Foreign minister Pekka Haavisto's speech at Annual Meeting of Heads of Mission 2022
"In times of crisis, decision-making capacity is weighed up. Through good cooperation between various actors, Finland has made the necessary foreign and security policy decisions. In the middle of difficult times, we have made rapid but deliberate progress."
Dear ambassadors, dear listeners,
On the morning of 24th of February, we woke up to a new world. Russia had started its illegal war of aggression against Ukraine. In the first hours, we did not yet know in what kind of a changed world we would live in the coming months, and how different everything would be from the post-Cold War era we had come to know.
In the course of spring 2022, Finland showed that, in a difficult situation, it is able to act quickly and coherently. Due to our history, we are a security-oriented people and, when the European security order broke, we made a united and determined decision to apply for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
I would like to thank all parliamentary parties, the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister for excellent cooperation in leading and managing the whole NATO process.
Russia’s actions have cracked Europe’s security system. Due to the war, our OSCE observers also had to withdraw. Russia’s aim has been to subordinate Ukraine to its own sphere of interest. In the first days of the war, we did not know whether it would be successful. Now we know that Ukraine’s own will to defend itself and international support have prevented the aggressor’s plans from coming to fruition.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine once again raises the question of the implementation of the UN Charter and international law, especially when the aggressor is a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
But, unlike sometimes in previous centuries, Europe is not facing a Hobbesian war of all against all. Instead, Russia has remained isolated in its war against other European states and the commonly agreed security order. Even its close allies, such as Belarus, have so far not deployed troops on Ukrainian soil, although Belarus has allowed Russian troops to attack Ukraine from its territory.
At the beginning of March, an overwhelming majority of the UN General Assembly condemned the Russian aggression and called for the country to withdraw from Ukraine — with a 141 out of 193 UN member countries in support of the resolution.
However, the Russian narrative has found ground outside of Europe and North America. In June, we organized a meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Nordic and some twenty African countries in Helsinki. Some African countries posed us a question: you in the West speak beautiful words about Ukrainian sovereignty and ask us to vote with you at UN meetings, but where are you when Russia’s retaliation stops energy or food imports and our citizens go hungry?
This is a good question. We must be able to do much more not only to counter Russian narratives, but also to help those countries that are facing serious problems in terms of food, energy or economic security due to the war.
I also hope that you, ambassadors, will be active on this topic. Share information on the background of the war and convey messages back to Helsinki about opportunities for action.
Russia has defended its illegal offensive war by accusing the US and NATO of provocation and asserting their responsibility for the outbreak of war. In President Putin’s thinking, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union made too far-reaching concessions towards Ukraine. Justifying current conflicts on the basis of alleged injustices in history is always a dangerous path.
The issue at hand, is about the right of an independent European state to continue to exist. A sovereign and independent Ukraine is defending itself against illegal aggression in accordance with the UN Charter and the international community, including Finland, has a duty to support Ukraine. We have also done so.
The fog of war makes predicting nearly impossible. However, it appears that neither Russia nor Ukraine currently has the capacity to resolve the war quickly. We need to be prepared also for a long and consuming war, which could last for years in the worst scenario. At the same time, we must continue to support Ukraine.
Ukraine itself decides when and under which conditions it is ready for peace negotiations.
In his book ‘Sleepwalkers’, the historian Christopher Clark describes how European countries were ignorant, as in asleep, walking step by step towards a general European war — the First World War — which eventually came to them as a surprise.
The Second World War began with a chain of individual military events, which only months later gained a common title — World War II.
We cannot completely exclude the possibility of the war escalating, even though this does not seem likely at present. In this type of a situation, one must strive for careful and considered– albeit undelayed - action and analysis. As the war prolongs tensions and the risk of misunderstandings or accidents also increases. For example, loose talk about the use of nuclear or chemical weapons. The use of weapons of mass destruction would inevitably lead to a new situation in Europe.
Dear ambassadors, dear listeners,
Following the Soviet Union’s territorial demands in 1939, national delegations of Finland and the Soviet Union met for the second time in Moscow on 14th of October. On this occasion, according to J.K. Paasikivi, Stalin said his famous declaration to the Finnish delegation: “We cannot do anything about geography, nor can you.”
During the negotiations, Finland’s friends appealed to the Soviet Union in order to preserve peace and moderate the demands of the Soviet Union. We received support from the Nordic countries, Europe and the United States, which was far beyond the Atlantic — President Roosevelt sent a personal letter to Stalin.
Retrospectively, Paasikivi assessed this aid [not official translation]:
“We therefore received diplomatic support. [...], However, the turn of events revealed that the Kremlin’s leaders did not put any more emphasis on the proposals of the powerful U.S. President, as to the proposals of the small Nordic governments. They knew that there would be no armed force behind diplomatic measures.”
Geography might be static, but the political orientation of states is in their own hands. At the time of the Finnish Winter War and Continuation War, the United States was far behind the ocean and its interests in Europe were only limited. After the Second World War, the situation changed and Europe’s post-war security has relied on the United States. Large powers create their own realities and political geography.
Now Finland and Sweden are on the eve of historical change. By becoming a member of NATO, Finland will become a militarily allied state. In the future, we will have certainty that in situations threatening our security, diplomatic support will, if needed, be backed by military force.
We accept membership in the alliance with full rights and responsibilities, taking care of our part of the collective deterrence and defense. We also have a strong tradition of national defense, which we will continue to uphold.
What factors led us to apply for NATO membership? I have based my own assessment on five factors.
First of all: Russia is now more prepared to take increased risks compared to previous conflicts, such as in Georgia, Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Secondly: The Russian invasion of Ukraine demonstrated its ability to exert pressure on one of its neighbors by concentrating more than 100,000 soldiers on the border, without resorting to general mobilization. Russia continues to define its activities as a special operation, not as a war.
