Finland’s Reckless Bid to Join NATO Breaks from a Long Tradition of Neutrality

by Kristoffer Hellén

As the world watches the war in Ukraine drag on, Western states are upping the ante by offering more and more military aid to Ukraine. After all, we can’t just stand by and do nothing as a small country gets pummeled by the aggression of a bigger state (hold your tongue, Yemen).

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But another story is developing in the background that could dramatically raise the stakes and spell disaster for the world. In Finland, following the Russian invasion, support for joining NATO has reached 62%, up an astonishing 41 points from just 2017. At the moment, there seems to be little stopping Finland from joining NATO, and Rachel Maddow cannot contain her joy.

But as a Finnish citizen myself, I take this news with great trepidation.

What does it mean for Finland to break from its long Cold War policy of neutrality and double NATO’s land border with Russia?

Some background on Finnish neutrality is needed.

In 1939, Finland, a nation of four million people, faced an all-out invasion by the USSR in what was widely perceived as a war of conquest to reconstitute the territory of the Russian Empire (Finland was a part of the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1917 when Lenin granted their request for independence). The capitalist West cheered for Finland from the sidelines, but understood that joining the fight ourselves would mean fighting against the USSR. And so Finland was left to fight on their own, which they did valiantly, inflicting heavy losses on the much larger invading force for 100 days in the middle of winter (inventing the Molotov Cocktail in the process).

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But the reasons for the invasion, as always, were more nuanced than the national mythology surrounding it. According to Max Jakobson, Finland’s chief diplomat in post-war Finland and instrumental architect of Finland’s policy of neutrality, one of the main reasons for the invasion in 1939 was because Finland was unable to convince the USSR of its commitment to neutrality. They had invited German Jaegers to Finland to crush the Reds during the Finnish Civil War twenty years earlier. When Finland’s border was within shelling distance of Leningrad, there was a credible threat of Finland joining with Nazi Germany and threatening vital Soviet interests. Finland’s foreign policy after WWII was centered around fixing this credibility issue, and assuring the Soviet Union that Finland was serious about neutrality.

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They paid heavily to do so. They accepted the Soviet peace terms, ceding 10% of their territory, paid staggering war debts, and even put their own politicians on trial. Even more devastating was their refusal to accept Marshall Aid from the United States when doing so would have gone a long way to help rebuild the country. But the Soviet Union rightly saw the Marshall Plan as being directed against Soviet interests, so Finland had to refuse the offer of aid to make their commitment to neutrality credible. Finland paid off its full war debt to the USSR without any outside assistance.

The wisdom of their policy of neutrality paid off. Finland enjoyed a very good relationship with the Soviet Union which paved the way for a great economic boom. Finland’s prosperity rested entirely on the sacrifices that Finland made to make credible their commitment to neutrality. They chose to recognize the legitimate security concerns of the USSR.

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Credibility is a commodity that takes a lot of time to build up. And when you lose credibility, it’s very difficult to get it back.

Finland is throwing away credibility that it earned through decades of difficult but strategic sacrifice. Finland is choosing to become a tool of the American anti-Russian alliance. Finland is joining NATO as a reaction to what they see as Russian aggression against Ukraine. But what Russia sees is Finland joining NATO at a time when Biden has (inadvertently) declared that the goal of the war is regime change in Russia. Finns ignore that because they have seemingly become aligned with the American propaganda narrative. This makes for a very dangerous situation. Now is the absolute worst time to join NATO. Finland is risking global destabilization to make itself a pawn in the Western imperial chess board.

God help Finland.

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Photo: Winter War, 1940 (Public Domain)

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