ges, but I am sure that our secu­rity is on a solid footing. We should not be easily start­led when we provo­ked.

As Russia’s neigh­bor, it is also impor­tant for Finland that our dialo­gue remains func­tio­ning and that we can work toget­her on the issues that unite us. Finland does not pose a threat to Russia under any circums­tances or with any of our solu­tions, and we empha­size this. We make our deci­sions based on our own inte­rests, giving prio­rity to the secu­rity of Finns. We are ready for a construc­tive rela­tions­hip. But Russia, for its part, must now make its choices about the direc­tion in which it wants to deve­lop both our bila­te­ral rela­tions­hip and its wider rela­tions with the West.

China’s rise to the forefront of the great powers requi­res a new way of thin­king also Finnish foreign policy. Compa­red to other great powers, inte­rac­tion with a more global China is diffe­rent to Finland in many ways. Finland has a long tradi­tion of inte­rac­tion with other great powers, where the pros and cons of the rela­tions­hip are well known on both sides. But China has not tradi­tio­nally been a focus point of Finnish foreign policy and vice-versa.

Although Finland’s rela­tions with China are rather unproble­ma­tic so far, it is possible that our China policy will also have to be re-evalua­ted in the future. We are aware that China’s global reach it is stretc­hing, and it is increa­singly taking a strong stance on deci­sions and policies of other states. We are dealing more often with a China, that is guar­ding closely its inte­rests outside its own borders and tradi­tio­nal geopo­li­tical sphere. The Nordic count­ries are not outsi­ders in these calcu­la­tions. We recog­nize the chal­len­ges and problems that China’s global inte­rests uphold.

It is also distinc­tive how Beijing’s approach empha­sizes econo­mic power rather than the mere use of tradi­tio­nal mili­tary force. Partly because of this, China’s outward-looking panda policy may resemble that of a gentle great power. Howe­ver, a cent­ra­lized state system, viola­tions of human rights, and an increa­singly deter­mi­ned effort to influence other states convey a diffe­rent image of China. For these reasons, and because of China’s cultu­ral as well as geograp­hical distance from Finland, our China’s analy­sis is often black and white, where Beijing is seen either a chal­lenge or an oppor­tu­nity.

The principles of our foreign policy do not seek to isolate anyone from the inter­na­tio­nal arena. China can be a poten­tial part­ner and a chal­lenge for us at the same time. We will not hesi­tate to call out China’s human rights abuses, unfair trade prac­tices or its increa­sing mili­tary pres­sure in the South China Sea. We are not blue-eyed. For us, it remains vital to iden­tify China’s approach regar­ding Finland. We must care­fully analyze and unders­tand what inte­rests drive China’s policy on Finland and the disad­van­ta­ges and bene­fits they include.

A more common EU’s China policy is impor­tant to Finland. China’s efforts to nego­tiate directly with indi­vi­dual member states instead of the EU under­mine the oppor­tu­ni­ties of smal­ler member states to deve­lop a more equal rela­tions­hip with Beijing. A common EU stra­tegy on China would there­fore strengt­hen the posi­tion of all 27 member states. Anot­her signi­ficant factor in our rela­tions­hip with China is the ever-growing compe­ti­tion between the United States and China. The fact that China is consi­de­red a syste­mic rival in the United States has far-reac­hing implica­tions for Finland too. In the future we may find oursel­ves in situa­tions, where we must make choices on issues that intercon­nect great power rivalry and our natio­nal inte­rests. This calls for care­ful prepa­ra­tion so that we do not have to compro­mise our own inte­rests.

The United States is a prio­rity part­ner for both Finland and Europe in secu­rity, economy and, more broadly, in foreign policy. The United States’ commit­ment to Euro­pean secu­rity has brought stabi­lity in the conti­nent and conti­nues to do so. Its presence in Europe has balanced Russia’s efforts to expand its influence. Finland has also bene­fi­ted from the balance gene­ra­ted by the United States.