Thirdly: At the beginning of the war, we saw loose speech in Russia on the use of unconventional weapons, such as nuclear and chemical weapons. Finland has strong conventional defense forces, but it is legitimate to ask, with what kind of cooperation would we best address the threat of unconventional weapons.
Fourthly: Wars also have rules. We cannot accept atrocities against civilians, such as those we have now witnessed in Ukraine, in violation of international law. We support the investigation of war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the United Nations.
Fifthly: One of Russia’s demands for Ukraine and the west was that NATO should not expand. In our own security policy, we have had a so-called NATO option — the idea that when our security environment changes, NATO membership can be reassessed. We did not want anyone to decide on our behalf on the existence and use of this option.
The application for NATO membership was a reaction to a change in the security environment in Europe. At the same time, it was a response to Russia’s efforts to dismantle the European security system and to create a new sphere of interest at its borders.
With our NATO debate, we also partly contributed to opinion formation in Sweden. It is a great asset to our own security that we are moving jointly with Sweden in the NATO application process.
NATO is a defensive alliance that does not threaten any state. Finland’s aim is peace and stability in Europe, and we strongly appreciate the peaceful border between Finland and Russia.
From the point of view of the government, the main issue this fall is the completion of our NATO accession process. Since the Madrid Summit, the pace of ratifications has been very rapid. Twenty-three countries have made their decisions and we monitor closely the processes in the remaining member states.
In August, civil servants from Sweden, Finland and Turkey will meet to review progress in our cooperation with Turkey in line with the Trilateral Memorandum. The first official meeting will take place in Finland.
Still, many already wonder what kind of a NATO member Finland will become and how will the membership affect Finland’s foreign policy more broadly.
The content and profile of Finland’s NATO membership does not need to be invented from scratch. Finland has been involved in NATO’s Partnership for Peace Programme since 1994, as well as in the Enhanced Opportunities Program since 2014. It is easy to continue building upon these existing structures, practices, policies and experiences.
Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO memberships strengthen the Northern dimension of the alliance and enables deepening the defence cooperation between the Nordic countries and the Baltic States. We also bring Arctic knowledge, experience in crisis management, know-how in new technologies and resilience into the alliance. We do not want to form any blocks within the alliance - our membership strengthens the security of all of its members.
It is also worth noting that NATO members pursue their own independent foreign policies. Nor does the alliance produce legislation, unlike the European Union.
Membership in the alliance is therefore not incompatible with other objectives of our foreign policy, such as our human rights based approach, peace mediation or disarmament. The European Union, to which a large number of NATO members belong, will continue to be the key reference framework, and channel of influence.
Dear ambassadors, dear listeners,
The worrying news of recent days from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, have reminded many of them of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the 1980s. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is the largest in Europe. Russian troops have relied on the power plant and have shelled Ukrainian stations from its vicinity. The deployment of troops and ammunition on the site is extremely dangerous and irresponsible.
Russia should immediately withdraw its troops and other military material from the site and allow safe access for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. The parties should agree on a demilitarized zone in the vicinity of the power plant in order to ensure nuclear safety.
The security of the Zaporizhzhia power plant is an issue for humanity as a whole. Any accident or damage to the nuclear plant would be devastating for both humans and the environment
Finland fully supports the important work of the IAEA and its Director Rafael Grossi on nuclear safety and we regularly exchange information on the situation. We are ready to provide the IAEA with all the support they need in this situation.
Dear ambassadors, dear listeners,
During the past spring and summer, the United Nations Security Council has received plenty of legitimate criticism over its inability to stop the Russian aggression.
While working for the United Nations, I often noticed that during the most difficult crises, even when the work of the Security Council in New York was paralyzed, UN staff working on the ground and in crisis areas were doing incredibly valuable work, keeping the UN flag waving. Humanitarian aid reached the needy, tents were put up for refugees refugee, search patrols were provided in earthquake areas to find those still alive.
To this UN I have always raised my hat, and I will do so now as well.
In September, we will gather in New York for the High-Level week of the UN General Assembly, but I want to already now thank the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and those UN negotiators who were able to reach a solution to secure grain transports from Ukraine. This will have a major impact on global food security. Turkey has also done very important work in the preparation of this Istanbul agreement. Every grain vessel that travels safely to the Black Sea demonstrates that even in the midst of the darkest crisis, reason can sometimes prevail.
Enabling Ukrainian grain transports is a question that affects the lives of tens of millions of people in need. Famine remains a serious international threat that requires collective action.
Dear ambassadors, dear listeners,
In times of crisis, decision-making capacity is weighed up. Through good cooperation between various actors, Finland has made the necessary foreign and security policy decisions. In the middle of difficult times, we have made rapid but deliberate progress.
NATO membership will not only enhance our security, but also create new opportunities to influence what Europe looks like at the end of the war.
At the same time, we must keep in mind the long-term challenges — fighting climate change, overcoming poverty in the world, promoting human rights. If we do not find effective responses to these problems, we know that new crises will await us around the corner.
Skilled diplomacy is now needed more than ever. We need to find new, sustainable solutions for European security. We need to tell the Finnish story well and to explain our security policy choices to the international community, to which we are now an even more interesting country. New markets and partners need to be sought to replace lost ones. And to continue to work to promote equality, human rights and peace, including at global level.
In the Rinne-Marin government programme, we set the goal for Finland to play a globally more influential role than our geographical size dictates. During the last three years have seen Finnish children in Syrian camps, the corona crisis, the collapse of the Afghan regime, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Finland’s application for NATO membership. All issues that were not yet included in the government programme in spring 2019. But Finland has acted.