Speech by Minister Soini at the Danish Foreign Policy Society

Speech by Minister Soini at the Danish Foreign Policy Society

Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr. Timo Soini at the Danish Foreign Policy Society in Copenhagen, Denmark, 7 September 2016.

Security situation in the Baltic Sea region

It is a pleasure for me to be invited as the guest speaker of the Danish Foreign Policy Society in these historic surroundings on Christiansborg Palace.

Let me begin by congratulating the Danish Foreign Policy Society, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this October. The society obviously does great work in engaging people in the foreign policy discussions. I am delighted to see a full house – and looking forward to our discussion.

Denmark and Finland have indeed a lot in common.  We are part of the Nordic family. Our societies are very similar and we share experiences and learn from one another. Today I had the opportunity to discuss with my colleague Minister Kristian Jensen current issues at hand. The cooperation at government level is already very close, but I would like to see even further contacts between Finland and Denmark – from official to grass root level.

Denmark is an important partner for Finland in the EU where our cooperation is close and practical. We are both also Arctic countries. And I know I can count on the support of Denmark as Finland is taking over the presidency of the Arctic Council next year.

Our countries have also faced difficult times. We are both situated next to a big neighbor.  Naturally there are also differences, like in our choices on the security arrangements.

The history of Copenhagen, and of Denmark as a whole, is dominated by the sea, for obvious reasons.  Copenhagen has always been a trading town, and as such it developed into a serious challenger of the Hanseatic League.  True, the great demand for herring in the North German Bible-abiding towns might have played a role.  But the key element was something else: the free waters of the Baltic Sea.  Freedom of navigation explains the economic boom and the drive for regional cooperation.

The Baltic Sea region has long been characterised by prosperity and cooperation. The waters have brought people together to trade and agree on common, mutually beneficial rules.

More recently, the countries and peoples of the region have shared ideas and initiatives to take care of the environmental challenges of the Baltic Sea.  All countries of the region have made their contribution for the common good –  at the CBSS, the Helsinki Commission and in other regional and international fora.

But the focus of my address today is neither fish - nor trade, but security.  The situation in the Baltic Sea region has changed substantially in the past few years.  Finland, as other countries of the region, has had to respond to that change.

Beyond the Baltic Sea region, the European security system as a whole has been challenged as tensions have come to replace relative calm and stability.  This is important to keep in mind when we talk about the crisis in and around Ukraine.  From the Finnish perspective, the key reason for change in the regional and European security situation is Russia's power politics.

But before I address the more traditional issues of security I feel compelled to take up briefly two issues.

Let me start by terrorism. Terrorism, extremism and increasing radicalisation have a growing presence in Europe.  Denmark has had to endure very difficult times in this respect.

The battle against terrorism will be long and painful. It is imperative that we defend our open, democratic society and the values upon which they are founded.  Terrorists, through their criminal acts, aim precisely at this: they want to bring down our values and principles.  We must look at this very carefully to determine why young people are attracted to groups which want to undermine our societies. It is important that we share our lessons learned in this field. A good example is the so called Århus model in Denmark.

As I speak the irregular migration is still posing a huge challenge for individual countries. The migration crisis has several root causes originating in the history and political problems of the countries. But the inefficiency of the international community and its inability to prevent the violent conflicts or seriously limit their consequences has led to a massive irregular migration that human trafficker's abuse.

In hindsight it is obvious that the EU was ill-prepared for this. And further problems arise if the EU members fail to obey mutually agreed norms. I should clarify that in my opinion Europe is - and should continue to be - a place where life gets better for many immigrants. But mass emigration is not a solution to the economic and social problems in Africa and the Middle East. Uncontrolled migration is not in anyone's interest

Let me - finally - turn to the subject matter I was invited to speak today: namely the security in the Baltic Sea region.  In assessing the situation a little wider scope is needed.

The global balance of power – and the global political system – is in a major transition. This transition is reflected in a weakening of the main pillars and institutions of the post-Cold War multilateral order and a more assertive Russia. In Europe this means that the norms and principles of the system of cooperative security are increasingly challenged.