The United States is currently reas­ses­sing its global role. The most visible form of this is the prio­ri­ti­sa­tion of its natio­nal inte­rests. At the same time, the inter­nal turmoil in the United States has not gone unno­ticed by anyone. When abrupt views and inter­na­tio­nal divi­sions mate­ria­lize in a two-party system, they ulti­ma­tely reflect in the entire poli­tical system. Not to mention foreign policy. During Donald Trump’s presi­dency, mistrust and suspicions on both sides of the Atlan­tic increa­sed. These senti­ments have waned with the elec­tion of Presi­dent Biden, but the force for change within the United States is still on the move.

The outside conclusion has been that United States is now commu­nica­ting the primacy of its natio­nal inte­rests more directly, and a stron­ger articu­la­tion of this seems to be somew­hat perma­nent. Howe­ver, I do not believe in a complete with­drawal of the United States from the inter­na­tio­nal arena. It must be remem­be­red that the United States is a key archi­tect of our current world order. The Unites States remains as the only super­power in the world, both econo­mically and mili­ta­rily. More impor­tantly, its inte­rests are built on a func­tio­ning alliance and part­ners­hip based foreign policy.

In Washing­ton, great power compe­ti­tion is seen as the grea­test chal­lenge to its natio­nal inte­rests regard­less of the incum­bent admi­ni­stra­tion. In recent years, the United States’ atten­tion in Europe has remai­ned high, mainly due to the actions of Russia. Howe­ver, its long-term atten­tion is not focused solely on Europe or Russia, but rather on China.

At the same time, Europe remains an impor­tant part­ner for the United States, regard­less of the circums­tances. The United States cannot afford nor want to ques­tion the firm­ness of its alliance based foreign policy. Thus, we have little reason to doubt its commit­ment to Euro­pean well­being. Europe is the closest ally of the United States no matter who its syste­mic main rival is. Right now, China is rapidly posing the grea­test chal­lenge to the United States and this trend will inten­sify. For us, the conclusion is that the alloca­tion of United States’ resources between China and Russia are likely to see an imba­lance. In this respect, a with­drawal of the United States from Europe is partly true. What this means for Europe, is that we be prepa­red to take grea­ter respon­si­bi­lity for alle­via­ting insta­bi­lity in our neigh­bor­hood, increa­sing defense spen­ding and deter­ring Russia.

For Finland, the United States will remain an impor­tant part­ner, regard­less of admi­ni­stra­tions and their prio­ri­ties. The long-establis­hed bila­te­ral defense coope­ra­tion has been an essen­tial content for Finnish-US rela­tions. I am there­fore plea­sed that the HX figh­ter procu­re­ment has reac­hed the final stages. The acqui­si­tion of 64 F-35 figh­ter jets will improve our natio­nal defense capa­bi­lity and create the condi­tions for furt­her deepe­ning of our bila­te­ral defense coope­ra­tion with the United States.

In the current secu­rity situa­tion, close defense coope­ra­tion between the two count­ries is welco­med. Its impor­tance is high­ligh­ted especially at a time when tensions in Euro­pean secu­rity have increa­sed and the dangers at Ukrai­ne’s borders are moun­ting. The United States is one of Finland’s most impor­tant and closest defence and secu­rity part­ners. We consi­der the US commit­ment to Euro­pean secu­rity, inclu­ding Finland’s proxi­mity, as increa­sing stabi­lity. We must ask oursel­ves, what would a tran­sat­lan­tic secu­rity look like without the United States?

Looking ahead, in Finland we need to unders­tand better how a poten­tial new set of US foreign and secu­rity policy prio­ri­ties impact our bila­te­ral rela­tions­hip. In prac­tice, this requi­res new approac­hes to deve­lo­ping our rela­tions­hip with the United States. We need to prepare oursel­ves for circums­tances where great power rivalry has a diverse influence on our trade and energy policy as well as tech­no­lo­gical solu­tions. This way, Finland can also ensure that we will not face the rising chal­len­ges by oursel­ves. Finland is at the forefront of, among other things, the deve­lop­ment of an inter­na­tio­nal legal framework for cyber secu­rity and protec­tion against hybrid influence as well as new and emer­ging tech­no­lo­gies.

We are well placed to be an inte­res­ting part­ner in many areas – an inte­res­ting part­ner is someone who is liste­ned to by great powers.

