President Niinistö in the United States: Europe needs the United States, but the United States also needs Europe

President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö visited the United States from 6 to 10 March 2023. In addition to foreign and security policy issues, the visit focused on closer economic and technological cooperation. The visit to the West Coast of the United States was the first by a Finnish head of state in decades. In Washington D.C., President Niinistö also met with President of the United States Joe Biden.

On Thursday 9 March, the visit continued in Washington D.C. President Niinistö met President Biden at the White House for the third time in just over a year. The initiative for the meeting came from the White House.

“We talked with President Biden about Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership”, President Niinistö told the Finnish media after the meeting. “The United States has supported us and continues to strongly support us in our membership process.” President Niinistö described the discussion as important.

In addition to the NATO issue and support for Ukraine, the broader global development and superpower competition were on the agenda in the U.S. capital. “A growing amount of global tension is emerging, in a way, between two parties, one might say between Western thinking and Eastern thinking. These are features that should be examined and we should also quite carefully consider where they lead, where they should not lead and what can be done about the situation,” President Niinistö said.

In addition to President Biden, Niinistö had discussions with several other policymakers in Washington. During a meeting with Bob Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the discussion covered Ukraine, security and NATO. On top of these topics, a meeting with Kevin McCarthy, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, also focused on the economy and the bilateral relations between Finland and the United States.

During the day, President Niinistö also met with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, United States National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) William Burns. On Thursday, President Niinistö also spoke at an event organised by the Embassy of Finland in Washington D.C. on partnership in defence and emerging technologies.

The visit begins on the West Coast

President Niinistö’s visit began on Monday 6 March on the West Coast in the State of Washington. There he met with Governor Jay Inslee and addressed at a Joint Session of the Washington State Senate and House of Representatives as the first foreign head of state in history.  The President addressed transatlantic cooperation in the fields of security, technology and the economy.

In his speech, President Niinistö said that the current geopolitical situation has brought Finland and the United States closer together: “We are now strengthening our ties in sectors such as defence, trade, technology and energy security. And soon we will be able to call each other allies.” In the face of greater challenges, the President said, it is increasingly important that we face them together. “Europe needs the United States. But the United States also needs Europe.”

President Niinistö stressed that Finland has never taken its security for granted. “We have held on to conscription and consistently invested in our national defence. In 2021, we made a decision to purchase 64 F-35 fighter jets. That is a lot for a small country. Finland’s NATO membership will not only maximize our own security. We will be a strong contributor for the security of the whole Alliance.”

The president also raised the issue of Finnish partnerships with U.S. states, which are an increasingly important element of the bilateral cooperation. With the State of Washington, Finland is promoting cooperation especially in the fields of green transition and high technology. “Global markets for green technologies are growing rapidly and offer tremendous potential for forerunners like us,” he said.

The first day also included a visit to the headquarters of Microsoft and Amazon and a discussion on security policy at the National Nordic Museum.

Security policy, superpower competition and technology cooperation on the agenda in California

On Tuesday 7 March, President Niinistö participated in a panel discussion on security policy, superpower competition and new technologies organised by the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University in Palo Alto.

At the event, President Niinistö reminded the public that “leaders of autocratic countries do not understand that in democracies people have an opinion. And that opinions have an effect on policies.”

Regarding new technologies, President Niinistö said that the private and public sectors have convergent interests in the field of security. As the technology competition accelerates, it is crucial that the public sector and companies work together.

The students present were interested to hear not only about Russia’s war of aggression, but also about the importance of the Arctic region, for example.

Later in the day, president Niinistö met with Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, and Eleni Kounalakis, Lieutenant Governor of California. The main topics discussed were security and technology. Finland and California are forerunners in digital transition and climate policy. The President and the Governor considered it important to intensify cooperation to meet common challenges.

Earlier on Tuesday, the President’s programme had begun with a breakfast discussion on Nordic solutions to global challenges. The business breakfast was attended, among others, by former Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Mayor of San Francisco London Breed. Later in the day, the President delivered an opening statement at the Bifrost Summit, an innovation event for Nordic growth companies.

Transatlantic security cooperation discussed in Norfolk

On Friday 10 March, President Niinistö’s program included visits to the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the NATO Allied Command Transformation (ACT) in Norfolk, Virginia.

After a presentation of the impressive operational capabilities of the aircraft carrier, President Niinistö held discussions on NATO and transatlantic security cooperation with Secretary of the Navy Carlos del Toro and Vice Admiral Daniel Dwyer, Commander of NATO Joint Forces Command Norfolk.

In Norfolk, the President had a meeting with General Philippe Lavigne, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT). General Lavigne introduced the President to the activities of the Allied Command Transformation. The introduction was followed by a discussion on the current security situation and Finland’s NATO membership. With Governor of the State of Virginia Glenn Youngkin the topics of discussion ranged from global geopolitics to bilateral cooperation with Virginia.

On his visit to the United States, President Niinistö was accompanied by a business delegation with representatives from a wide range of business sectors. The United States is one of Finland’s most important trading partners and its importance is growing strongly.

According to President Niinistö, the participation of businesses underlines a greater importance beyond trade: “Our key challenges today – concerning safety, environment and climate change – are very technology-intensive, at least if we think in terms of solutions. And then you inevitably end up thinking that the interests of the private sector and the public sector are converging”.