Last year as we gathered here in Munich, the world was standing at the brink of a large-scale war. Russian troops stood at the border of Ukraine, talks had proven futile and the writing was on the wall. In his speech at the Conference, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky talked about the eight-year-long war that Ukraine had endured. He pleaded for action and asked, if we would be able to hear him now.
Just four days after the conference, Russia launched its full-scale war on Ukraine. A year later, the war is still raging on with no end in sight. Russia continues and escalates its aggression. It targets civilian infrastructure causing unspeakable suffering and devastation.
And our answer to President Zelensky is: We hear you loud and clear. And we are with you.
The Western response to Russia’s aggression has been swift, strong and unified. We are united in our support and solidarity to Ukraine. We are united in our opposition to Russia’s illegal acts. And we are united in our resolve to strengthen our own defence and resilience.
In his speech in 2010 in front of the Reichstag building, Ewald von Kleist described Central Europe of the past decades as an “Oasis of happiness”. But he added a word of warning: this oasis is not to be taken for granted. Von Kleist had experienced war in Europe. He knew what he was talking about.
Europe has indeed been fortunate to enjoy decades of relative peace and prosperity. Before February 24th last year, it was tempting to think that this state of affairs will continue indefinitely. Many of us had started to take peace for granted. Many of us had let our guard down. That all changed.
The German language has given us many wonderful, incredibly descriptive words that capture the spirit of the age. The word that has emerged to describe this era is apt – Zeitenwende. To quote Federal Chancellor Scholz: that means that the world afterwards will no longer be the same as the world before.
European countries are now rapidly ramping up defence spending and improving their capabilities. It has become very clear that peace, security and rules-based international order are something that we have to actively uphold, and be prepared to protect. The renewed focus on security and defence in Europe will benefit transatlantic security as a whole. It will make us better partners, and stronger Allies.
For Finland, Russia’s invasion brought back echoes of our own history. We had not forgotten our past. Throughout the years, we had continued to invest in our security. We had held on to conscription as the backbone of our national defence. We had developed international partnerships and become a trusted partner for NATO.
We had not let our guard down. But we, too, needed to rethink. Russia’s attempt to bring back spheres of influence and, finally after that, its attack on a sovereign neighbour prompted us to take one more step in increasing our security: that is applying for NATO membership.
We made this decision in close coordination with our friend and closest partner, Sweden. I believe I speak for both Finland and Sweden when I say that we are deeply grateful for all the support that we have gotten in this process.
Twenty-eight NATO countries moved fast to ratify our memberships. Many offered their support and intensified cooperation. The application period – the so-called grey period – has not been cold or grey. On the contrary. The warmth and the sense of unity have been overwhelming.
Our NATO memberships are still two ratifications short of completion. I want to stress that it is very important that at the Vilnius Summit in July, we will both sit at the table as full NATO members. In these critical times, Finland and Sweden’s memberships will strengthen the whole Alliance.
And truly, these times require a strong Alliance. As the late Senator John McCain put it in a letter beautifully read by his wife in this very ceremony in 2018: “we come to Munich because sustaining our vision of world order, though it requires wealth and power and realism, is not merely a material struggle. It is a moral struggle. It is about the values that will govern our world. That is why we are allies.”
With these words, I want to thank the Munich Security Conference for granting us the Ewald von Kleist award.