As I have desc­ri­bed, Finnish foreign policy opera­tes in the midst of chan­ging coor­di­na­tes. Chal­len­ging times demand leaders­hip and solu­tions on a natio­nal and inter­na­tio­nal level.

The most impor­tant global chan­nel of influence for Finland is undoub­tedly the Euro­pean Union. EU members­hip provi­des Finland with oppor­tu­ni­ties that we could only have drea­med of in the past. For me perso­nally, Finland’s EU members­hip is not just one inter­na­tio­nal commit­ment along­side others, but Finland’s most impor­tant commu­nity and alliance of values ​​and an anchor of economy and secu­rity. We must there­fore unders­tand how a weak EU would ulti­ma­tely reduce Finland’s influence. At the same time, the EU’s global influence, either weak or strong, directly reso­na­tes with Finland’s inter­na­tio­nal posi­tion.

Right now should be a Euro­pean moment of strength due to the growing exter­nal pres­su­res we face. But the stage of inter­na­tio­nal poli­tics is moving towards Asia and away from Europe. Still, the unrest in Euro­pe’s neigh­bor­hood conti­nues and Russia’s power poli­tics are under­mi­ning Euro­pean secu­rity. Without sufficient econo­mic, diplo­ma­tic and mili­tary capa­bi­li­ties, the rela­tive dete­rio­ra­tion of Euro­pe’s global influence is an inevi­table deve­lop­ment. Howe­ver, Europe is not and should not look like a suppor­ting actor amid all. Unfor­tu­na­tely, it has looked very much like one in recent years. We have not been a signi­ficant enough actor at the tables where discus­sions on Ukraine, Syria or more broadly, the inte­rac­tion between the great powers is taking place.

Within the EU, these trends are recog­nized, but the best ways to reverse are yet to emerge. The best solu­tion is to make better use of Euro­pe’s poten­tial. The EU is a global econo­mic power, but it must also have a say in secu­rity and defense policy. For the EU to be a stron­ger global power, it must invest in these dimen­sions. Europe must not lose sight on how to pit against hard against itself.

Euro­pean defense coope­ra­tion must be deve­lo­ped without preju­dice. Progress in this field will take time and demands patience, but our ambi­tion should remain high. The will of member states to do this is called for. In the long run, the overall deve­lop­ment is unsus­tai­nable if the EU is not capable enough to influence secu­rity matters that are cent­ral to Europe. Thus, the EU must have the capacity to act when needed. We should recog­nize the far-reac­hing bene­fits of a more coor­di­na­ted and inte­gra­ted EU defence and secu­rity policy. In the EU, we must prepare for the growing need to be a more inde­pen­dent actor in our own neigh­bor­hood in the future. An impro­ved EU coope­ra­tion on defence and secu­rity would bring added value for this scena­rio.

The direc­tion of tran­sat­lan­tic defence and secu­rity coope­ra­tion should also be raised. The United States will remain a critical actor in Euro­pean secu­rity, and we cannot afford to weaken this link by oursel­ves. The events in Ukraine are a showcase of this. A conc­rete path for the EU to strengt­hen this link is through closer coope­ra­tion with NATO. Comba­ting hybrid threats is currently one of the key areas for EU-NATO coope­ra­tion. Howe­ver, it is not ruled out that at some point we may have a merging of EU and NATO respon­si­bi­li­ties. I would welcome this far-reac­hing, but at the same time very natu­ral direc­tion of tran­sat­lan­tic defence and secu­rity.

Howe­ver, as mentio­ned before, the US stra­te­gic prio­ri­ties are chan­ging. This means that the EU must also be able to carry out, if neces­sary, deman­ding crisis mana­ge­ment opera­tions inde­pen­dently especially in its unstable neigh­bor­hood. The issue has come up in the EU recently, and High Repre­sen­ta­tive Josep Borrell has sugges­ted, that a new force of 5,000 troops be set up for the EU to train toget­her and be ready for a rapid deplo­y­ment. The tone is correct, but I think the goal should be at least ten times that if we are serious about the EU’s credi­bi­lity. In 1998 in the Saint-Malo Decla­ra­tion by France and the United King­dom it was stated that the EU should be able to act auto­no­mously and be backed by a credible mili­tary force. The goal was ambi­tious as the it deman­ded the EU to have a force of 50,000 to 60,000 ready for use in 60 days. We have every reason to main­tain simi­lar ambi­tions in our time and at the end of the day, this is ulti­ma­tely up to the will of member states.

