President Niinistö: Power and strength or a shared order?

This question will be asked at the Kultaranta talks in June. A few months ago, when considering topics for the talks, the situations in Ukraine, Syria and the Korean Peninsula were most prominently in the public eye. One question rose above all others: where have the international system of treaties and agreements and the international structures disappeared, including the UN? Is it just power and strength that now rule the world? The same question could be asked about Yemen, Sahel, Afghanistan and many regional crises.  

The world is following a strange trajectory. Over the past few years, power politics have suddenly taken a great leap backwards. The breakneck advances of digitalisation, artificial intelligence and even the economy are no compensation to us humans for the fact that at the same time, terms such as ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons and war, a major war, are again becoming a part of everyday life. The framework for the future of humanity is improving, but its fundaments are growing more volatile.

Now, one month before the Kultaranta talks, the list of crises is growing. What will happen in the conflict between Israel and Iran, what about the transatlantic relationship? Will the Korean issue be finally settled; will there no longer be “a little rocket man” or the holder of “the bigger button”? So many new questions arise that in a month’s time, the main headline can be entirely different. And the fact that the global situation is changing so incessantly and hectically is a bad thing.

Power and strength or a shared order? I think that the Kultaranta talks will culminate in this question.  

Let’s start with the best, the Nordic countries. A model of life and community which is widely admired but seldom copied. 

Let’s continue with something almost as good. The EU is a powerful player in world economy but not really seen at the tables that make a difference. And what about the UN? It is surely seen and heard, but mostly because of the ongoing disputes among its members.

The great powers – they are increasingly personified. Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin or Donald Trump, from east to west, they are well-known. The fate of the other seven billion people now rests much on these three men. Power and strength have been personified.

The EU should somehow fit in this group to spread the message of a shared order. It has struggled to achieve this so far, and there are even more dark clouds on the horizon today.

The transatlantic connection will be put to a severe test. The strict economic sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran will also affect Europe. Financial sanctions tend to expand of their own accord: a circle of caution develops around the sanction, multiplying the effects. European businesses are bound to face this. The US has said that it will discuss with the EU on how it will treat companies that violate the sanctions. 

European industries have great interests in Iran, and exceptions will be requested from the US even if the EU remains in the nuclear deal. But if exceptions are granted, where will the limit be? Some will inevitably be left outside the exceptions, and that again will not strengthen European unity. 

President Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal also raises a broader question of trust. President of France, Emmanuel Macron has already repeated his European security policy doctrine mantra about strategic autonomy. In a nutshell, at the European level this would mean that we would maintain solidarity to NATO but also be prepared to solve some security issues without the United States. Macron’s doctrine has not extended to a European defence.

Power and strength seem to be dictating our future. How to introduce the values of a shared order in it? A weak voice will not resound far, no matter how good the message is. This is why we should gather power and strength to make ourselves heard. The EU has much to do in this.

The discussion will continue at Kultaranta. About these topics and everything that will happen in the meantime.

Sauli Niinistö

PS Behind this day-to-day noise, the issues concerning the fate of humankind remain: the climate, the increasing unsustainability of our lifestyles, the position of women and girls as well as population growth that is still too rapid in places. Solving these issues would require a shared and speedy effort from the whole of humankind. But as always, urgent matters seem outweigh the really important things. At Kultaranta, however, we will discuss these topics as well.