President Niinistö at the Munich Security Conference: “When we are challenged, we are together”

President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö attended the international Munich Security Conference in Germany on 18–19 February 2022. This year, the main topic of discussion both on the conference stage and in bilateral meetings was European security.

On Saturday, President Niinistö participated in a panel discussion East-West Relations and the European Security Architecture together with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and US Senator Amy Klobuchar.

In the panel discussion, President Niinistö said that the security situation is currently bizarre. “If we look back six months, could any of us have imagined then that Russia would in early 2022 be keeping everyone on their toes – in a world which we consider to be civilised and liberal and in which such behaviour had come to an end many years before?” he asked the audience.

Although Russia has caused confusion with its back-and-forth behaviour, Western countries have, according to the President, remained united and Russia has not succeeded in its demands. However, the situation has posed a new question that is very difficult for the civilised world: “How do you react to behaviour that comes as if from another planet?”

The President said the situation in Ukraine also reminds him of the period before the Winter War. Instead of dividing the nation, people united. “We have seen the same in Ukraine. I feel like the western world is feeling the same right now. We are being challenged, but we are together,” he said.

The President also addressed the future in the panel, stating he was pleased that a high-level of representation from the private sector was also present in Munich. “In the future, the nature of evil will change: I mean artificial intelligence, quantum technology and similar things that, when used for evil, may ultimately be more dangerous than current weapons.” According to the President, the security architecture will no longer be created only by governments; cooperation with the private sector will also be required.

Focused bilateral discussions

In addition, President Niinistö’s programme in Munich included many bilateral meetings. With German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, President Niinistö discussed the current security situation. European security was also the subject of talks with Slovenian President Borut Pahor and Swedish Defence Secretary Peter Hultqvist as well as in brief meetings with UN Secretary-General António Guterres and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

President Niinistö also had bilateral discussions during the conference with US Senators Chris Coons and Amy Klobuchar as well as Microsoft Vice President Brad Smith.

In a meeting with the Finnish media at the end of the conference, President Niinistö stated that, due to the challenging situation, the discussions were much more focused. “There was little time for small talk,” he said in summary.

Organised since 1963, the Munich Security Conference is a discussion forum that seeks to promote resolution of conflicts, international cooperation and dialogue. The conference is attended by foreign and security decision-makers from around the world. The number of participants was reduced this year due to the coronavirus situation. Last year, the conference was held virtually.