Part of rethin­king the EU’s defence and secu­rity role concerns shining the light on EU’s secu­rity clauses. Finland has been a long-time advocate on the subject. The issue of the EU’s secu­rity clauses is a matter of particu­lar impor­tance to Finland, as these clauses create obli­ga­tions for member states to provide mutual assis­tance to each other. At the moment, the EU’s secu­rity clauses are our only formal commit­ment for inter­na­tio­nal coope­ra­tion in crisis times. If the thres­hold for acti­va­ting the mutual assis­tance clauses is low enough, its weight as a deter­rent to diffe­rent crises, inclu­ding mili­tary, will also increase. In other words, this would have a strengt­he­ning effect on the EU member states’, inclu­ding Finland’s, secu­rity. Finland is prepa­red to provide and receive a wide range of assis­tance in accor­dance with Article 42.7 and Article 222.

I would also like to draw atten­tion to the holis­tic nature of shared Euro­pean respon­si­bi­li­ties. Or how this should at least be the case. If we desire a stron­ger commit­ment to the EU’s financial soli­da­rity, we need to consi­der how this should apply to secu­rity as well. In my opinion, the EU’s respon­si­bi­li­ties must be balanced, and this is also what Finland must demand. Secu­rity as inte­gral and clear part of the EU’s compre­hen­sive soli­da­rity. The EU cannot be an alliance where economy and secu­rity do not go hand in hand.

The evalua­tion of the EU’s secu­rity and defense policy is now under­going major steps. We look forward to the EU’s stra­te­gic compass coming out soon. It will provide a flash­point for future steps. Its prepa­ra­tion has been well recei­ved in the member states and the idea has been to update our stra­te­gic compass every five years. All in all, this has been the right direc­tion – a common Euro­pean stra­te­gic culture is emer­ging in small steps.

Finland has been closely invol­ved in the major inte­gra­tion deve­lop­ments of Europe since the end of the Cold War. Yet, our natio­nal EU debate and policy have long been charac­te­rized by reac­ti­vity. The natio­nal focus has been on criticizing the openings made by other member states, instead of provi­ding our own vision. The past narra­tive and policy of Finland reac­hing for the EU’s key cores was a product of its time. It certainly served our EU policy well when the union was going through its deep inte­gra­tion stages. But Finland’s aspi­ra­tions for the EU cores have been achie­ved, and the ques­tion is what we should do there. The EU is on the brink of major chan­ges and Finland can either drift with the events or influence them. There is no middle ground between these two options.

We need to focus on the issues, which are the cent­ral to the union’s global role and empha­size econo­mic growth, secu­rity and the fight against climate change. This is what EU citizens expect from the union, and we cannot afford to fail to resolve these problems. The Natio­nal Coali­tion Party is taking initia­tive and later this year, I will be present our new EU policy paper, the purpose of which is to offer Finland a brand EU vision.

Solu­tions must also be sought at natio­nal level. In this context, I would like to refer to the forthco­ming 50th anni­ver­sary of the Helsinki Final Act in 2025. Finland will be chai­ring the OSCE at that time. The anni­ver­sary can offer oppor­tu­ni­ties to improve global dialo­gue, which would natu­rally also suit Finland’s inte­rests. It would be in every­one’s inte­rest if rela­tions between the great powers were even somew­hat predic­table or consis­tent.

A few words about secu­rity policy.

Secu­rity is usually percei­ved from a mili­tary pers­pec­tive, but in today’s world, this is not unequi­vocal. We should there­fore pay particu­lar atten­tion to how the distinc­tion between war and peace is being blur­red. While tradi­tio­nal mili­tary threats conti­nue to exist, secu­rity chal­len­ges are appea­ring in front of us in other forms as well.

