President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö spoke at a National Defence Course Association meeting on Wednesday, 14 October 2020.
President Niinistö opened the event by reflecting on the concepts of homeland and spirit of national defence as well as the feelings they evoke in Finns. The speech was relayed from the Presidential Palace by remote link to Finlandia Hall.
According to the President, for him the concepts bring to mind, among other things, a sense of independence, defence, reconstruction and a certain kind of connection – the pursuit of the same things. This may not be the case for young people, however, for whom the terms homeland and spirit of national defence might be more obscure.
“But young people, too, have feelings. Perhaps different time-bound, concrete feelings,” said the President. As examples, he gave freedom to fulfil oneself, democracy and the ability and will to meet future challenges such as coronavirus and climate change. “Our country Finland is at the forefront of this – Finland, our homeland,” he said.
What will multilateralism consist of in the future?
At the event, President Niinistö also spoke about changing multilateral cooperation and the tightening geopolitical situation.
According to the President, multilateralism is an important value for Finland: “It is protection for the small.” He said it is significant how, at the UN Virtual Assembly a few weeks ago, both Russia and China emphasised the need for a multilateral system.
At the same time, the President noted that multilateralism is under pressure to change. The United States has withdrawn and a return to the former situation will not happen quickly. According to the President, new winds are coming to a system which has traditionally carried the imprint of the West. “In multilateral cooperation, there is not only the problem of how effective it is, but also the question of what it will consist of in the future,” he noted.
Where is Europe?
With regard to the United States and Europe, President Niinistö reflected on the previous default values in terms of security and European economic growth: “About the fact that the United States is, in a certain way, Europe’s support and security.” These default values are changing direction, however.
“Is it now the case that the United States has also begun to expect from Europe more responsibility for its own security, a more equitable trade balance and, above all, support in the controversial issues that arise between the United States and China, particularly in economic matters?” he asked.
With regard to China, President Niinistö returned to President Xi’s speech to the UN General Assembly, in which he intimated that China did not need more living space. According to the President, it would be good to ask at what stage of history the size of the living space will be determined. For example, China still has great potential for exerting economic influence and, as a result, the temptation for states to hand over significant assets to China will increase. The President further noted that China requires at least a neutral position in disputes between China and the United States.
With regard to Russia, President Niinistö highlighted the term “Eurasian cooperation” used by President Putin in his speech to the UN General Assembly, by which he meant broader cooperation covering the whole of Asia and Europe. It is a new idea, the motives for which, however, are not difficult to understand according to the President.
“In all this, one has to state that the European Union is not highly visible,” he observed. According to the President, Member States also have a role to play in unlocking the EU’s huge economic and military potential. “Because in today’s world, power and money seem to count.”
“A spirit of national defence is still required”
At the end of his speech, President Niinistö returned from global matters to Finland, stating that although Finland has uncomplicated channels of communication in all of the above-mentioned directions, this will not apply indefinitely. “A spirit of national defence is still required. We must have a high threshold, i.e. the strength to repel those who come here by force and, moreover, this will make us a credible partner for those who think the same as we do. I feel these words are significant for our own defence.”
According to the President, it is important that even those who disagree should still be able to talk to each other. Antipathy arising between each other is dangerous to the common will. “The most important thing is that we continue to pursue the same constructive goal. Even if the means should vary.”