What we have seen are the most significant changes in the European security environment since the end of the Cold War.  Since the beginning of the 1990s, there was a - generally shared - belief that common values were shared.  Europeans were aiming at developing open, democratic societies based on rule of law and human rights.  Economies were developed on the basis of open markets and common rules.  A broader concept of "human security" was on the rise.  But this was not to be.  It has become clear that power politics has made a comeback.  An open world in which forces of globalisation are at play for mutual benefit is in the retreat.

The crisis in relations between Russia and the West has thrown European security off balance. Russia wants to reinstate its influence in the former Soviet space, cement the illegal annexation of Crimea, curb further integration of former Soviet states with the EU and put a halt to NATO enlargement.

I am no fan of the EU, but I take no pleasure in the situation. We need common responses from the EU towards Russia.

Russia has, through its actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, violated the very principles that form the basis of the European security order.  This was well in evidence when a panel of eminent persons, chaired by Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, presented its report to the OSCE foreign ministers last year.  The report is an interesting account of the current situation and on how narrow the common ground actually is.

We may have been naïve to think the world could be a different, better place.  We may have failed to understand messages Russia are said to have been sending to us.  We may even have made some mistakes in our attempt to make Europe a safer continent.  But by now we have come to understand that Russia openly wants to challenge jointly agreed norms.  It is demonstrating its will by violating the territorial integrity of other states and by the threat and use of force.

To understand this change, we should try to understand what it is that Russia wants to tell us by violating international norms.  What is the greater good or value that Russia wants to promote by putting the international system and its rules at risk?

During the Cold War, we grew used to see military tension culminate in Central Europe.  While the present crisis stems from events in Ukraine, it has is reflected in the situation in Northern Europe.

Russia increased its military activities in the Baltic Sea region already before the conflict in Ukraine. This included not only increased activity in the air and on the sea, but also large-scale snap exercises. Risky and threatening behaviour by aircraft and naval vessels have been on the increase. I would like to stress that the concern on flight safety in the Baltic Sea region is legitimate and real. Finland is ready to support measures and participate discussions aimed at improving the flight safety in the international air space in the Baltic Sea region. We believe that discussions related to flight safety should be pursued with broad participation and in a larger format, for example in the auspices of ICAO, OSCE, NATO, NATO-Russia Council. All the relevant countries should participate.

Part of the new activity can be explained by Russia's military reform and armament programme.  However, there is a reason to voice concern about this increased activity in the larger context of Russia's policies and actions. Russia seems ready to employ military force to achieve political ends.

From Finland's point of view, NATO has a stabilizing influence in the Baltic Sea region.  This was emphasized in the Government's White Paper on security in June. Decisions taken at the Warsaw Summit sent a message of unity and determination. Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic states brings more security to the area. It is important that NATO's decisions are calibrated and that they do not seek to provoke. At the same time, it is important that NATO leaves the door open for dialogue with Russia. A dual track approach, strengthening defence and deterrence, while continuing appropriate dialogue, is the way to proceed.

I believe three approaches are important to keep in mind in going forward:

Firstly, we have to defend the core principles of European security and international law. This is what the EU has sought to do through sanctions and the denunciation of the illegal annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine.  In a situation in which the rhetoric from both Moscow and Kyiv is tough, all parties should take steps to de-escalate tensions.  The objective is clear: the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.  To this end, we fully support the efforts of the Normandy group.

Second, we have to take better care of our own security, both individually and collectively. Finland sees the EU as a security community that must be strengthened. It is also in a certain sense a more ‘comprehensive’ actor than NATO, especially in the age of hybrid threats.

Finally, we must also keep up constructive engagement with Russia when it suits our interests as well as those of Russia.

The increased tension in the Baltic Sea region has both direct and indirect implications for us in Finland. However, it is important to note that there is no direct military threat to Finland. Nevertheless, a thorough and sober analysis is needed for a comprehensive understanding of what is needed in this new situation.

