Finland’s NATO accession would entail a “great risk of escalation,” says the president

The Finnish president has warned that the bid for NATO membership would pose a “great risk” of escalation in Europe as the Nordic country seeks ways to strengthen its security arrangements following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sauli Niinisto said joining NATO is one of the two main alternatives to Finland’s current position within the EU but outside of a military alliance. The other option is to deepen defense cooperation with the US and neighboring Sweden.

“The starting point is that we’re looking at something other than just going forward,” Niinisto told the Financial Times. “All of these alternatives have the benefit of improving our security. Or we ensure that our stability is maintained and we can ensure that we live in it [a] safe area. . . Our main headline is: Finnish security.”

For the first time a majority of Finns want to join NATO; a survey by State broadcaster Yle Last week, 62 percent were in favor and only 16 percent against. For decades, support was around 20 percent. If Finland’s political leadership supported NATO membership, 74 percent of Finns said they would support joining.

Niinisto practicing as President significant influence on Finland’s foreign policy, said: “I understand very well that, for example [joining] NATO may seem like our worries are over. But all of the different alternatives carry risks that we need to recognize. . . At the moment the biggest risk is an escalation of the situation in Europe.”

Finland’s Defense Minister Jussi Niinisto inspects Finnish troops during a joint operation by Finnish and Swedish troops on the Swedish island of Gotland © Anders Wiklund/AFP/Getty Images

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is on its head Decades of thinking about security in Finland and Sweden, while people in the two Nordic nations see what is happening to another non-Nato European country.

Finland’s government is preparing a white paper on security options including possible NATO membership. Parliament is expected to decide in the coming months whether to request it.

At 1,340 km, Finland is the EU country with the longest border with Russia and was occupied by the Soviet Union during World War II. It is one of the few European countries that did not abolish conscription or sharply cut defense spending after the Cold War.

Finland has long wanted to act alongside Sweden, but there are signs NATO is debating is more advanced in Helsinki. Sweden’s Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson recently ruled out a Swedish application to NATO, saying it would “further destabilize” the region.

When asked if he supported her comments, Niinisto replied: “We have no escalation in this region. That’s the starting point. I would just say that we need to examine very carefully all the elements that we need to consider.”

The Finnish President said he sees the “risk of escalation in Europe” differently than his debate on security solutions. “If it escalates, it would have a huge impact [on] Everyone. Therefore, I underline the risk of escalation without linking this to Finnish behavior or our decision-making.”

Niinisto underlined that in addition to Finland’s status as a strengthened NATO partner, deepening defense cooperation with Sweden and the United States is a real possibility. “It is a large network of different collaborations that we have created. An alternative is to keep making it more,” he said.

He added that in his recent meeting with US President Joe Biden, “Swedish-Finnish-American cooperation was discussed and we got a lot of understanding from Washington.”

The Finnish President also stressed that “it is a tradition to keep our own defense forces as strong as possible”. Finland, a country of 5.5 million people, can deploy up to 280,000 soldiers. “We will continue to strengthen them,” added Niinisto.

Finland has long sought to empower the EU’s defense clause – Article 42.7 – and make it comparable to NATO’s Article 5, which promises that an attack on one member state is an attack on all. But few other EU members were willing to put much stock in it.

Niinisto called Article 42.7 “stronger than Article 5 in expression, but we don’t find much behind it”. But he added that Germany’s recent decision to nearly double its defense spending has “turned a page in European security and defense discussions.”

He added: “We see a stronger Europe. . . Participation in transatlantic cooperation, and with that we also see a stronger NATO in Europe. This is an element that we must take into account. It’s not an instant fix, it takes time.” Finland’s NATO accession would entail a “great risk of escalation,” says the president

Adam Bradshaw

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