From Non-Aligned to NATO
The Evolution of Finland’s Security Policy
08.02.24 / Online / European Security and Defence
The AIES had the honour to host the Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen for a lecture on Finland’s decision to join NATO. The event took place on February 8th, 2024, and was organized in cooperation with Finland’s Embassy in Austria and the Vienna School of International Studies.
With Finland's NATO accession, Minister Valtonen noted that a new era has commenced in both Finland's foreign and security policy and in European history. The date of February 24, 2022, was a day of infamy in Europe, marking Russia's full-scale war on Ukraine, both unprovoked and unjustified.
Reflecting on what now is seen as “pre-war period” and the war’s impact on Finland's NATO membership decision, Minister Valtonen recalled the deteriorating situation well before 2022, including Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its invasion of Georgia in 2008. These actions, particularly the 2022 invasion, served as a wake-up call for Finland, prompting a reassessment of its security environment and arrangements. This led to a widespread realization that Finland's security environment had fundamentally and irrevocably changed, with Russia's aggression posing an existential threat.
Minister Valtonen emphasized the right of every state to choose its own security arrangements, citing the Charter of Paris and the Helsinki Final Act. In December 2021, President Putin's demands to change European security structures were seen as alarming, especially in Finland, and were considered a game-changer for the country's security policy. Despite previously low public support for NATO membership, the Russian invasion of Ukraine led to a dramatic shift in Finnish public opinion, with support for joining NATO surging.
The Finnish government's submission of two white papers to parliament and the broad parliamentary support for NATO membership were crucial for the decisive vote in favour of joining NATO. The people's role in this decision has to be highlighted, as NATO approval rates significantly increased. The Minister also addressed the synchronization of membership processes with Sweden, Finland's close security partner, with both countries expressing their aspiration to join NATO in May 2022. Finland's official NATO membership on April 4, 2023, marked as a significant step in enhancing stability and security in the region and Europe.
Addressing Finland's stance on neutrality, Minister Valtonen clarified that Finland had not considered itself neutral since joining the European Union in 1995, due to the EU's mutual defence clause. The rapid change in public opinion regarding NATO membership was attributed to a strategic use of neutrality, with an emphasis on the importance of strengthening security and defence cooperation within the EU, especially in light of Russia's aggression.
Minister Valtonen reiterated Finland's foreign and security policy goals, emphasizing the safeguarding of the nation's independence, territorial integrity, and the well-being of its people. NATO membership is both a fundamental change and a natural step in Finland's integration into Western institutions. She affirmed the commitment to the rule of law, human rights, equality, and democracy, with the EU as the central framework for Finland's foreign and security policy.
Concluding the address, Minister Valtonen affirmed Finland's support for the OSCE and the concept of cooperative security, highlighting the importance of diplomacy and cooperation for European security and stability. She underscored Finland's readiness to chair the OSCE, and its commitment to supporting Ukraine and international peace. She also expressed gratitude for Austria's contributions to the OSCE.
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