Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 72

Interviewed in the current issue of the German magazine Der Spiegel, Finland’s President Tarja Halonen advises against the admission of the Baltic states to NATO. Halonen’s position is a classic case of “Russia First” as it applied specifically to Central Europe during the Cold War period, the legacy of which today’s Russia Firsters say they are especially anxious to overcome.

This view holds that Russia’s objections should be allowed to override the Baltic states’ sovereign right to join the alliance of their choice. It is a slowly receding view, to which the Finnish president now supplies a pro-nonalignment dimension from outside the alliance. While not a NATO member, Finland is a member of the European Union, the membership of which overlaps with NATO’s. “Any independent country is of course free to choose,” says the Finnish president, only to cancel that “yes” with a series of heavy “buts.”

Halonen takes sharp issue with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga’s recent statement, which reflects a common Baltic view that EU and NATO membership are inseparable and equally indispensable–“like the two arms of the human body”–to the Baltic states. That is “unacceptable [because] Europe must be prepared and able on its own to live at peace with itself. We need transatlantic partners, but we don’t need a transatlantic alliance.” The implication is that Baltic accession to NATO should be avoided because it would strengthen the alliance and the American connection–an outcome which the neutralist view finds undesirable.

Nevertheless, the debate on NATO’s Baltic enlargement must–according to Halonen–take Russian threats to retaliate through economic sanctions into account. “We are of course worried by those threats.” And with Europe needing Russian energy supplies and political cooperation, “we must meet the Russian government halfway.” Moreover, “Russia reacts sensitively, sometimes oversensitively to the notion that the United States might be the only superpower. We could promote relaxation and detente if we had two, three or more leading powers.” Such a view would not, however, continue to address the issue of NATO’s Baltic enlargement on its own merits. It would instead subordinate it–and the fate of the Baltic states–to the global visions of those in Europe who grope for equidistance between two poles.

“On balance, I am a pacifist,” Halonen says, reaching out to European left-of-center parties and specifically to Germany’s Greens, partners of the Social-Democrats in the German coalition government. The Greens hold the Foreign Affairs Ministry in that government, forcing the moderate Foreign Affairs Minister Joschka Fischer constantly to look over his shoulder at the “party basis.” Ultimately, however, it is Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who sets the main guidelines in foreign policy. In his recent visit to Moscow (see the Monitor, April 10), Schroeder clearly distanced himself from the worldview Halonen espouses in the Spiegel interview (Der Spiegel, April 9-15, 2001).

From a strictly regional perspective, the Halonen thesis stems largely from the experience of Finlandization, as the president admits in ultimately resting her case on “the longest phase of [Russian-Finnish] peaceful coexistence and close cooperation in our history.” That phase is, in essence, the 1944-1991 relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union. Described sometimes as a virtue born of necessity, Finlandization entailed stringent limitations on the country’s foreign and security policies in return for a far-reaching measure of internal freedom.

The Finlandization model is specifically tied to the Soviet era. Today’s Finland is no longer bound by it and is free to opt for joining NATO–a choice that Halonen would indefinitely defer while others in Helsinki favor. In the Europe of the post-Soviet era, Finlandization is conceptually anachronistic and in practice unavailable to the Baltic states. Moscow’s historic perception of them, as well as their geographic, demographic and economic circumstances, preclude the choice of any model of neutrality or nonalignment, whether along Finnish or Swedish lines.

The Baltic states’ neutralization–with or without the “cross-guarantees” intermittently offered by Russia–would only lead to long-term ambiguity, friction and instability. It would encourage Moscow to continue viewing the Baltic states as its “near abroad” sphere–a perception that Russia does not attach to the neighboring Finland. Inclusion of the Baltic states in NATO would take them outside the “near abroad” and significantly weaken that concept as a basis for empire-rebuilding ambitions (Der Spiegel, April 9-15, 2001; see the Monitor, January 8, 19, February 6, 13, 22, March 16, 22, 30, April 3-4; Fortnight in Review, January 19, February 16, March 30).

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