Nordicum - Real Estate Annual Finland 2008 - Page 14

THE AGENDA Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on NATO’s Door Dr Risto E. J. Penttilä is Director of the Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA and Chairman of the Atlantic Council of Finland. F As Chairman of the Atlantic Council of Finland I happen to think that Finland’s natural place is among the family of NATO members. I also happen to think that membership would change very little. As one military leader put it, “if we were to join tomorrow, only a few hundred people in Finland would notice the difference”. b inland is unique in many ways. It is the only Western country building new nuclear power. Its people are the least corrupt in the world. Its pedestrians actually stop when a traffic light turns red. And it is the only EU member state bordering Russia that has not joined NATO. Things may be changing. Finland’s centre-right government has commissioned a number of studies and reports on the advantages and disadvantages of membership in the military alliance. The first reports are due by the end of 2007. A government white paper is expected during the course of 2008. Nobody expects a rapid accession. Indeed, most experts agree that Finland will not join as long as President Tarja Halonen is in office. Next presidential election will not be held before January 2012. Thus, supporters of membership are in for a long wait. Yet the mood is changing. When NATO’s Secretary General, Mr Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, visited Finland in November 2007, he was well received by the Finnish political establishment. A much advertised demonstration did not attract more than a handful of activists while media coverage was modest at best. Had the visit taken place a few years ago, protestors would have been plentiful and the media would have been full of stories about another clandestine effort to get Finland into NATO. Sometimes no news is good news. Most Finns still oppose membership in NATO but roughly half of them would be willing to accept membership in the alliance if the Finnish political leadership were to recommend it with “good grounds”. There are plenty of good grounds. Finland already contributes troops to many NATO missions. We have troops in Kosovo. We have troops in Afghanistan. Indeed, if one did not know that Finland is not a NATO member it would be difficult to reach that conclusion from looking at the situation on the ground. In many ways Finland is already acting like a member – without receiving the full benefits of membership. Reluctance to join NATO can be explained by a number of factors. The long shadow of the Cold War, misunderstanding of the nature of NATO and old ideological vendettas are some of them. Yet, one key issue is the unpopularity of US foreign policy. Only two percent of Finns fully agree with the statement that “the USA actions in the global arena are right and deserve the backing of the Finnish people.” American presidential elections will have an impact on Finland’s NATO aspirations as well. If the new preside