Date: 5 June 2019
Finland’s New Coalition Government Stance on Security: To Focus Less on Russia and War
Finland’s recently formed centre-left coalition government has just presented its programme. As far as the notion of security is concerned, in general, the so-called “balance policy” is to be maintained. This, in turn, means that Finland will keep the status of a non-bloc country and continue military cooperation with the EU, NATO and Sweden. At the same time, however, there appears to be some softening of the position towards Russia, which used to be regarded as the greatest threat to Finland’s security by the previous government. Not only is the current coalition talking very little about Russia, but it has also included a note in its programme which should most certainly content the Kremlin’s political strategists.
The largest political group in the five-party coalition is the Social Democratic Party of Finland (SDP), which won the recent April elections and put forward a candidate for the position of prime minister. Antti Rinne announced that the new government should receive the support of the parliament at the end of the first week of June. It should not be a problem since the coalition has in total 117 deputies in the 200-seat parliament. On June 3, the centre-left coalition presented its programme.
In a part devoted to security, it is stated that Finland will remain outside military blocs, but it will continue to cooperate with the EU and NATO, and strengthen military cooperation with Sweden. It is noted that the option of applying for membership in the North Atlantic Alliance is still on the table. What also draws attention is a note saying that “as a member state of the European Union, Finland could not remain neutral if there was a serious breach of security in its close proximity or in any other place in Europe”. It is not known, however, what this declaration truly means, considering the fact that there is also another note which almost completely prevents Finland from taking part in any military conflict that does not affect it directly. It is also worth mentioning that, according to the programme, the cabinet of Prime Minister Antti Rinne “will not allow to use the territory of the country to perform hostile acts targeted at another country”. Such a statement was not included in the programme of the previous government. However, as recalled by the Iltalehti newspaper, a similar statement appeared in a bilateral agreement between Finland and Russia in 1992. The Russians have always been concerned that in case a war breaks out in the eastern part of the Baltic region, NATO could use airports, seaports and roads that belong to formally neutral Finland.
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Compared to the previous government’s programme, the threat coming from Russia is now slightly less emphasised and there are no specific references to the Ukrainian crisis being a source of destabilisation in Europe. In the new programme, the reference to Moscow is laconic, and Russia itself is mentioned as one of the countries that “are trying to obtain a more significant position”. The current centre-left government is also less enthusiastic about expanding the country’s defence potential and tightening cooperation with NATO than the previous centre-right government. However, it is worth remembering that, according to the Constitution, Finland’s foreign policy is led by the president who does so “in cooperation with the government”. It just so happens that President Sauli Niinisto, who will be the head of state till 2024, is considered to be a supporter of tightening cooperation with NATO. The fact that a member of the Centre Party, which was the largest party of the previous coalition, is to be the next Minister of Defence is also a good signal.
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