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Cablegate: Finland's Likely Next Steps in Afghanistan

VZCZCXYZ0010
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHHE #0639/01 2321125
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 201125Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY HELSINKI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3682
INFO RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 0056
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 0946

C O N F I D E N T I A L HELSINKI 000639

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/17/2017
TAGS: PREL MOPS MARR SNAR EAID PGOV NATO AF FI
SUBJECT: FINLAND'S LIKELY NEXT STEPS IN AFGHANISTAN


Classified By: POLITICAL CHIEF GREGORY THOME FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D
)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Budgetary realities and political
discomfort amongst a few at the highest levels have
currently put the brakes on the GOF's plan to increase
its military commitments to NATO/ISAF in 2008.
Meaningful increases in Finnish development and
counternarcotics assistance to Afghanistan are probable
-- and the idea of PRT leadership in 2009 remains very
much on the table. However, the 2008 national budget
contains no funds for new or stepped-up peacekeeping
operations (PKO). The Ambassador has made the case to
senior leadership that Finland ought to send more troops
to Afghanistan sooner rather than later -- culminating
in several additional senior-level meetings the week of
Aug. 13. However, it appears that Conservative
politicians who committed early to contributing more
troops to ISAF underestimated how strongly their own
coalition partner, the Center Party -- as well as
President Halonen -- would not support increases in
2008. END SUMMARY.

EARLY MOMENTUM FADES
--------------------
2. (C) A mere two months ago, enthusiasm in the
Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs was high
regarding an increased Finnish role in Afghanistan. In
the wake of FM Ilkka Kanerva's June meeting with the
Secretary and MOD Jyri Hakamies's trip to Afghanistan,

SIPDIS
both signaled their intentions to seek more Finnish
troops for NATO/ISAF as well as increased funding for
development, counternarcotics and rule of law programs.
The MFA was instructed to prepare a wide ranging report
to Parliament examining Finland's role in Afghanistan
and the best ways to apply any additional resources.
The report will be delivered to Parliament members in
mid-September and publicly discussed in parliamentary
session. Contacts responsible for drafting it have told
us privately that increases for 2008 appeared likely
(Reftel A).

3. (C) Since then, however, significant political
opposition has emerged. Much of the most vociferous
opposition came in response to Hakamies's public
suggestion that the GOF should re-open the previous
government's decision to deny a US/Afghan request that
sought a donation of excess Finnish weapons to the
Afghan National Police (ANP). (Comment: The lethal
equipment issue has been politically sensitive all along
(Ref A), having been characterized both as legally
permissible and legally prohibited. End Comment.) In
addition, more measured opposition also came from those
who argued that Finland's current level of participation
in NATO/ISAF (about 104 troops at two Nordic-led PRTs)
was sufficient. Some Parliamentarians have argued that
2008 budget realities do not permit troop increases,
given Finland's numerous other ongoing PKO obligations
and its very generous contribution of 240 troops to the
UN's Southern Lebanon mission. (NOTE: No other Nordic
country sent ground troops to Lebanon following the
Hezbollah-Israeli war last summer, and the GOF needed to
pass a special budgetary supplemental in order to fund
its 240-troop contribution.) Leading Conservative
politicians (led by Hakamies and Kanerva) and ministry
officials expressed confidence that the report to
Parliament would satisfy the nay-sayers. However, in
early August leading figures from the Center Party --
the Conservatives' major coalition partner -- also began
to voice misgivings.

MONEY BUT NO NEW TROOPS
-----------------------
4. (C) Senior officials and working level contacts in
the MOD, MFA and Ministry of Finance now say that at the
moment troop increases in Afghanistan appear unlikely in
2008, although other forms of assistance are likely. In
an Aug. 14 meeting, a disappointed Kanerva told the
Ambassador that he expected to win approval for Finnish
contributions to a new EU-funded police training/rule of
law mission, and quite probably additional development
assistance. However, he added, "I do not exclude the
military side, but getting increases to our military
contribution in Afghanistan will be very hard." He
noted that while many in government truly believed that
sending more troops to Afghanistan was in Finland's
national security interest, the Prime Minister and the
President saw things differently. In an Aug. 16
meeting, PM Vanhanen confirmed this. "Discussions
within government are ongoing; nothing is final," he
told us. "But overall the atmosphere is such that we
want to help (in Afghanistan), but changes in our
military posture will not be significant."

5. (C) Separately, a Finance Ministry contact told
PolChief that there simply is no money programmed into
the 2008 budget for troop increases anywhere. (NOTE:
Finland currently supports Afghanistan with 10 million
euros annually.) The four parties in government are
divided in their thinking about budgetary priorities,
she said; in fact, political pressure within the cabinet
to send troops to Darfur might currently outweigh the
sentiment in favor of more forces for Afghanistan. In
either case, there is no budget supplemental in the
works; without one ISAF commitments would have to remain
level, and there can be no major contributions to
Darfur.

PLANS FOR PRT LEADERSHIP IN 2009 CONTINUE APACE
--------------------------------------------- --
6. (U) Echoing what we had heard privately, Admiral
Juhani Koskeala, the armed forces chief of staff, told
the press Aug. 14 that budgetary constraints would
prevent significant crisis management increases in 2008.
However, he emphasized that taking leadership of a PRT
in 2009 -- which would require troop increases --
remains very much on the table. In his view, the
current level of Finnish participation at Meymenah and
Mazar was sufficient until the 2009 ramp-up for PRT
leadership began.

7. (C) The Ambassador spent the week of Aug. 13
emphasizing to a range of senior officials that
Afghanistan is a top priority. In separate meetings,
she underscored to the PM, to the FM, and to
Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman how
important it is for Finland to make new ISAF
contributions sooner, rather than later. Each
interlocutor understood that the USG would be
disappointed if the GOF could not do more in 2008.
However, they also assured us that development and other
assistance increases would be forthcoming and that
planning for PRT leadership in 2009 would continue
apace. Kanerva, in particular, noted that plans for a
"rotation" of leadership with the Swedes at the Mazar-
al-Shariff PRT in 2009 remained quite active.

COMMENT: CONSERVATIVES UNDERESTIMATE THEIR OPPONENTS
--------------------------------------------- -------
8. (C) It may be that the Conservatives' ambitious plans
were a classic case of early over-exuberance, which has
been tempered over time in the face of political
realities. Indeed, Conservative politicians rode the
wave of their election landslide holding two beliefs on
Afghanistan: first, that increasing the GOF's already
significant PKO contributions was truly important for
Finland's own national security; and second, that they
could convince a skeptical PM and even more skeptical
President of this fact. However, President Halonen
simply feels that Finland is currently doing enough in
Afghanistan. PM Vanhanen, meanwhile, keenly values his
working relationship with Halonen, and faces staunch
opposition within his own Center Party to increasing
Finland's PKO profile; he therefore has absolutely no
domestic political incentive to tangle with Halonen on
the ISAF issue.

NEXT STEPS
----------
9. (C) Finland's overall role in Afghanistan is still
being hammered out. The GOF's current troop commitment
to ISAF remains solid, and we can continue to count on
the Finns to do good work at the Meymenah and Mazar
PRTs. We also expect other significant assistance,
including more development aid; counterdrug efforts; and
Finnish police and judicial trainers as part of the EU's
rule of law mission. And as noted, PRT leadership
remains very much in the planning cards for 2009; we
will continue to work hard with the Finns to make this a
reality.
HYATT

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