Finland's Shame


(The Wall Street Journal Europe 21 FEB 2005)

The Finnish Parliament decided in December that we are to remain a non-allied country. For an EU member this claim is as credible as being half-pregnant.

The recent anniversary of the defense victory against Stalin in 1944, when Finland lost Karelia but kept its independence, made us Finns realize once again how we were on the edge of the precipice 60 years ago. Had the heroic defense along the eastern border collapsed, the Red Army would have marched to Helsinki. Finland would have been occupied like Estonia and its stubborn people would have been scattered around Siberia.

When World War II began we were left alone because the League of Nations turned out to be nothing but a paper tiger. The fact that the 1939 aggression against Finland, which started the five-month Winter War, led to the expulsion of the Soviet Union from the organization did nothing to stop the Red Army. No state came to our rescue and all we had was the will to remain independent. The battle against injustice united Finns and gave us the strength to make the impossible possible. The second attack against Finland during World War II was the only major campaign Stalin failed to see through victoriously in 1944-1945. The fate of the Baltic states was avoided by the skin of our teeth, but the cost was tragic: 95,000 dead and 200,000 wounded. My father lost four of his brothers.

Finland's insular political culture adds salt to these old wounds by censoring debate about Stalin's capture of Karelia. The memory is still painful for Finns who were torn away from their homes. Democratic neighbors must be able to talk about such past injustice.

Now we have to secure the dearly won freedom for our children. The instinct of self-preservation that arises from our collective memory should dictate our future direction. It is our duty to analyze the ever faster evolving world. Nobody is threatening the former enemies Britain, Germany and France, and yet they remain active members of the alliance. Similarly, the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as well as other former Warsaw Pact members rushed to do the same after the fall of Communism and the Berlin Wall. Are we Finns going to wait until Russia joins NATO? Already 94% of the EU population belongs in NATO because it's like a revolutionary fire insurance that actually prevents the fire. Every father would want this kind of protection for his family.

It is time for Finland to join NATO. Among the EU countries attacked in World War II, only Finland remains alone. It is impossible to understand why we are taking such a risk -- haven't we learned from our history? We are like a lonely survivor on a desert island refusing to board a ship because we think it may be going in the wrong direction. But in considering what's best for the nation's interest, there's no room for political correctness, wishful thinking or anti-Americanism.


How is the petite Finnish Maid reacting when looking at Russia, where democracy is sadly going down like the Kursk, the Russian submarine that sank in August 2000? We must do our utmost to help the democratization in Russia. The best way to do that is to be faithful to universal values.

Alarming events are taking place next door, most tragically the war in Chechnya. A war in my country on the scale of Chechnya would mean the death of about one million Finns or 10 million in Ukraine, another country that borders Russia but isn't in NATO. If President Vladimir Putin in his actions is a prisoner of his past, we certainly cannot afford to be the same. Yet we recently closed down a Chechen resistance Web site that had been operational for only two days without as much as a court order. The Web site was then relaunched from Sweden. In January, Chechen ex-minister Akhmed Zakayev did not dare to come to Helsinki from his asylum in the U.K. because he did not get guarantees that we wouldn't hand him over to Russia. Shameful post-Finlandization!

The Finns did not fight and die so that 60 years later the leaders of the country could undermine Finland's security. Does President Tarja Halonen meet her responsibilities as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces when she insists on the unilateral prohibition of mines in order to join the 1997 Ottawa Convention? Finland shares a 1,269-kilometer border with an unstable great power to the East, which has no intention to follow suit. At the same time Russia is opposed to Finland allying itself with the peacemakers of the West. Do we deserve a drafty home with unlocked doors? During the wars, the keys of Finland were in firmer hands.

The leading foreign policy duo, Ms. Halonen and Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, insists on fighting yesterday's battles. They have been unable to grow out of their 1970's anti-American, anti-military ideology and cannot bring themselves to admit that without decent defense forces, peace cannot be guaranteed. Consequently they managed to change the mutual defense clause of the future EU constitution to allow Finns to stand idly by while other EU members are putting their necks on the line. No NATO, no EU defense for Finland. Instead the grand project of our leaders is the Helsinki Process where Finland is creating a brave new world by clamping down on globalization. But Finland is not an NGO nor is ATTAC our best defense!

Ms. Halonen even insists on a green light from the U.N. as a precondition to dispatch troops for missions of the EU rapid reaction force. But what about the thousands of Srebrenica civilians who died when they trusted the U.N. for protection? Dogmatism can be a lethal substitute for realism. This Chamberlain vision of world affairs is not shared by our previous Social Democratic leaders Martti Ahtisaari and Paavo Lipponen.

During the Cold War, it was wise to be neutral, though signing the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union made our political elite rot from inside -- in stark contrast to our defense forces and the general public. Now wisdom and the national interest call for Finland to have such an "AFCMA" with countries deeply committed to democracy and human dignity. We cannot be free-riders while others lose their lives to build a democratic global team.

Great things are happening. Europeans made history when we stretched out our hand to Turkey, a world of a different faith. Ukrainians majestically stood up for their rights and the resulting victory of justice inspires people all over the world. And in Iraq, not even terrorists' death threats could quench the people's thirst for democracy. Finally we hear some positive news from the Israelis and Palestinians. The roadmap for global peace is boundless, and though it is littered with obstacles, it will lead to a new world where all arms point in the same direction. At this crossroad, the Finns need leadership that stands the test of time.

Mr. Vatanen, a native Finn, was elected to his second term in the European Parliament from Grand Sud-Est, France. He is a member of the European People's Party and the Foreign Affairs Committee.

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