Speech by Mr Jukka Valtasaari, Secretary of State: Leadership, Finnish Style, San Francisco 22nd April 1999

Venue: Remarks at the Leadership Luncheon of the Coro-Northern California Foundation, San Francisco 22nd April 1999

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

I would like to begin by thanking the organizers for the invitation to speak at this luncheon. It is flattering that such an important audience in the world´s only superpower wishes to hear from a Finn about leadership. It is a joy to be invited to San Francisco, which is the most European of all American cities, if you will pardon the parochial expression.

This is as good a time as any to speak on the subject of leadership. More than forty leaders of NATO and the EAPC (the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council) are currently gathering in Washington D.C. to celebrate the past and discuss the future of NATO. In addition, Finland is preparing to take over the rotational chairmanship of the EU in July. Leadership comes to us on a platter.

I will offer a few opinions about leadership in a small nation, international leadership by a small nation, leadership through coalitions and leadership by values and vision. These different aspects of leadership are intended to reflect the reality that in an increasingly globalized world effective international leadership requires an appreciation of an immense variety of national values and traditions, all in play simultaneously. I will offer some real life examples, both recent and historical.

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Unlike the United States and most continental European nations, Finland is a small homogeneous country that never had the time, opportunity or money to create heavy bureaucratic structures. Besides, the average Finn would not have liked them. We are the leading country in the world in engineers per capita. We are, therefore, a "can do" nation.

In homogeneous societies leadership is based on values. Finland´s values are the Scandinavian ones that include balancing freedom, justice and equality, individual responsibility and social solidarity among men and women alike. We were the first country to grant women the right to vote and the right to be elected. This took place in 1906, at the time when the process of russification of Finland by the Emperor in St. Petersburg was at its worst. Finns thought, with foresight, that they needed the opinions of the entire population, not just half of it.

When you add to these values a healthy dose of individual stubbornness, particularly in the face of adversity, you end up naturally with a pattern of leadership which today´s corporate gurus call a flat organization, one that emphasizes the freedom to maneuver and the responsibility of the individual.

Let me offer you two examples.

During the Second World War, Finland was hailed for her courageous fight against the overwhelming Red Army. The following is a quotation from one of the most famous Finnish post-war novels, The Unknown Soldier. A Karelian smallholder-turned-sergeant, a father of three, shouts to his superior officer, a young student-turned-lieutenant from Helsinki: "Hey you, give me that sub-machine gun and take an armful of hand grenades yourself, and we´ll go and clear the enemy trenches".

Today, in a more civilian setting, the managers at NOKIA´s plant in Fort Worth, Texas and in Salo, Finland, say: "My office is the largest in the country, a hundred thousand square feet". They mean that they don´t have an office of their own at all. They are on hand for their personnel whenever the need arises.

This type of leadership, which we assumed by tradition, comes in handy as the information age proceeds and the requirement to do away with rigid hierarchical structures becomes ever stronger.

It is true both in industry and the dialectical world of politics that the flatter the organization is the more important becomes the quality and the depth of information. Decisions made quickly presuppose that good advance information is available. Sixty percent of Finns use a cellular phone and the Internet. Little has changed over time in this respect, except technology. Since Finns started emigrating to this country late in the last century there have been, all in all, 58 dailies or weeklies published in Finnish. The written word remains important. We are still the second most avid readers in the world, despite cellular phones and other "blessings" of high technology.

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International leadership by a small country definitely differs from that of a big nation. We can never assume that others will simply adopt our values. Such an attitude would come across as arrogance. Yet, when a representative of a small nation says: "Do not expect too much of us, we are small", he really means: "Our might is in the power of the argument, you must accept it". Here is an example. When relations between Finland and the Soviet Union were being settled in the immediate post-war years the Foreign Minister in Stalin´s Government, Viacheslav Molotov, reminded us in his usual forceful way: "The fact that you are small does not automatically mean that you are right". Leadership also requires that others perceive the country as a relevant actor, a credible partner and as the promoter of a consistent foreign policy. If these requirements are met, size matters less.

In the post-war years, when most of the western world felt pity for our predicament of having to live as a neighbor of the Soviet Union, we had to give an incredible amount of attention to choosing our policies and our pet international issues in a way that they would be both in the national and the general interest; as well as credible and durable. What are some of these issues?

The best known is the OSCE, often called the Helsinki process. In 1969, we set in motion a process that ultimately led to the creation of a set of common rules and norms for the Euro-Atlantic community. When the East-West juxtaposition ended twenty years later, the ground was already prepared for further action. Among the recent successes of the OSCE are the electoral mission in Bosnia and the verification mission in Kosovo; both led by the Americans.

Peacekeeping by the United Nations is another. Until the crisis management boom of the 1990s, Finland had participated in all operations but one, the Congo in the late 1950s. In Bosnia, we participate in SFOR and in Macedonia, the United States and Finland were the main contributors to UNPREDEP until Macedonia antagonized China by recognizing Taiwan, with the consequence that China vetoed the continuation of UNPREDEP, another unfortunate example of two unrelated issues at work.

In China we started a small "rule of law" program in the early 90´s, consisting of seminars and lectures given by the highest Finnish judicial officials. We were not the only ones, but we certainly started early. Our task may have been made easier because of our small size and maybe our low-key style made us acceptable - or less objectionable than certain others.

These successes materialized slowly, over time, partly because values and traditions remain at variance even among fairly similar countries.