We often hear talk of hybrid threats, which mean the use of non-mili­tary means for pres­sure. In gene­ral, this refers to various forms of hostile influence aimed at the stabi­lity of the poli­tical system or society. The problem, howe­ver, is that if everyt­hing is a hybrid, in the end nothing is a hybrid. This is also the purpose of the actors who chal­lenge us. To create uncer­tainty and an inabi­lity to react by adequate means. As a recent example, we can use the actions of the Bela­rusian govern­ment on the Polish-Lithua­nian border. Or the refu­gee flow on our own eastern border in 2015-2016. I have perso­nal expe­rience of this as I was Finland’s Minis­ter of the Inte­rior at the time. Hardly anyone could have imagi­ned 10 years ago that the distress of people in need would be ruth­lessly used as a means of coercion.

Tackling these secu­rity threats is funda­men­tally about strengt­he­ning the poten­tial weak­nes­ses of rules-based democ­ra­tic and open socie­ties. Main­tai­ning a balance between the rule of law and emer­ging threats is not a simple task. The ques­tion is how to respond to poten­tial threats to natio­nal secu­rity that are indi­rect by nature? Indeed, these threats seize loop­ho­les in natio­nal legis­la­tion and exploit its incomple­te­ness or interpre­ta­tion. For example, the disse­mi­na­tion of disin­for­ma­tion in the name of free­dom of expres­sion is difficult without under­mi­ning the principles of an open society. The same principle applies to asylum seekers when exter­nal and coor­di­na­ted pres­sure is applied to under­mine inter­na­tio­nal agree­ments.

Howe­ver, legis­la­tion and its compliance distin­guish us from actors who do not adhere common principles and seek to change them. If we chose otherwise, ulti­ma­tely it would be the oppo­site and under­mine the legi­ti­macy of autho­ri­ties. Thus, while some of the problems of emer­ging threats are rooted in legis­la­tion, so are the means to over­power them. For example, during the last elec­to­ral term in Finland, a new set of legis­la­tion was put into place or rede­fi­ned so that we are better prepa­red for various scena­rios. Howe­ver, the chal­lenge here is to not always lag behind and patch gaps as they arise.

Equally impor­tant is to unders­tand how tackling modern threats is not just about taking legis­la­tive action. We need to define the boun­da­ries that cannot be cros­sed or blur­red and have the capa­bi­li­ties for coun­ter­mea­su­res. Only then will our voice be heard. If we do not create the rules of the game oursel­ves, someone else on will do it for us. By keeping our legis­la­tion up to date and foste­ring our democ­ra­tic deter­rence, we ensure that the grea­test strengths of our socie­ties – trans­pa­rency and legi­ti­macy – will not turn into our grea­test weak­ness.

In addi­tion to addres­sing multi­faced threats, we must address the needs of Finland’s defence policy. In all circums­tances, we must ensure that the thres­hold for armed action against us remains high. Prima­rily this means taking care of our natio­nal capa­bi­li­ties. As we know, Euro­pean secu­rity and the surroun­ding areas here in the Baltic Sea and in Nort­hern Europe remain tense. This has been visible mostly in the increa­sed mili­tary move­ment and acti­vity in the region, even though Nort­hern Europe is not the source of these tensions.

The war in Ukraine has had a signi­ficant effect in Finland’s assess­ment of its defence policy, namely our empha­sis on inter­na­tio­nal coope­ra­tion. When we inte­ract on with our part­ners, we no longer engage in defence dialo­gue or exerci­ses solely for peace time purpo­ses. When Finland has dialo­gue and exerci­ses with for example NATO, Sweden, Norway and the United States, among others, we are also addres­sing crisis times. It is in our inte­rest to better unders­tand how our part­ners think and see the geostra­te­gic context of Nort­hern Europe. Although Finland is not a member of NATO, it should be unders­tood that not being a member of a mili­tary alliance does not exclude close defense coope­ra­tion. As such, we will also have to consi­der our posi­tion more often from the pers­pec­tive of align­ment.

