Finnish PM, President on NATO: Finland Should Keep Options Open, May Join at Will
While formally retaining its non-alignment from the Cold War-era, Finland has been inching closer to the alliance through various joint drills and training activities, the acquisition of US-made equipment and allowing NATO to use its land, airspace and territorial waters; along with Sweden, it enjoys the status of special partner.
In her New Year's message, Prime Minister Sanna Marin has emphasised the possibility of Finland joining NATO by stressing it can apply for membership if it wants to.
Finland retains the option of applying for NATO membership,” the Social Democrat said in what the Finnish press broadly interpreted as a jab against Russian President Vladimir Putin who recently demanded that the Western alliance halt its eastward expansion. “We should uphold this freedom of choice and make sure it remains a reality, as this is part of every country's right to decide on its own security policies,” Marin added, as quoted by national broadcaster Yle.
Marin also pledged that Finland would further intensify its European security and defence cooperation and commitments, stressing that it won't “let go of its room for manoeuvre”.
A similar message was voiced by President Sauli Niinistö, who also emphasised that it was possible for Finland to apply for NATO membership.
“Finland's room to manoeuvre and freedom of choice also include the possibility of military alignment and applying for NATO membership, should we ourselves so decide,” Niinistö said, as quoted by Yle.
The Finnish president cited the crisis in Ukraine and current global tensions, suggesting that the post-Cold War era was over and that great power politics were once again in a state of flux, making the impact on smaller countries more intense.
Niinistö also addressed Russia's security proposals to NATO and the US, which are soon to be discussed amid tensions over Ukraine and the alliance steadily approaching Russia's borders, by suggesting that the very notion of “spheres of influence” is outdated. Instead, he ventured that the EU should take a more active role and do more than just “listen in”.
Remarkably, last month, President Sauli Niinistö also said NATO membership is between applicants and NATO, suggesting that Finland, despite decades of non-alignment, retains the option to join.
While formally remaining outside the bloc, Finland has been forging closer ties with the alliance through joint drills and training activities, the acquisition of US-made equipment and allowing NATO to use its land, airspace and territorial waters.
During his visit to Helsinki in the autumn of 2021, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance's doors remained open for Finland.
Inside Finland, there is a strong political sentiment in favour of NATO represented, among others, by members of the top brass and several parties, including the liberal-conservative National Coalition currently ahead in the polls.