Normunds Grostins
Development of European Union, Non-governmental organizations, Politics and economics in Baltic States

NATO’s Wish List: de-Finlandization in Europe

NATO is currently working hard to make Finland and Sweden join the military bloc. De-Finlandization is clearly high on the agenda.
25 May 2016

Finlandization is a term that originated in the West German political debate of the late 1960s and 1970s. The term as used in Germany and in other NATO countries referred to the decision of a country not to challenge a more powerful neighbor in foreign politics while maintaining national sovereignty. It is commonly used in reference to Finland's policies in relation to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but it can refer more generally to similar international relations, such as Denmark's attitude toward Germany between 1871 and 1940, or the policies of the Swiss government towards the German Nazi regime before World War II.

It is clear that to break the long-standing tradition of neutrality of Finland and Sweden, NATO needs very strong arguments. Denmark and Norway joined NATO only after Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1968. Something similar is needed right now and the crisis in Ukraine has so far not been enough to make Sweden and Finland join NATO.

What will NATO do? The military alliance is to meet in the Polish capital of Warsaw in July. The 28 member states are expected to agree on a roadmap to enhance combat readiness in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea. This will increase the level of NATO-Russia military tensions in the above-mentioned geographical areas. A little Georgia-2008-style war in the Baltic states could do the trick and rapidly bring Finland and Sweden in. So pessimists may – and actually should – get prepared for the next "Russian aggression." The fact that in August of 2008 Georgia attacked first never stopped NATO and most of the Western mainstream media from speaking about "Russian aggression" against Georgia. I witnessed how Latvian mainstream media actually told people that Russia attacked first and without any reason! So, there’s no problem if Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia hit first. That is exactly what is needed to create the brilliant media sample of "unprovoked" Russian aggression.

Why might this scenario become a harsh reality? Well, because other scenarios are much less efficient. In the case of Finland, the biggest reason for its neutrality lies in the Finnish past experience of how geopolitics work. The experience of World War II (no foreign help in the Winter War of 1939-1940) in particular taught the Finns not to rely on help from other countries at a time of extreme crisis, no matter what formal treaties say. In other words, Finland's voters don't fundamentally believe NATO would help them when there will be a real problem.

The prospect of Finland joining NATO would lead to a crisis in relations with neighboring Russia, a Finnish government report states. With Sweden being a non-NATO member, Finland would be “isolated and exposed” if it joins the military bloc, it adds. "Political and economic reactions may be strong, even harsh, notably during the transition phase.” “Even while stopping short of the use of force, specific counter-measures would be difficult to predict,” a report prepared for Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila's government states. (2)

NATO is most probably trying to counter these arguments by pointing a finger at the fact that nothing like this happened after the Baltic states joined NATO.  And the Baltic states were (and still are) much weaker than Finland. But all this is subject to a long discussion and will most probably involve a referendum on NATO membership. Then Russia will express clear warnings. In fact, has already expressed some.

Russia will reply to Sweden’s entry into NATO by increasing the number of its military forces, in particular on its northern and northwestern frontiers, the Russian deputy head of the upper house Committee for Defense and Security recently said.  “We are talking not only about some technical measures, but we are also talking numbers as well. Russia will increase the strength of its military forces on the northern and northwestern borders if Sweden becomes a NATO member, this also includes the North Sea Fleet,” RIA Novosti quoted Senator Evgeny Serebrennikov as saying. This is valid both for Sweden and Finland.

Is NATO going to discuss how to achieve a much-wanted de-Finlandization or should we get ready for a Georgia-2008 scenario repeated on Baltic soil? This will become clear during the Warsaw summit in July.