Speech by Pekka Haavisto, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the Meeting of Heads of Mission 23 August 2021

Speech by Pekka Haavisto, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the Meeting of Heads of Mission 23 August 2021

Distinguished Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, This year has shown very clearly the importance of foreign policy and the work of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. I do not mean just the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan and the tasks related to it, but all the events of the past few months: the global response to the coronavirus crisis, international efforts to halt climate change, work to promote the Finnish economy on our key export markets and to strengthen our education and innovation profile, disarmament issues, human rights and development contributions to the world’s poorest countries.

During this year, I have met the new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as well as Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister. With each of them, I discussed the state and future of the multilateral system, the significance of negotiation channels and the solutions advanced by negotiations.

Negotiations and solutions found through them are a natural way for Finland to proceed, not only in our national agenda but also in foreign policy. However, in many conflicts negotiations fail, because investment in negotiations and their importance has been insufficient or poorly timed.

The Finnish DNA includes an experience from Helsinki in 1975: The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) and its results. The CSCE stabilised Europe, which was in the midst of the Cold War but, at the same time, it created something new. The third basket of the Helsinki Accords concerned human rights and freedom of the media, so-called Helsinki committees were established in many Eastern European countries, and eventually the Conference was instrumental in the democratic transformation of Europe.

Distinguished Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

For the past two decades, Finland has supported the development of the new Afghanistan. Many of the projects we have supported have focused on improving the conditions for women, education, health and freedom of information. Some ask now whether these investments were made in vain.

I personally do not think that money spent on education or health can ever be lost. We have helped a number of girls to go to school. The sight of small schoolchildren with their backpacks on is more common in the cities of Afghanistan now than it was 20 years ago.  There is, however, a risk that girls will no longer be allowed in schools and there will be no use for their backpacks.

There are many reasons to suspect that Afghanistan will take a step backwards after the Taliban takeover. In the worst case, a new civil war will break out. Many analyses on the difficulty of establishing democracy and human rights in any country from outside will come out in the coming months and years. On the other hand, many countries have taken these long strides forward and developed in a long-lasting and sustainable manner. It is therefore more interesting to analyse whether there are specific factors in Afghanistan that hinder its development and cohesion.

Although the collapse of the Afghan Government and the army happened surprisingly quickly, we are already seeing signs of resistance. There are many kinds of resistance – often it can find a channel through art, culture or civic activities. It is important for us to remain tuned in to Afghanistan in the future too.

It is positive that many organisations have announced their intention to stay in the country, including the UN, UNICEF, UN Women, Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. All of them deserve our support. Finland announced on Thursday that it would provide an additional EUR 3 million through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help Afghan refugees.

---

Many at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs have worked intensively in the past few days to evacuate Finns and Afghans who have assisted Finland. By Monday morning, more than 140 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan, with 84 people flown out on Sunday alone.  This intensive work continues.

The evacuees include Finnish citizens, local staff hired by the Finnish mission, and local EU and NATO partners together with their families. Finland will take care of its responsibility for these people too.

The operation is hampered by Taliban roadblocks, other security threats, large crowds gathered near the airport and difficulties to get inside the airport gates. We do not know how long the airport will remain open – we only have limited time. In fact, we may only have a few days left. The situation is constantly changing.

 

I would like to assure you that, together with other authorities, we will do everything in our power to bring these people into safety. Close cooperation with other Nordic countries, our EU partners and the United States plays a key role in this.

---

Distinguished Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

A few days ago, Pasi Tuominen, Director General of Consular Services, and I discussed the tasks that the people sent by the Foreign Ministry to Kabul need to carry out right now. The work is challenging and involves difficult decisions. Tuominen compared the situation to search and rescue work at sea, which I find quite apt. According to the principles of maritime rescue: Anyone who is aware of another person in danger at sea is obligated, where possible without unreasonable danger to himself or herself or others, to take, on their own initiative, measures required by the situation that are necessary and possible to rescue those in danger.

The past few days have shown that the situations can also be dangerous to those helping. I therefore greatly value the decisions made by Parliament, the Government and the President of the Republic on the use of a Defence Forces unit to protect the evacuations and persons sent by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to Kabul. Without the unit, the task would be much more difficult and dangerous.

   
Although the work is still ongoing, I would like to express my gratitude to all of you at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the staff of the Defence Forces and other authorities who are currently working around the clock to help people. We have acted swiftly and continuously adapted to new situations on the ground.

I am extremely proud of the work you are doing. Thank you to all of you.

---

It is a historic decision to apply for the first time the Act on the Making of Decisions Concerning the Provision of and Request for International Assistance, which entered into force in 2017. Preparations for the decision lasted only for a few days, which shows the level of crisis awareness and decision-making capacity of Finnish society.

It is also good to acknowledge that the Act was not created for this kind of situation exactly. Many Members of Parliament stated as much in the plenary session. Although we hope similar situations will not occur, it would be worth exploring whether the legislation should be updated for such situations.

