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Finland’s NATO option and the TPNW

February 1, 2022

by Kati Juva

A 2019 public opinion poll showed 84% of Finns support the TPNW. ICAN graphic.

Finland has not signed the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), although is going as an observer to the first meeting of TPNW member states in Vienna, which has now been postponed until later this year. Finland is not a member of NATO, nor does it have an extended deterrence relationship with US. Nevertheless, it acts like it does.

Why has Finland forgotten its past as an active promotor of nuclear disarmament, while 84% of Finns want Finland to signs the TPNW and three out of the five parties in the coalition government support the ban treaty?

The possibility to join NATO has very long been one of the basic doctrines in Finnish foreign policy. We have a border with Russia more than 1,000 km long, but Finland positions itself clearly as part of the “west.” After the Second World War (in which we fought the Soviet Union) we had to build new friendly relationships with our great neighbor, which was not always straightforward. The Soviet Union used to have much influence in our policy. Little by little we came closer to western democracies and after the collapse of the Soviet Union we joined the EU in 1995.

There has been a lot of discussion about Nordic or EU forces and common defence, but when most of the EU countries are also in NATO, this has not led to anything concrete. In terms of defence and military capability our defence forces have become more and more integrated with the US and NATO. Much of our military equipment (e.g., fighters) is from NATO countries. We are NATO partners and sometimes join their military exercises. But we are not members.

During all these decades the majority of Finnish parties and politicians—and also public opinion—have been clearly against joining NATO. Politicians have all the time repeated that joining NATO is not currently a real possibility, and we would never go there against the Finnish people’s will. Still, it has been important to our independence and self-esteem that we always have the option on seeking membership, if we wish.  And NATO has stated that the door would we open to us, if we so decide.

Keeping the door open to NATO (even if we are not currently getting in) is very important to some of our politicians and especially to our civil servants in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They therefore avoid doing anything that could make NATO think we are not eligible to join it. And when NATO headquarters is fiercely opposing the TPNW, these people counsel strongly that Finland shall not sign the treaty, in order not to provoke NATO into close the door on us. Thus, they are trying to be more Catholic than the Pope himself.

What is interesting and delightful is that actually the attitude towards the TPNW in many NATO countries is more positive than in the NATO headquarters. Norway and Germany are going as observers to the Member State Meeting and interesting discussions have also taken place in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain. 

Unfortunately, the current atmosphere in Europe has increased the support in Finland to join NATO. When Russia’s president Putin says that NATO shall not expand farther east, which concerns also Finland and Sweden, this has made Finns more keen to join. In the last poll in January the opposition to join NATO was for the first time less than 50% (42%), although the support was still only 28%.

So Finland’s (and probably Sweden’s) possibilities and probabilities to join the TPNW are tied to the future and nature of NATO. Will it be a nuclear alliance or a military/defence alliance advocating nuclear disarmament. The knot could begin to untie if any on the non-nuclear NATO countries could step on the right side of history and sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Until then, PSR Finland and ICAN Finland continue to advocate and promote the treaty in Finnish policy. The results, however, are strongly connected to Finland’s relationship with NATO and to the NATO countries’ stance on the TPNW. 

Kati Juva is a member of the board of PSR Finland, coordinator of ICAN Finland, and an at-large member of the IPPNW board, where she has served as Speaker of the International Council.

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