Neutral Finland debates NATO membership option

Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen [Wikimedia]

Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen said that his country, which is not a member of any military pact, should consider NATO membership along with Sweden, “when the time is right”. He added that there was no acute security risk for Finland due to the Ukraine crisis.

“My personal opinion is that Finland should belong to NATO. It would strengthen Finland’s position. But I’m in the minority,” he said on Saturday (12 April), in an interview to the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle.

Katainen said that there is no acute security risk facing Finland because of the situation in Ukraine.  But he also pointed out that Russia has said that it’s ready to defend its citizens outside of its own borders.

“This is a serious issue that should be discussed openly,” said Katainen, who especially thanked Yle for its Russian-language news service, Novosti, which allows Russian-speakers in Finland to follow the news in their own mother-tongue.

Katainen also said that the Finnish state was doing fine, rejecting accusations that he was leaving a sinking ship. On 5 April, Katainen said he was stepping down from his job of Prime Minister this summer, and that he was available for a EU top job [read more].

In light of Ukraine developments, Katainen is not the only one in his country to call for NATO membership. Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari (1994-2000), who won the Nobel peace prize in 2008 over his role in the Kosovo process negotiations, strongly advocated that his country should join NATO.

“I’d hope that at some point we’d be able to make that kind of decision and I hope that it would happen jointly with Sweden. I don’t see any reason why the Swedes wouldn’t also make a decision to join,” Ahtisaari said in a recent interview.

But Finnish foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja responded by saying Finland does not require NATO membership because it is already a member of the European Union and a NATO partner. Opposition Centre Party Chair Juha Sipilä says now is not the appropriate time to be considering the NATO question.

“NATO would bring no added benefit to Finnish security. It is not a solution, it would simply bring more problems of its own,” Tuomioja added.

Tuomioja estimates that Katainen is now speaking more freely as his term as Prime Minister draws to an end, more boldly representing his centre-right National Coalition Party views. The NCP party line has traditionally supported NATO membership, while Tuomioja’s Social Democratic Party has opposed it.  

Sipilä said the NATO question shouldn’t be discussed during times of crisis.

“My own NATO position is exactly the same as that of the Centre Party. Finland does not belong to any military alliance, but we wish to maintain that option. If membership was to be considered, there would have to be a nationwide referendum arranged on the issue,” Sipilä said.

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