---

In crises, the importance of the network of Finnish missions becomes evident. As far as the evacuations from Afghanistan are concerned, many missions have worked hectically to find connecting flights, for example. The number of crises has not decreased – the global pandemic, the devastating blast in Lebanon, the crisis in Myanmar, the situation in Afghanistan.

These situations remind us that it is important for the Ministry to have sufficient expertise for various crisis situations and places of hardship, and that such expertise is appreciated in career development.

Crises also show the importance of the Ministry’s operations and its sufficient resources. For our part, Minister Skinnari and I have tried to ensure that the level of resources will increase during this government term, as per the Government Programme.

---

Distinguished Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The media can usually handle only one crisis at a time. Right now Afghanistan is in the spotlight, but we should also help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti and consider ways of preventing radicalism in Capo Delgado in Northern Mozambique – just to give you a few examples.

I would like to mention one area whose development may affect Europe and us in many ways, namely the Horn of Africa. This year, I have again closely followed the developments in the Horn of Africa, especially in Eritrea and Ethiopia. I also made two trips to the area on a mandate by the EU High Representative. Active telephone diplomacy between the local operators, international colleagues and myself has continued until these days.

 

In recent weeks, Afghanistan has overshadowed the situation in Ethiopia. The war there is being fought on several fronts, the humanitarian crisis is very serious and the long-lasting growth in the country’s economy has come to an abrupt end. There is hardly any dialogue between the parties. However, we must do everything we can to encourage dialogue between them. The most serious threat is the expansion of the internal conflict to the whole country.

 

The Ethiopian conflict involves close international cooperation, especially between the EU and the United States. The bordering states and the countries across the Red Sea are very concerned about the direction that Ethiopia, which has over 100 million inhabitants, is taking. Peaceful development in Ethiopia is a common interest.

 

The entire Horn of Africa – including the situation in Somalia and Sudan – involves many opportunities and threats. A worsening crisis in this area would rapidly lead to an increase in the number of refugees and migrants both on the African continent and towards Europe. For this reason, peaceful development is in everyone’s interest.

 

Your host countries’ views on the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea region will continue to be of great interest.

 

--

 

Finland’s long-term objective has been to develop the EU’s common foreign and security policy. The mandate given by the High Representative to the Minister of a Member State is a very concrete new way of strengthening the EU’s foreign policy. There is a common agreement on this among the Member States.

 

It is clear that the EU mandate opened doors and provided more opportunities for Finland to participate in international discussions on the situation in the Horn of Africa. We must continue to encourage the EU to make use of the expertise and networks of the Member States’ foreign ministers.

 

It is also good to strengthen our ability in our own organisation to monitor and analyse situations in crisis areas. This is needed both for the formulation of the EU’s common position and, for example, for our expected membership in the UN Human Rights Council.

 

The Centre for Mediation established in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs will supplement our work and analysis in the crisis areas well.

 

---

                       

Distinguished Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

If we want to reduce and control the world’s crises, arms control needs to be advanced.

Despite the work of the EU Member States and Finland, the United States and Russia withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty. As a result, the significance of the agreement has decreased considerably. The losers include EU countries and the openness and mutual trust of the international arms control system. In order not to be sidelined, Europe must try to change tracks. It has been possible to agree on arms control issues in Europe even during more difficult times.

With regard to nuclear armaments, the race between major powers has focused on technology and quality. Russia and the United States will remain the largest nuclear powers, while China is quickly developing its nuclear capabilities. Great Britain, which is no longer in the EU, has opened the door to increasing the number of its nuclear weapons.

However, in the current international situation, we should take note of even small positive signs.

The United States and Russia have agreed to extend the New START Treaty limiting the number of strategic nuclear weapons and their launchers until 2026, which gives more time to continue the debate. Despite the agreement, the pressure to involve China in nuclear arms reductions is increasing, especially in the US.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force this year as well. The first meeting of States Parties to the agreement will take place in March next year and Finland will participate in it as an observer.

In an unstable situation, Finland focuses on advancing the practical implementation of the agreements. This work is carried out at political level, in practical projects and through various international positions of trust. At the moment, we are preparing for the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference in January next year. 
 

Distinguished Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Multilateral cooperation plays a key role in solving global crises such as famines, conflicts and the effects of climate change. Strengthening multilateral cooperation is also a long-term objective of Finland’s foreign policy. Our work for multilateral organisations, such as the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe, is based on our national interest and our desire to contribute to a more stable, predictable and equitable world.

The rules-based international system and multilateral cooperation are being tested on several fronts. The ability of the organisations to operate is under pressure from the great powers. Some countries are trying to ignore their legal obligations and international commitments, or attempting to weaken existing standards and rights.

We are not opposed to any change, quite the contrary. The UN system built after the Second World War no longer corresponds in all respects to the changed power relations between states, nor does it take into account the expansion of the international agenda. The UN Charter was ratified on 24 October 1945. In the subsequent 70 years, pandemics, terrorism, climate change and other cross-border problems have become more important. At the same time, the role of civil society and the role of the globalised economy in solving these problems has grown tremendously.

