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The President of the Republic of Finland: Baltic Sea

The President of the Republic of Finland
Speeches, 1/15/2009

Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Tarja Halonen at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs in Stockholm on 15 January 2009

(check against delivery) Finland’s Foreign and Security Policy

On this very day Finland and Sweden start commemorating the year 1809, when Finland ceased to be part of the Kingdom of Sweden. The war, which led to this, was severe. Sweden then adopted a new policy, in fact, shaped by the first Bernadotte on the Swedish throne. That policy has kept the country out of armed conflict for two centuries.

After 1809, Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire, but still without own foreign policy. Nevertheless, Finns were interested in international issues and had international contacts. Independence in 1917, of course, made us responsible of our own external relations and security. The Second World War and the Cold War period proved Finland's capability to carry that responsibility.

History is interesting and important. But today, I shall speak about Finland's foreign and security policy. The Foreign Policy Institute, Utrikespolitiska Institutet, is a very appropriate forum for this. The Institute was founded just before the Second World War and it has become a prominent centre of research and debate on international affairs. Thirty years ago, President Kekkonen chose this Institute as a forum for an important speech on a Nordic Nuclear Free Zone.

Swedish research in the field of international relations is a good example to others, and so is also Swedish foreign policy itself. Sweden has for long been a well-developed democracy, and the strength of your society has led to prosperity. All this has made it possible for Sweden to play a dynamic and constructive role on the international scene.

Sweden's post-war security policy was carefully designed to preserve stability in our region. It is worth recalling that neutrality served both our countries well. Membership in the European Union is a new chapter in the foreign policy of both our countries, but that policy should be seen in a longer perspective.

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Finland has been a democratic society throughout her independence. Even during difficult times – and our history includes many of them – our country has maintained its democratic system and, with some effort, the rule of law. This is a proof of the strong will that Finns have for democratic self-determination regarding their own matters. From humble beginnings, Finns have built a Nordic welfare society.

The Nordic countries are societies based on values. It is therefore natural that Finland’s foreign and security policy is also based on values. A central starting point for this is the respect for and reinforcement of international law. International law means support and security for all countries. Particularly important this is for the smaller countries. Nevertheless, it is realistic to note that powerful countries have more influence in international relations – and seem to be willing to do so also in the future.

Finland can best promote her own interests and security in international cooperation. This work is carried out both bilaterally and through international organisations and arrangements.

The United Nations still remains the only truly global forum for international issues, creator of international norms and implementer of joint decisions.

Finland works to strengthen multilateral cooperation, the United Nations and international law. The UN Security Council is the most important body in maintaining international peace and security. The UN must be reformed, but it is more useful to focus on strengthening rather than criticising it.

Finland is a candidate for a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the term of 2013-2014. The election will be held in autumn 2012 – less than four years from now. For us, a Security Council seat is both a means and a value in itself. Membership would provide us with a valuable opportunity to promote international security throughout the world.

Finland’s foreign and security policy is based on a broad concept of security. Peace is seen as a much more extensive concept than a mere absence of war. Peace means development, human security, respect for human rights, democracy and a well-functioning society.

Indeed so-called traditional peace work is also included in the broad definition of security. We Finns are delighted that the Nobel Peace Prize was last year awarded to Martti Ahtisaari, my predecessor as Finland’s President. He truly deserves the prize for his lifetime work.

* * *

An important goal of Finland’s foreign policy is to promote the stability in Northern Europe. It emphasizes equally the importance of Nordic cooperation and cooperation with Russia and the Baltic countries. ’Good neighbourly relations’, as President Mauno Koivisto stated when he was asked in the early 1980s to define Finland’s foreign policy in three words.

The Nordic countries have many cooperation activities that support the broad concept of security. The countries can present and promote their common aims at several forums, such as the UN, the European Union, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and NATO. Arctic areas have become more and more important areas for cooperation.

Finland is currently exploring further possibilities to expand security policy cooperation with Sweden and Norway. In the defence sector, the question involves extremely practical issues, such as arranging exercises. Future cooperation may also include maritime and air surveillance, logistics, training and cooperation on material matters.

* * *

Finland and Sweden joined the European Union 14 years ago. The EU is our new family. A strong and well-functioning Union strengthens security throughout Europe – and this helps the EU to be a more prominent global actor. Finland supports a comprehensive EU approach in which internal and external security are linked to each other.

The Union’s strength lies exactly in its ability to promote security through a diverse range of means, such as enlargement, political dialogue, crisis management and human rights, development and trade policy.

A country holding the EU Presidency must coordinate and represent the opinions of 27 Member States. As so often in the past, also the first days of this year and in particular the events in Gaza have demanded quick reaction from the Union. The cycle of violence in the Middle East should be broken and matters discussed around the negotiating table. As the forthcoming Presidency, Sweden is already representing the EU in international matters alongside the current Presidency holder, the Czech Republic.

Cooperation between the EU and NATO must be better organised in crisis management. This would create mutual benefits – for example in training and exercises for peacekeepers.

In Finland, the debate about our relationship with NATO appears to be more active than in Sweden. It seems, however, that the majority of people in both countries are not for military alignment.

