Political rift over NATO widens in Finland

The political rift on whether it will be realistic for Finland to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) widened last night.

The outgoing Prime Minister Juha Sipila said on Tuesday that Social Democratic Party leader Antti Rinne had “restricted the freedom of movement” of Finland through speculating last week that Finland possibly would not be admitted into NATO.

Sipila said at an election roundtable arranged by the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that a NATO membership is “not in the interest of Finland now”, but “we should not ourselves” give statements like what Rinne said.

Rinne defended his statement, saying again that there was no certainty about the attitude U.S. President Donald Trump has towards admitting new members into NATO. He underlined that he did not mean that Finland should give up the “NATO option” in the way it has been formulated in the program of the current government. “An independent country decides what it wants to do,” said Rinne.

Rinne accused conservative National Coalition’s chairman Petteri Orpo of preventing a discussion on “a subject that is very clear.”

Rinne used the cold war era term “Finlandization”. In the 1970s and 1980s, the word was used by critics in the west claiming that discussion about the USSR and security issues between Finland and the USSR was discouraged in Finland. Rinne said there are now “finlandized men” on both sides of him. Rinne was sitting between Sipila and Orpo.

Orpo said his party continues endorsing a possible NATO membership but has not been active of late as there is no national political majority for it.

He said Finland is a good companion to NATO and would be “militarily more capable than some NATO member countries” are. “We must adhere to the possibility that we could apply,” he said, adding that work for defense under the flag of the European Union is not in contravention of the relationship with NATO.

Li Andersson, chairman of the Left Alliance, claimed the conservatives were not really pursuing the goal. Andersson said a possible NATO membership for Finland would worsen the security position of the country and increase tension in the Baltic basin.

Paavo Vayrynen, a long time centrist foreign minister and now a candidate for an independent group, said he was pleased with the way the security policy approach the social democrats have developed.