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Finnish neutrality, explained by Väyrynen

(B2) This is the Finnish Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Paavo Vayrynen, who embarked on an explanatory exercise on Finnish neutrality. A reaction published in Suomen Kuvalehti to certain statements by his colleague, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Stubb. This one, indeed, caused in his country, a mini-storm by declaring in Dublin that Finland shares with Ireland to be "non-aligned" and "neutral" while defending in Moscow a few days before that Finland "is not neutral".

Time to open the discussion? Neutrality is a sensitive subject if ever there was one in Finland, at a time when certain political leaders (mainly Conservatives or Christian Democrats) want to negotiate a shift towards NATO (a new White Paper on security which also addresses this question should be published in the coming days). But the intervention of Väyrynen (member of the Center Party, and several times Minister of Foreign Affairs) is interesting. Because the question is, again, sensitive in Europe. Neutrality has become a major campaign issue in Ireland over the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. It is thus interesting to see how a man, rather hostile to EU membership at the time, but moderate, considers this question. Does Europe allow neutrality is therefore not only a theoretical, doctrinal, interesting but politically decisive question? It is surprising to see that the European authorities are rather silent on this subject, as if the subject were taboo.

Neutral or non-aligned, Finnish neutrality? For the Finnish Minister, they are one and the same thing. One being the condition of the other. "The condition of neutrality
during war is non-alignment in peacetime, since membership in a military alliance could prevent neutrality during war. Gradually, neutrality became a synonym for non-alignment. During the Cold War, Finland exercised a policy of neutrality which consisted of two elements. Finland was neutral in the sense that it did not belong to a military alliance (the Pact of Friendship and Cooperation with the USSR did not constitute a military alliance between Finland and that country). "The hard core of Finland's policy of neutrality" is that this country wanted to maintain this position of neutrality and preserve and strengthen its independence." As a militarily non-aligned, and thus neutral, state Finland could adopt the a policy of neutrality also as a general orientation of its foreign policy. Finland tried to keep away from conflicts of interest between the great powers and to maintain good relations with all states. This idea involved strengthening independence from the Soviet Union".

An attempt to question neutrality when joining the EU failed. Accession to the EU was the occasion - during the accession negotiations - to redefine this position and this line. According to the new formulation, Finland retained, in the new Europe, the hard core of its neutrality, that is to say military non-alignment and a credible independent defence. Participation in the CFSP, however, meant that Finland could no longer exercise its traditional policy of neutrality in the broad sense of the term. "As the accession negotiations progressed", recounts the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, "certain Member States demanded that Finland give up its neutrality completely. They however went back on their demand when they found that this would require the transformation of the EU into a federal state with military security guarantees".

Neutrality and EU membership are not incompatible. In Finland, many people said that as a member of the EU, this country could no longer be called neutral. They were wrong, writes Väyrynen. In the EU, the language is clear: non-NATO member states and thus militarily non-aligned are called neutral member states. In Finland, when Mr. Lipponen became Prime Minister, the term neutrality was abandoned and Finland began to be referred to as a militarily non-aligned state. Mr. Lipponen, meanwhile, went even further, according to Mr. Väyrynen. He said that since joining the EU, Finland was not even militarily non-aligned anymore. Why this change in vocabulary? According to him, "to smooth the way for Finland's accession to NATO or for the transformation of the EU into a military alliance and a European pillar of NATO". This drift is worrying, according to him. "It is hopeless to try to change the established language of other countries by differentiating between neutrality and military non-alignment. It creates misunderstandings and confusion. Wouldn't it be wise to try to harmonize our concepts with the language of other countries by re-adopting the term neutrality alongside and as a synonym of military non-alignment"

The usefulness of having a neutral country, stronger than ever. Even recently, "the United States justified the choice of Helsinki as a meeting place for the commanders of the American and Russian armed forces (NB: after the conflict in Georgia, and when the ceasefire was not yet consolidated ) by the neutrality of Finland."


Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

One thought on “Finnish neutrality, explained by Väyrynen"

  • neutrality and non-alignment, it's semantics of seam pants (or pleonasm ...) During the second world war, in 40 Finland courageously resisted the Russian ogre, even putting him in check and then became the ally of hitler. we cannot at the same time want to remain neutral and join nato louis-marie nantes

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