The Finnish decision to join NATO is not entirely unexpected. But even without a surprise effect, it means a turning point in world politics. For decades, the country in Scandinavia, with its strict neutrality, was seen as a model of how to best protect one’s security between antagonistic blocs by not siding with one side or the other, but following its own, independent course on military issues. The offside as a safe place, so to speak.
Even before Russia’s attack on Ukraine, some were recommending “Finlandization” of the Kyiv-ruled country in eastern Europe – and are still recommending the move even as Russia’s military was already razing Ukrainian cities and shooting civilians off bicycles to spread terror. But since Thursday, the world has had to say goodbye to the Finland model as a neutral state that other countries should follow.
Because Finland draws the logical conclusion from the fact that, unlike in the Cold War, it no longer stands between two blocs defending the status quo. With Russia lurking on the one hand today, an actor who has repeatedly attacked other countries and claims even more with aggressive rhetoric. On the other hand, with NATO, there is a collective security system that does quite a lot to secure Ukraine’s existence in the fight with Russia before it enters the war. This alliance has also effectively protected its members in Eastern Europe, such as the Baltic States, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, by promising assistance in the event of an attack (Article 5), at least so far.
Vladimir Putin’s dream of restoring a Russian empire is particularly dangerous for the 5.5 million Finns, because their country belonged to the Russian Tsarist Empire until 1917. On the other hand, there is the Finnish self-confidence of having held its own against the Soviet superiority in the Winter War of 1939/40.
The decision in favor of NATO now also harbors risks: Even if all NATO members seem willing to welcome Finland, it will take months before a corresponding accession document is ratified in all capitals. Until then, Helsinki is not under the protection of Article 5, which guarantees each member who is attacked the assistance of all.
But that’s no reason to panic for a number of reasons: A Russian military, failing to achieve its goals in Ukraine and suffering horrendous casualties, seems unlikely capable of launching a major attack across the 1,300-kilometer border with Finland. Finnish representatives are already taking part in NATO consultations, the Finnish military is already communicating and practicing with NATO associations. It’s not two completely different worlds that are meant to come together.
Russian threats will follow. Vladimir Putin’s propaganda will claim that Finland and NATO are joining forces to pose a new threat to Russia. This is especially true if Sweden follows the same path, which speaks for itself.
The opposite is true: Finland and probably Sweden are reacting to the violence emanating from Russia. You make the right decision. Vladimir Putin doesn’t want to see it: the longer and more cruel the war he wages, the bigger he makes his opponents, the stronger he welds them together.