We also want change, but the baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater.

Finland will not be an idle bystander. We have the will to support the rules-based international system in the current transformation. That is why we are a candidate for the UN Human Rights Council in 2022–2024 and for the UN Security Council for the period of 2029–2030. Finland wants to bear its share of responsibility.

In order to support the work of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, we have published a white paper on multilateral cooperation (‘Uuden yhteistyön aika – Ulkoministeriö monenkeskisen yhteistyön vahvistajana’). The paper compiles Finland’s objectives, activities and the overall picture of the challenges and opportunities of multilateral cooperation. I hope that the paper will be useful for the work of the missions around the world.

 

Distinguished Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

According to the Government Programme, Finland’s foreign and security policy is based on human rights. The Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy submitted to Parliament last year lays out that human rights impacts will be assessed in all our activities. These words will only carry meaning through deeds.

The success of our policy will be tested if we are elected to the UN Human Rights Council. Then we will have to take a stand on a number of concrete issues and cases. Attention should therefore be paid to sufficient human rights expertise, both in the ministry’s different departments in Helsinki and in the missions abroad. Human rights issues and reacting to them are not always simple or easy.

Membership in the UN Human Rights Council would enable us to participate in the Council’s decision-making process and to shape its agenda. It would also be a continuation of our Nordic tradition to be an active member in the UN’s human rights bodies.

In the course of the preparations for membership during the autumn and, if we are elected, at the beginning of next year, we will need a valuable analysis of the different situations of the missions – both thematic and country-specific. The work of the Human Rights Council also requires good foresight. I would like to thank all missions for their active work in drawing attention to our candidacy. This work will continue until the election day.

We have seen in Afghanistan how fragile the development of women’s rights can be. At the same time, we should not take our eyes off of developments closer to home. A so-called anti-gender movement, which is well funded and organised, is present in the western countries too.

We intend to submit a report on human rights policy to Parliament during the autumn session. In this context, we should also consider how Finland comes across as a promoter of equality internationally. It is important to build a stronger image of Finland as a pioneer of equality across the world. In this respect, the leaders of our Government parties have engaged in very visible influencing work.

Distinguished Ambassadors, Ladies and gentlemen,

Finally, I would like to talk about a theme that tends to be overshadowed by day-to-day politics, but is perhaps the most far-reaching in terms of viability of the whole planet – the climate.

This summer has been devastating for many people around the world. We have witnessed the historic floods in Germany and China, forest fires in southern Europe and North America, and other extreme weather phenomena that have reminded us of the limits of human activity.

According to a new report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human-induced global warming will worsen over the next 30 years, regardless of what action we take. At the same time, weather phenomena are getting worse. However, the report also shows that drastically cutting emissions may still have an impact on warming after 2050. An increase of just 1.5°C is still possible, but only if all countries participate in the direct emission reductions.

Climate science has developed greatly over the past decades. We have all the information we need about the impact of climate change and how warming can be stopped. We are witnessing the effects of climate change on the lives of millions of people. It is our duty to act for the sake of the future.

It is often said that we should not leave financial debt to future generations. I believe that climate change requires even more from us. We do not have the right to leave climate debt to burden future generations.

The EU’s commitment to 1.5 degrees is a good objective but we cannot settle for it. We need new means and tools, even if they challenge conventional approaches. When responding to the new proposals by the European Commission on the implementation of climate policy, Finland should be one of the progressive countries advancing climate change mitigation. Science has shown that this is the only way to stop global warming.


I would like to thank the Ministry’s climate team, Climate Ambassador Jan Wahlberg and Permanent State Secretary Matti Anttonen, who continue to highlight the link between climate change and the work and tasks of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. I encourage all missions to take part in implementing climate smart foreign policy.


Distinguished Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

In conclusion, some good news. In accordance with the Government Programme, we have prepared to expand our mission network. Last September, we opened an embassy in Manila, the Philippines. Now our network of missions will expand to Dakar in Senegal, where the embassy is set to start operations during this year. We are also preparing to open a mission in the capital of Qatar, Doha.

 

In line with the Africa strategy adopted in March 2021, Finland aims to diversify and deepen its relations with African countries.  Establishing a mission in Senegal supports this objective. The embassy opening in Dakar is Finland’s first embassy in French-speaking West Africa.

In recent years, there has been a great deal of concern about whether Finnish diplomats are seeking and gaining access to internationally important positions. I am pleased to say that the last few months have brought us many positive news in this regard. Ambassador Terhi Hakala has been appointed EU Special Representative for Central Asia, and Mikko Kinnunen, Director General for Political Affairs in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, has been appointed Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine. I believe we will receive more good news in this regard in future.

---

Dear friends,

I wish the staff of the diplomatic missions and the departments all the best for the coming autumn and success in your important work on behalf of Finland, Finnish people and a safer world.

 

Speeches held by Ministers and the top leadership of the Ministry.