Histo­rically Finland has tradi­tio­nally been seen to succeed by itself, either through its own choice or due to prevai­ling circums­tances. Roughly spea­king, for some, the current non-align­ment – previously in the form of neut­ra­lity – is a virtue, for others a terrible nuisance. Howe­ver, there has always been and even now is a space between align­ment and non-align­ment. Looking at Finland’s history, either exter­nal mili­tary assis­tance or the possi­bi­lity of obtai­ning it has been deci­sive for Finland’s fate in war time. Indeed, we know how the poten­tial to receive French and British mili­tary aid in the Winter War acted as a deter­rent against the Soviet Union. This factor had a signi­ficant impact on the outcome of the Winter War as Stalin wanted to avoid war with the UK and France over Finland, regard­less that the proba­bi­lity and nature of French and British aid then remains dispu­ted.

We can learn from the past as we form our defense policy today. The possi­bi­lity for defence coope­ra­tion in crisis times and impro­ving it can, at best, form a deter­rent. For Finland, it is there­fore worth execu­ting close defense coope­ra­tion and conti­nue to exercise with part­ners. As long as Euro­pean secu­rity remains tense, we must conti­nue along this line. What we should not do, is get bogged down in arguing about the defi­ni­tions of Finland’s status or pitting our various forms of coope­ra­tion against each other. The most impor­tant objec­tive is to prevent war and create stabi­lity, and everyt­hing that supports these objec­ti­ves is valuable to Finland.

Nor, there­fore, should we rule out any of our options. This also applies to Finland’s poten­tial NATO members­hip. The Natio­nal Coali­tion Party has suppor­ted Finland’s NATO members­hip since 2006 and conti­nues to do so. Finland’s NATO members­hip would improve our secu­rity and increase stabi­lity in Nort­hern Europe. If Finland deci­ded to apply for NATO members­hip, the Natio­nal Coali­tion Party would give its full support and cont­ri­bu­tion to advance it. But NATO members­hip must have the adequate natio­nal support for the members­hip, both among Finns and the poli­tical parties. No party can decide on the issue alone and we do not need major inter­nal dispu­tes in Finland, which could also be used against us exter­nally. Yet, I would also like to point out how poli­ticians and parties spea­king in favor of Finland’s NATO members­hip has natio­nal value itself. In order it to be a real alter­na­tive to Finland, NATO members­hip must have its suppor­ters. If this was not the case and no poli­tical parties had the capacity to promote NATO members­hip if neces­sary, Finland’s option to join the alliance would be thin.

My inten­tion has been to desc­ribe the broa­der lines of Finland’s foreign, secu­rity and defense policy. The analy­sis is perhaps gloomy, but I see no need to tone down on the chal­len­ges of our time. As incon­ve­nient problems are making a come­back in the form of mili­tary threats, pande­mics, migra­tion and econo­mic crises, we have been slow to recog­nize the tota­lity of the difficul­ties we imagi­ned belon­ging in the past.

Yet, there is always a hint of opti­mism, even if a quick glance at the world leaves a dark impres­sion. When crises hit us, it is easy to imagine Finland as either a driftwood or a rapid boat. Howe­ver, history should not be trea­ted as a dollar shop, where favo­rite articles of faith are randomly remo­ved from. The true value of the past is not in its allu­ring aftert­hought. In Finland’s case, the true value of its history lies in its remin­der to us how amid difficult times we have survi­ved by making our own choices – even when the surroun­ding struc­tu­res of inter­na­tio­nal poli­tics have crea­ted chal­len­ging boun­da­ries and condi­tions. Agility is an indis­pen­sable virtue for a small state as it crea­tes room for maneu­ver. This is the case especially in difficult times and is somet­hing Finland has expe­rience of.

In other words, the struc­tu­res of inter­na­tio­nal poli­tics are not static. As this is a Paasi­kivi Society event, it seems appropriate to reflect on Presi­dent J.K. Paasi­ki­vi’s idea of ​​the impor­tance of acknow­led­ging facts. Paasikivi’s wisdom conti­nues to live on. It is possible to refine his idea into not just acknow­led­ging the facts, but also to iden­tify them. I believe this is the source of an even grea­ter wisdom, as it offers us the oppor­tu­nity to face the world without neces­sa­rily collap­sing under­neath it. If we are able to unders­tand the very problems of our time, we are also able to recog­nize the requi­red solu­tions in Finland’s foreign, secu­rity and defense policy.

Trans­la­ted version of Petteri Orpo’s speech. Check against deli­very.

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