Opening Remarks by Mr Jukka Valtasaari, Secretary of State: "The Military Significance of the Baltic Sea Since the Beginning of the 18th Century", at the Finnish Commission on Military History symposium, 1st June 1998

Venue: the Finnish Commission on Military History symposium, 1st June 1998

Mr. Jukka Valtasaari,
Secretary of State,
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

"The Military Significance of the Baltic Sea Since the Beginning of the 18th Century"

The military significance of the Baltic Sea has certainly undergone quite dramatic changes since the beginning of the 18th century.

Last Saturday the Foreign Minister of Russia, Mr. Primakov, with his delegation, visited the Suomenlinna Fortress, off Helsinki. As you remember, it was built with joint Swedish-French financing in the 18th century. It turned out to be the biggest investment project ever completed by the Kingdom of Sweden. It was originally intended to contain Russian naval movement in the Gulf of Finland was later taken over by the Russians then attacked by the British and French and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site with no enemies whatsoever. .

Why the Primakov visit? In order to make the point that geoeconomics is a permanent factor in the Baltic Sea area and perhaps one that enhances stability as the military equation changes.

Let us consider the experience of World War II. First we were hailed for our courageous fight against the Red Army, then told to trust the Soviet Union. When we did so by placing our bet on the geopolitical realities, we were criticised for not standing up courageously and loudly enough for Western values, which were also ours.

Today, the situation has changed again. Once more we are in a situation where old navies are rusting away and military activity is at a low ebb in the Baltic Sea area. This state of affairs reflects the general politico-military situation in Europe. Huge armies have been withdrawn from the continent and reductions of armed forces continue.

Once again we face the cyclical dilemma of defence forces. Defence against whom? Defence for defence's sake or perhaps to protect common values? In this "conceptual post-cold war fog" geopolitics in the Russian global discourse seems oddly out of step with the geoeconomic mood of the West. In Northern Europe the economic realities have again become increasingly important.

We should not, however, close our eyes to the fact that the post-cold war period has produced a number of nasty surprises, particularly in the Balkan region. . Who could have imagined that the huge arsenal of the Yugoslav Army would not be mobilised, , against a Soviet invasion, as it was meant to be, but instead against its own population?.

Indeed, we face new challenges in our attempt to define defence needs in Europe. It may be that old terms such as independence and self-determination come in handy. Let me dwell on one example. The Baltic States have regained their independence and security is a vital part of it. On the other hand, they are still in the process of nation building with emphasis on the establishment of an adequate police force, the creation of a border guard corps and perimeter control, and the rebuilding of a national defence force. Finland strongly believes in the importance of these attributes of national sovereignty.

Hence, "sovereignty assistance" is a vital part of our efforts to help the Baltic States integrate into European structures, notably the European Union. We are especially proud of the results of our assistance in the field of perimeter control. We have helped Estonia to modernise its passport system and to create a well functioning Border Guard which meets highest European standards. Now, we are actively engaged in advising the Latvian and Lithuanian authorities to do the same.

Our advice, and it is no more than that, to the Baltic States has been to create a mobilisation force based on universal conscription. We have provided training at Finnish military establishments for officers and NCOs of the Estonian Armed Forces and we are giving advice on military planning via retired Finnish general staff officers stationed in Estonia.

Our assistance aims at contributing to the effort by the Baltic States to assert their right to choose freely their own security policy arrangements. . But it has also wider political and moral implications. The resolve to defend one's own country is still the ultimate test of independence. In modern Europe, with a broad concept of security, this challenge includes solving problems connected with the creation of a European society worth defending. The application of norms and standards for such a society is an all-European effort. They certainly include, , the integration of minorities and non-citizens into the mainstream of society.

With these words and these examples, I would like to bid you welcome to Helsinki and I wish every success for your symposium.