The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused a rapid spike in the Finnish public’s support for joining NATO. Finland’s right-wing political parties are using the opportunity to rush the country into the military pact; Finland’s “center-left” government seems happy to capitulate. It falls to Finnish workers to reject foreign military adventures and resist imperialist military alliances.
The plan developing for pushing the country into joining the military alliance involves an unprecedented manoeuvre to avoid democratic norms under the current constitution. For decades there was never majority support for NATO membership in Finland. The past month has seen a jump up to around 60% support, driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – but already there are signs that this popularity is waning. Thus a referendum on membership, one option prescribed under the country’s constitution, would stand a good chance of keeping Finland out of NATO. Instead, the Thatcherite-led National Coalition and the far-right populist Finns Party are squaring themselves up for a rushed parliamentary vote that would require a two-thirds majority – while a controlling balance of MPs either “don’t know” or refuse to say publicly how they plan to vote.
NATO membership, and more generally an aggressive policy against Russia, are longtime goals of Finland’s conservatives. Superficially, the Stalinist invasion of Finland in 1939 combined with 30 years of Soviet postwar influence over Finland’s foreign policy is regarded as the cause. While these are sore subjects, focusing on them excludes more salient features of history.
Just months after the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, recognised Finland’s independence from Russia at the turn of 1917/18 the reactionary White Movement launched expansionist military expeditions into northwestern Russia — four between 1918 and 1920. Some of these same leaders in 1941, moreover, openly stated that they joined the Second World War against the USSR alongside Nazi Germany not even to reclaim lost territory, but for conquest. It was only when in 1944 it was clear that the Nazis were losing that the Finnish government agreed to an armistice with the USSR.
Since the end of the Second World War, Finland and the USSR (and later Russia) have shared a heavily guarded border over 1,300km long. Finland remains one of the most militarised countries in Europe, with 900,000 reservists and universal male conscription. Both the National Coalition and the Finnish far right still celebrate today the heritage of the White Movement, wrapping themselves in the organization’s symbols. Many privately still express expansionist wishes toward the Russian region of East Karelia.
Push for NATO membership
Thus Finland’s conservatives clearly have a nefarious agenda in pushing NATO membership. The Social Democrats, Greens and Left Alliance, meanwhile, are exhibiting their traditional failing: – an utter absence of backbone. While the Left Alliance and its predecessors have consistently opposed NATO membership, leader Li Andersson has announced that it is no longer a question which would cause them to walk out of the government. The Greens’ position shifted rightward even before the Ukraine crisis began, and now they call for NATO membership.
Finland’s Prime Minister, who initially tried to delay the whole question until after the next election, has now said a decision must be reached this spring – i.e., in the next two months –while still refusing to state an opinion on the subject. It seems likely the question will be settled behind closed doors through the Byzantine political machinery of the Social Democratic Party.
Finland’s big business institutions show no such mealy-mouthed “neutrality”. The Finnish Chamber of Commerce, the ‘non-partisan’ conservative president, Sauli Niinistö, and major media outlets like Helsingin Sanomat are all politely but firmly – and rapidly – normalizing the idea of Finland giving up its nearly eight decades of peace and neutrality to join NATO.
Rushing the debate circumvents public dialogue on what NATO means. Today NATO is presented as an alliance of ‘democracies’ but the former Portuguese dictatorship was one of its founder members which NATO did not complain about, it was only the April 1974 revolution which won democratic rights in Portugal. Today Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, is an authoritarian state, imprisoning oppositionists and repeatedly invading neighbouring countries. The claim has long been that NATO kept the peace; but instead, and especially since the end of the USSR, NATO has been a major exporter of war. NATO intervention in the collapsing Yugoslavia saved no lives, but instead meant death for Serbian civilians and pushed the country further into the arms of far-right nationalists, while alienating it from the rest of Europe.
NATO’s bombing campaign against Libya in 2011 helped push that country into an ongoing and deadly chaos of sparring petty warlords and slave markets. A long-running NATO intervention in Afghanistan saw it serve as a passive adjunct to the US as the country was similarly devastated.
Finland and Sweden as NATO members would share responsibility for inflicting the same kind of terror on other countries that Russia is now inflicting on Ukraine.
But even if that odious record is somehow put aside, would NATO membership protect Finland from an expansionist Russia? Not at all! In 2007 Estonia had been a full member of NATO for over four years when a series of cyber-attacks were launched against the country in 2007 – and NATO did nothing until after they were over.
Indeed it has always been clear that NATO’s ‘Collective defense” strategy regards the smaller countries of eastern and central Europe as dispensable. Whistleblower and former US nuclear planner, Daniel Ellsberg, wrote of the consequences of NATO’s policies if nuclear war broke out between the US and USSR. “Finland”, he wrote, “…would be wiped out by fallout from U.S. ground-burst explosions on the Soviet submarine pens in Leningrad”.
Commenting on the ‘Winter War’ of 1939-40 between Finland and the USSR, just two weeks after it ended, Leon Trotsky wrote about small countries being simply, “Pawns in the hands of the great powers. The sole freedom they still retain – and this only to a limited extent – is the freedom of choosing between masters”.
Finland today, as a NATO member, would gain no security. Instead, it would be entering into a pact to back the increasingly desperate military adventures of a USA with waning power. Independence – even “neutrality” of the most heavily armed sort, such as Switzerland displays – can only provide temporary and partial respite. Capitalism continues with its deadly national rivalry and its destruction of the planet and all its inhabitants.
Only a definitive global defeat of capitalism and its replacement with international socialism can bring peace and prosperity for those alive today and for the generations to come.