Time For Finland To Debate NATO Membership?

Finland, a member of the EU, has remained outside NATO in line with its tradition of avoiding confrontation with Russia, with which it shares an 833 mile border and a somewhat difficult history.

In recent years, however, it has forged closer ties with NATO, sharing information and taking part in military exercises, reflecting concerns in Finland about the Ukraine crisis and increased East-West tensions in the Baltic Sea.

“This country deserves an open debate when it comes to foreign and security policy,” said Hannu Himanen, Finland’s ambassador to Russia until 2016.

After four years in Moscow, Himanen became convinced his country should stop worrying about irking Russia and start thinking about ensuring its own security by joining the Western military alliance.

In a newly published book, “West or East — Finland and the return of geopolitics,” he is also critical of Finnish leaders, who he says avoided a frank public debate on foreign policy for too long.

There are growing signs however that Finland may be ready to have that debate, not least because a rare pro-NATO candidate is running for office in January’s forthcoming presidential elections.

Incumbent President Sauli Niinisto, who is widely expected to win a second six-year term in the Jan. 28th election, did not indicate whether he favoured joining NATO but said a decision to apply for full membership would require a referendum.

“I am convinced that a membership decision would require legitimacy, a wide acceptability. I would warn against making decisions where a significant part of citizens would get deep wounds,” he  said during a panel discussion in Helsinki.

A poll in February showed that only 21 percent of Finns support joining NATO, while 51 percent are opposed.

Niinisto, 69, who will stand as an independent candidate after previously representing the conservative National Coalition Party, is known for cultivating good relations with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Finland’s government has said it will monitor the security situation in the region and retain the option of joining NATO.

Russia, which has opposed NATO’s eastward expansion has said any move by Helsinki to join would be of “special concern”.

Finnish Air Force F 18

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today. 

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

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