A good example is the recent resignation of the Commission of the European Union, after they had lost a vote of confidence held in the European Parliament because of charges of financial irregularity made against the Commission. Such a resignation was novel in the Union - hence the different explanations for it in different countries. The French Commissioner, one of the accused, put her view in a manner that combined admirably factual correctness with arrogance. According to the newspaper Le Figaro, she said: "With the accession of Austria, Sweden and Finland, the Union acquired elements new to continental European traditions". Lacking the subtlety of French linguistic expression, a Finn might have put the same thought in the following way: "Martin Luther had come to town with his Reformation". The Commissioner with overall responsibility for administration happens to be a Finn, and thus a reformer, a man with an impeccable personal record.

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International leadership has always relied on coalitions, either in the form of institutions or agreements, or on understandings, formal or tacit. During the Cold War, the international balance of power rested on two automatic coalitions, the West and the East. The destructive power of nuclear weapons guaranteed that deterrence was sufficient to maintain the status quo. NATO did not have to rely on its military strength before the early 1990s in Bosnia. These coalitions were also global because of the nuclear outreach. All parties to regional conflicts had to take them into account. Thus, from the intellectual point of view things were clear. The enemy had substance: West versus East, good versus bad, freedom versus communism.

Those who opted to be on their own and to stay outside alliances, countries such as Austria, Sweden and Finland, were suspect. For decades they had to concentrate on winning respect for their choice, a quest that consumed quite a bit of energy. You will remember the talk of finlandization. For Finland, for instance, there were no real aspirations to exert influence in international affairs as long as neutrality was considered to be lack of moral courage. Only at the end of the 1960s did the Ostpolitik of Germany´s Chancellor Willy Brandt start to slowly change things. We were elected to the Security Council in 1969 and in the same year submitted a proposal for organizing post-war European politics. The proposal evolved into the Helsinki Final Act in 1975.

This paradigm changed profoundly when the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union collapsed. From the late 1980s onwards, exercising international leadership required the creation of ad hoc coalitions, albeit sometimes tediously, a situation that offered entirely new opportunities to nations independent of their power.

Unfortunately, the end of the Cold War also prepared the ground for expansionist or destabilizing ventures. In this context cases such as Serbia, Iraq and North Korea come to mind.

The Gulf War was a prime example of leadership by coalition. There was a leadership of military might because the situation called for one. But a political coalition was also created in the United Nations, and the Security Council was brought back into the game where it was supposed to be all along, promoting peace and security. The common interest was stability and the security of energy supplies but the political consequence was a redrawing of the regional political map. A better balance emerged in relations between the United States and Israel, on the one hand, and the Arab world on the other, as well as a peace process extending from Madrid to Oslo, a process that is now at a very critical stage. Leadership was up for grabs and a large number of nations, big and small, availed themselves of the opportunity.

The Balkans is another example, indeed a more complicated one, of leadership by coalition. Clear-cut issues of common interest such as energy security could not be used as defining principles. Nor was it probable that the crisis would directly spill over into Central Europe, let alone the United States, with the exception of the refugee problem. Hence, it took a while for the international community to realize the extent of the problem. Milosevic had declared his intention to destabilize Kosovo and his neighbors in 1987. He cancelled the autonomy of Kosovo in 1989. The Euro-Atlantic community reacted decisively in August 1995. The hesitation, including disputes about leadership roles, took up as much time as during the build-up to the Second World War.

But there were good reasons for the hesitation. For one, throughout its existence NATO had escaped relying on its military strength. During the last large-scale European reconstruction effort, the Marshall Plan, the United States and Europe had been in different roles; the United States as the donor and Europe as the recipient. Once fundamental decisions were made there was an abundance of opportunities in securing stability, in nation building, in reconstruction of housing, social infrastructure, democratic institutions and so on. This was true in Bosnia and will be truer still in Kosovo.

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From the point of view of leadership based on vision and values, the international community will probably be faulted by history for its lack of vision in the Balkans during the past ten years. Wisdom in hindsight is of course the most reliable branch of wisdom, but one should not be too critical. The changes in Europe in concepts and in reality ten years ago were far more profound than could be seen at the time. Peace was seen to be breaking out, and politicians were talking of the victory of democracy and the beauty of the new architecture of the European house, while in fact dictatorship and war were creeping back in through the back door. Learned writers predicted the end of history when history was about to be repeated.

The European and Atlantic communities spent some 30 years building a common standard of international behavior. The relevant documents, the Final Act of Helsinki and the Paris Declaration, were signed by their leaders. Indeed, European divisions disappeared and the continent seemed to have become unified again; a good reason for celebration tomorrow in Washington D.C. Then one leader, Slobodan Milosevic, decided to question all this, in Bosnia and now in Kosovo, inflicting untold pain on hundreds of thousands of people he claimed were his own and imposing a crisis on the rest of Europe and the entire Euro-Atlantic community that will drag on to the next millennium.

However, future historians may note that something else was taking place at the same time. Vision and values were making their way back to the international scene, even though their entry lacked elegance and splendour in the midst of the messy situation in the Balkans. As in the case of the Gulf crisis, the reaction of the international community against atrocities committed in Kosovo was remarkably unified. The reaction was like the echo of an old native American saying: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me".

But there is an important difference between Kosovo and the Persian Gulf. The reaction to Kosovo is not based on common material interest as it was in the Gulf. It is an ethical and moral reaction. It is not about the security of the energy we need for our cars, it is about the safety of human beings whom we do not know and whose language we do not understand. It is not about oil. It is about people. In the words of President Vaclav Havel, in an interview on the NATO mission in Kosovo, what is at stake here is the fundamental principle: if somebody is being hurt, I too am being hurt. "That is the principle of general human solidarity which crosses the frontiers of states and regions," as Mr. Havel put it.

Human solidarity is not a new concept. In fact, it goes back two thousand years, to values that have been forgotten too often in the meantime, values that say, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The rediscovery of such values gives us hope on the threshold of the new millennium.