Interesting discussions are ongoing about European security architecture in general. I look forward for more concrete ideas. Some debates on this took place at OSCE Foreign Ministers meeting in Helsinki in December.

* * *

Crisis management is an example of successful Nordic cooperation. The Nordic countries are cooperating closely in different compositions in the Western Balkans, Afghanistan and Africa in such sectors as training, civilian-military cooperation and resources building in crisis regions. It is significant that Norway, which is not a member of the Union, was fully involved in the Nordic Battle Group of the European Union.

It is, of course, clear that closer cooperation with Sweden and Norway complements cooperation in the European Union and cooperation with NATO. Finland and Sweden have made a number of initiatives on the development of the Union’s crisis management policy. As Finland’s Foreign Minister, in late 1990’s, I cooperated closely – and successfully – in these matters especially with Foreign Minister Lena Hjelm-Wallen. Our proposals received support and led to provisions in the Treaties. Also, our proposals paved the way for clear goals concerning civilian and military crisis management. Later I also cooperated with Foreign Minister Anna Lindh.

Finland participates in international crisis management in order to promote peace and security, development and respect for human rights. Participation in crisis management is part of Finland’s own security building and bearing of international responsibility.
We are involved in operations led by the UN, EU and NATO. In many cases, our partners in the practical fieldwork are the Nordic countries or NATO’s Partnership for Peace countries that are Members of the European Union.

In international crisis management, Finland’s strengths are a high level of competence and our comprehensive view of crisis management. Our soldiers have always supported the development of the civilian society in the operational region. It is important to coordinate military and civilian crisis management and development cooperation as well as humanitarian aid in order to attain the best possible joint impact and sustainable results.

Circumstances in crisis management operations are becoming more challenging. The tasks require increasingly specialised troops and performance, which is reflected in material and maintenance costs. While the annual cost of having one Finnish peacekeeper in Kosovo amounts to 89,000 Euros, the figure for Afghanistan is 150,000 Euros and we estimate that one Finnish peacekeeper in Chad will cost 221,000 Euros each year.

* * *

Security and well-being of humankind is tied with the well-being of the nature. In our region, there could be no better gift for sustainable development and for future generations than a clean Baltic. Saving the Baltic Sea is above all a question of coherent activity.

The countries bordering the Baltic Sea have a long history of cooperation. We know each other and we have learned to work together and to seek solutions to problems. Throughout the years, a large number of actors working on Baltic Sea matters has been established in the region. These include different intergovernmental and multinational bodies, associations and foundations set up by municipalities, regions or private individuals.

Maintaining and strengthening the stability of the Baltic Sea region are a matter of importance to Finland. We are committed to work for the development of political, economic and environmental cooperation throughout the Baltic Sea region.

The European Union is in the process of preparing its own strategy for the Baltic Sea region and the work should be completed this year, during the Swedish EU Presidency. Sweden has our full support in this respect.

It is important to have an internal EU Strategy for the region. But in order to achieve concrete results, there must be good cooperation with countries outside the Union. This is particularly true of Russia. Cooperation in the Baltic Sea region must also involve Norway and other countries in the catchment area, such as Belarus and Ukraine.

We in Finland feel that the EU’s Northern Dimension Policy provides a valuable framework for broader cooperation in the Baltic Sea region. Partnerships under the Northern Dimension have already produced good results in many areas and they should also be developed and used in the future.

The Baltic Sea is a major route for transport of energy and goods. For example, some 80 per cent of Finland’s foreign trade is shipped across the Baltic Sea.

The planned Nord Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Germany has been debated lively in the Baltic Sea countries. In Finland, we see the project as a way of improving Europe’s energy security. The decisions on the permits for using our maritime economic territory will be taken on the basis of environmental considerations.

* * *

Globally, climate change is one of the most difficult challenges for sustainable development. The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen will be held in December.

Current economic problems must not slow down the process to combat climate change. We now need a global agreement more than ever. Each nation can do their share. It is very important that all major economies contribute effectively in the global efforts to mitigate the climate change. At the same time, the participation of developing countries is essential.

We must also take gender equality issues into account. Climate change will most seriously hit the poorest people – and 70 percent of the poor are women. By helping women to survive in their everyday lives, we promote the overall goals of development.

The EU has publicized its own targets for combating climate change and is prepared to introduce even more ambitious targets if other continents are prepared to join the effort. Sweden has already announced that environmental matters and climate change will be high on its EU Presidency agenda.

A topical issue is the current economic crisis. The weaknesses in the international financial architecture have been known for a long time. Many experts have warned about this. Also, the ILO World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization stated in its report five years ago that the international financial architecture should be renewed. The goal should be a stable financial system that stimulates global growth, provides adequate financing for enterprises and responds to the needs of workers for decent employment.

* * *

The majority of today’s security challenges are of such nature that no country can handle them alone. Mitigating climate change, preventing the spread of infectious diseases, refugee matters, extreme poverty, a food crisis or a global economic crisis are all challenges for which finding a solution requires broad international cooperation. We need to be more united and work together.

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Updated 1/21/2009

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