Prime Minister Støre, dear Jonas, Director Sverdrup, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to return to Oslo, to NUPI, and to Litteraturhuset. One day shy of ten years ago, during my state visit to Norway, I also shared the stage with Director Sverdrup here.
What a difference a decade makes. Back then, the thought of a full-scale war in Europe would have seemed unimaginable. And if we are honest, I don’t think that there were many people in the room then who would have expected Finland to join NATO.
We are now living in a new reality. That reality is, of course, most dramatically felt in Ukraine, every single day. Although Ukraine is making heroic progress in reclaiming its territory, the suffering of the Ukrainian people continues. The end of the war – Russia’s brutal war of aggression against a sovereign country, against its neighbour – is unfortunately nowhere in sight. The news this morning are a case in point: the indiscriminate attacks on Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine.
I believe that Finland and Norway, two countries that also share a border with Russia, feel particularly strongly about this. Finland, like Norway, together with the whole EU and our other partners, has firmly condemned Russia’s acts. Finland, like Norway, has been steadfast in its support to Ukraine ever since the start of the war. Finland will continue its assistance to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people for as long as it is needed.
The effects of the war, however, don’t stop in Ukraine. The security situation in all of Europe is more precarious than it has been for a very long time. If we needed a reminder of the dangers for us here in the North of Europe, we recently received one. The explosions in the Baltic Sea two weeks ago, leading to gas leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines, need to be thoroughly investigated. Those events have reminded us of the need to bolster the security of our critical infrastructure. They have also reminded us of the myriad possibilities in which this crisis may escalate, horizontally or vertically, with unforeseen consequences.
One thing is certain. In the coming months, our resilience will be severely tested. There are dangerous scenarios that we can and should anticipate. There are wicked surprises that we need to prepare for. Whatever Russia does next, however difficult the energy crisis will turn out to be, unity must be our response.
I am convinced that we will pass this test. But it will not happen automatically. Maintaining our unity, maintaining our resilience, will require constant efforts from every single one of us. We must be vigilant. We must be ready for hard choices. And we must make them by sticking together.
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For us Nordics, this should be a natural instinct. Because fortunately, in this new reality, some basic truths have remained unchanged. Or rather: they have been even further strengthened by the changes around us. As I said in my speech here in 2012, Finland and Norway belong to one Nordic family. As I said here then, we are welded together by sheer geography. And as I said here then, there is still room for the Nordic countries to strengthen their common profile in the eyes of the world.
There are still two countries that have not yet ratified the NATO membership of Finland and Sweden. It is up to Hungary and Türkiye to decide whether they are ready to proceed and join the 28 allies who have already given their green light. Based on the good and constructive conversations we have had with both countries, on various levels, I am confident that it will happen in due course.
When Finland, together with Sweden, eventually becomes a NATO member, our one Nordic family will finally be welded together by a common Alliance, too. It will bring an important additional ingredient to the already powerful Nordic model. A common approach to security. The Nordic brand will become even stronger. We should think how we could make better use of that globally, too.
When Finland becomes a NATO member, the most important value added to our security will be the preventive effect of the Alliance’s joint deterrence. As a NATO member, Finland will participate in the planning and development of that deterrence. It will provide the kind of protection we would not have outside NATO.
Of course, NATO membership is also of major significance in case that this preventive effect is not enough. As a NATO member, Finland will participate in the planning and, if necessary, implementation of the joint defence.
The bottom line is that Finland is seeking to become a NATO member, full stop. Nothing more, nothing less. We don’t have any particular requests or reservations that we would be setting as preconditions for our membership. The Finnish profile in NATO will develop naturally over time and according to changing circumstances.
When the whole Nordic family belongs to NATO, I believe that we will see a lot of Nordic cooperation within the Alliance. That comes naturally, given our Nordic identity and mindset. More often than not, our interests and approaches will align.
But let me stress this: Finland is not seeking to build any kind of a regional bloc within NATO. We will look at the Baltic Sea region as a whole. We will look at the Alliance as a whole. We are not just asking what NATO can do for us. We are also thinking what we can do for NATO, committing to the security of the whole Alliance, of all Allies.
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
As big a step as NATO membership is for Finland, not everything will change. We are not starting from scratch. Although our security environment is changing dramatically, the basic contours of Finland’s foreign and security policy remain intact. They just need to be adapted to the new reality.
We have never wanted to increase tensions. But we have always made sure that we are also ready for more difficult circumstances. We may not have made the loudest of public statements. Instead, it is our silent but robust deeds that have made the difference. And we are prepared now.
We are now benefiting from the fact that we never let our guard down in the past decades. Our defence is in good shape and we are increasingly investing in it. NATO membership does by no means mean that we could start neglecting our own national defence. Just the opposite.
Finland’s membership will double the border NATO currently shares with Russia. For both Finland and NATO, it is of utmost importance that Finland will continue to primarily take care of defending its own territory. When coordinated with the joint planning of the Alliance, fulfilling this task has a stabilising effect that will enhance security in Northern Europe as a whole.
Over the years, Finland has built a dense web of Western defence and security partnerships. Although all eyes in our domestic debate are now on NATO, we must not forget the importance of these other cornerstones of our security. The EU as a more effective global actor, also in the field of foreign and security policy, is in our core interest. And the further development of EU-NATO cooperation is now even more significant for us than before.
Also as NATO members, we want to advance further our bilateral and multilateral partnerships, in Europe and across the Atlantic. As was recently announced, we are opening negotiations on a Defence Cooperation Agreement with the US – a similar agreement to the one that Norway has. I have been delighted to see how steadily our bilateral defence cooperation with Norway has developed, with a particular focus on the North and the Arctic. The importance of that cooperation will only grow with our NATO membership.
As we know, all five Nordics are joined in various multilateral defence arrangements, from NORDEFCO to the UK-led JEF. I want to note Denmark’s evolving position in EU and on other defence cooperation, which brings in a welcome new dynamism also from the Southern part of the Nordics.
And we should not forget the trilateral cooperation between Finland, Sweden and Norway, either. Already in 2019, I convened the prime, defence and interior ministers of the three countries to my summer residence Kultaranta to intensify this connection. In a changed situation, with different ministers in office in all three countries, I believe we would all benefit from continuing this conversation soon.
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Finally, as I mentioned in the beginning, Finland and Norway share one particular element that will always be a major factor for our security. We have a common neighbour, Russia. And I believe we also share a common approach to that neighbour.
As for Finland, we have never been naïve about this. Neither have you. Our idea has been to maintain as functioning a relationship with Russia as possible at a given point in time. Simultaneously, I have always repeated the old Finnish wisdom that the Cossack takes everything that is loose.
At this point in time, any kind of functioning relationship with Russia seems like a very distant prospect. Instead, we need to focus on fixing anything that may still lay loose.
But we also need to remember that Russia will not disappear. It will continue to be our neighbour, even if there is no turn for the better. Finland can never afford to ignore it. NATO membership will not change that reality. In this, too, I think there is a lot Finland and Norway can learn from each other.
I now very much look forward to continuing our conversation, here on this stage, later during this visit, and in the months and years ahead.