One of the main contributions to Finland's security - and to the stability in the region - is our national defence. Thus, we are moderately increasing our defence expenditure in order to maintain a credible defence capacity.

We are also amending our legislation so as to provide a legal framework for giving and receiving international assistance, including military aid. We are updating also our legislation concerning intelligence gathering and capabilities.

Today - more than ever before - we need to acknowledge that there is more to security than military security. True and sustainable security begins with education, economic opportunities and equality.  They are basic elements for societies to remain resilient. Let me give an example of this resilience: We have started to enhance the media skills of our citizens. This is important so that people would recognize negative or false information, not to speak of outright disinformation. At time of hybrid war fare people need to learn skills to react to attempts to mislead public opinion.

Isolation is no option for Finland. Nor do we want to isolate ourselves.

As a member of the EU Finland will not remain an outsider but an active contributor and problem-solver, should the security situation change in our immediate neighbourhood or in Europe.

As you may have heard I don’t believe in an ever-closer Union. But I don’t expect the disintegration of the European Union neither. We need common structures. Common problems require cooperation.  Moreover, the European Union is a security community, the importance of which should not be underestimated. As a security community, the EU is very much in Finland’s interest.

Finland and Sweden have successfully deepened their cooperation with NATO. It is in everyone’s interest that Finland and Sweden are at the table when issues concerning the Baltic Sea are discussed. This has proven extremely important in the present situation. The new stage of NATO cooperation in the so-called 28 + 2 format is an important element in efforts to enhance security in the Baltic Sea region. I wish to thank Denmark for supporting and speaking for this format of cooperation.

As to Finland’s application for membership of NATO, the situation is as follows: we are not applying for membership now, but we keep the possibility open. In our deliberations the development of the security situation in Europe is the essential factor. Although we are not applying for NATO membership now, keeping that door open serves Finland’s security.

With the many challenges in our external environment it is natural that Finland and Sweden seek stronger alignment of their policies in foreign and security policy.

Our basic interests and values are shared. We want to translate this common ground into decisive and concrete joint action in foreign and security policy. Our bilateral defence cooperation is intensifying, in particular, with Sweden.

Cooperation with the United States, both bilaterally and within the framework of NATO, is necessary to strenghten Finland's security and national defence. Thus, we will be intensifying security policy and defence cooperation with the United States.

Dealing with Russia in economic and political terms has always been both natural and necessary for us.  Dialogue with Russians is particularly important now. Russia is part of Europe and will remain so.  As an EU member state, Finland was part of the decisions concerning sanctions against Russia in the wake of the events in Crimea and Ukraine.  We continue to be committed to these EU decisions.  But we have a pragmatic approach to relations with Russia: in good and bad times alike, we must be able to maintain cooperation in areas where we share interests, and dialogue on issues that divide us.

Before closing let me say a few words about the Nordic cooperation.

Well before the EU, the Nordics discussed how best to promote common goals and solve mutual problems.  The Nordic region continues to be more advanced in integration in all spheres of life than the EU on average.  We must ensure this format will continue to work for the common good of the region.  As challenges mount, the significance of this cooperation is becoming clearer. Here the migration crisis is a case in point. The Nordic response has become a benchmark on the global level.

Nordic cooperation has a long tradition and it adapts easily to the changing environment.  Building resilience through open and equalitarian societies is the essence of the Nordic model.  We have no reason to impose it on anyone, but are ready to explain it and argue for it.

We respond to the new security situation also through enhanced cooperation under the auspices of NORDEFCO (Nordic Defence Cooperation) .Next year Finland will assume the presidency of NORDEFCO and we will advance the further intensification of Nordic cooperation as well as measures promoting regional security.

Today more than ever in our post-war history, it is paramount that principles upon which the European security system is built are respected. They are particularly important for small states like Denmark and Finland. Our important duty is to provide security to our people and stability in to our region. The Nordics are known to over-perform their size in many issues. Security is a field where I believe our over-performing would be very much needed and it would not raise jealousy nor too much competition.</p>