Speech by Minister Soini at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Washington, 1 February 2016.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The focus of my address is on Arctic issues, but I hope that it will inspire discussion on other issues, too.

 Arctic cooperation started a quarter of a century ago after the end of the Cold War. Finland has been active in this cooperation aimed at safeguarding the fragile Arctic environment and improving the living conditions of the northern and Arctic communities. In the course of the past two decades, the effects of global warming have made these efforts more urgent. This is recognized by all the Arctic countries. On the other hand, the Arctic economic landscape is constantly changing, and this creates new business opportunities, which should not be missed.

 Ladies and Gentlemen,

As Foreign Minister of Finland my first visit to the US was to Alaska, where I attended the GLACIER summit. There, I had the privilege of greeting President Obama and having a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry. My message to President Obama was: Finland can help!

Having made such a big promise, I will now give more details about it.

Let me start by pointing out some facts to illustrate our "snow-how" in Arctic issues:

  • One third of Finland's territory is above the Arctic Circle.  Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is located on the 60th parallel, and it is as high in the north as Anchorage.
  • Nearly one third of all the people in the world living north of the 60th parallel are Finns.
  • Our society and people are well prepared for extreme temperatures or blizzards. "Snowzilla" would not have been a reason to close schools and offices in Finland.
  • Finland has state-of-the-art expertise in renewable energy, cleantech and energy efficiency, which are important for Arctic activities.
  • We also have Arctic know-how in sectors such as shipping industries, marine technology, the mining industry, transport and meteorology. We are known for our expertise in maritime infrastructure and ports, offshore production platforms, shore-to-ship systems and solutions, as well as in hydro, tidal and industrial energy solutions and services for icy conditions.
  • Since the 1960s all of our harbors have been kept open for business year round by Finnish icebreakers, without which Finland’s sea access would be non-existent in some winters.
  • Of all the world's icebreakers ever built, 60 percent have been made in Finland. And this includes all the good ones!  You may want to mentally file this away for future reference.
  • By the way, two of our icebreakers have been operating off the coast of Alaska, and they made a demanding journey back home through the Northwest Passage last October.

 Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Arctic has been depicted as a region with a particularly low risk of military confrontation. This is still true and will hopefully be the case also in the future.

However, the overall security policy situation has changed. East–West tensions in Europe have returned as a result of Russia's illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and use of military force in and around Ukraine.  

The changes may have repercussions also on the High North, even if the uncertainties were caused by factors outside the Arctic region.  The discussions have been shifting towards hard security and more attention is paid to the security policy and military dimension in the Arctic.

Another issue is that Russia has increased its military presence in its Arctic territory. Understandably, there is concern about both the motivations behind this development and the possible consequences.

All the Member States of the Arctic Council and those with an observer status should collaborate closely in order to avoid unnecessary tension over Arctic issues.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The United States assumed the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council about a year ago. Its chairmanship program emphasized the challenges facing the region, such as climate change, safety, security and stewardship of the Arctic Ocean, and improving living conditions. This ambitious program was supported by all the Arctic countries.

In the middle of international tensions, the US decided to take a pragmatic approach to cooperation in the Arctic Council.  In my opinion, that was a wise decision.

According to my experience, Russia’s approach to the Arctic Council and collaboration in the north, in general, is mainly cooperative.  For instance, Russia has expressed its willingness to continue participation in the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and in the Northern Dimension partnership.

In fact, last October I handed over the chairmanship of the Barents Council to Minister Lavrov of Russia in Oulu, Finland. We were able to confirm that good collaboration will continue in practically all sectors of the Barents cooperation.

 I’m sure that many have weighed the pros and cons of Arctic cooperation. This is an issue where a long-term perspective is needed. The Arctic countries share many common interests in the region and there is enormous scope for cooperation. But it will only succeed if all the Arctic countries commit to working together.

The latest achievement is the establishment of the Arctic Coast Guard Forum in October. The new Forum is valuable for addressing challenges specific to the region, such as search and rescue and the response to oil spills. This is an outstanding example of how an Arctic initiative has been brought to a successful conclusion despite a few differences of opinion along the way.

We could say that "cooler" heads have prevailed. Very apt for Arctic partners.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The GLACIER Conference in Alaska last August was very successful in encouraging cooperation on climate change effects in the Arctic. Two months ago, the Paris Climate Change Conference ended with a most welcome result. For once, the pessimists were wrong.

For the Arctic, the Paris climate deal may lead to a brighter future. We still have the chance to turn the tide and protect the region.

 But it is too early to declare victory. Global warming will provide the general framework for all activities in the foreseeable future.

 Without a doubt, we still have plenty to do.

 Adaptation to changing conditions is a necessity. Northern and Arctic communities must become more resilient. Traditional sources of livelihood should be complemented with new ones. New skills in the digital age require education and training. All in all, many efforts are needed to guarantee a living for the coming generations in the Arctic.

 The Arctic Ocean’s ice cover will retreat further, opening up northern sea routes. Non-Arctic countries will also want to take advantage of their rights to use these international waters. This year, cruise ships will take hundreds of tourists through the Northwest Passage and this trend is expected to continue in the near future.

It is high time to take a close look at the valid norms of international law and assess if they are adequate for addressing the new situation, or whether we need new regulations regarding, for example, navigation, fisheries and conservation areas.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Arctic Council, which is why it is appropriate to assess its achievements. It is clear that the Arctic countries consider their cooperation both useful and necessary. Additionally, many non-Arctic states are more and more interested in the region. 

The United States is chairing the Arctic Council until spring 2017, after which Finland will take it on.

We believe that Arctic Council activities require a long-term perspective. And the best way to make progress is to strengthen continuity between the different chairmanships.

Secretary Kerry and I agreed that Finland and the United States would do just that.

Another way to deepen cooperation is to enhance partnerships with other organizations. The Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council are, to a certain extent, faced with the same challenges. They should look for ways to coordinate their efforts and work closely together on topics of common interest.

 Ladies and Gentlemen,

Over the years, the Center for Strategic and International Studies has cooperated with Finland in many ways, providing a forum for visitors to speak and do research in areas that are of interest to us. I am pleased to be part of this valuable work and am looking forward to mutually beneficial collaboration between the CSIS and Finland. 

 Thank you.