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Cablegate: Finland: Nato Debate Heats Up

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RR RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLZ RUEHROV
DE RUEHHE #1248/01 3531312
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 191312Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY HELSINKI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2840
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 4661
RUEHRK/AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK 0268
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 0929

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HELSINKI 001248

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV MOPS MARR EUN RU FI
SUBJECT: FINLAND: NATO DEBATE HEATS UP


1. (SBU) Summary: The March 2007 parliamentary election
campaign is about to kick off and NATO is emerging as a key
theme, just as it did in the January 2006 presidential
elections -- and despite the efforts of several prominent
politicians to muzzle public debate on this sensitive topic.
This cable offers a snapshot of the current NATO debate in
Finland, and subsequent reporting will examine the impact of
NATO and security issues on both the elections and the new
government that emerges. End Summary

Background: Is NATO Still the Political Kiss of Death?
--------------------------------------------- ---------
2. (SBU) Finland's general Parliamentary elections are four
months away (March 2007). As the election looms closer, the
question of whether Finland should accede to NATO is
generating renewed public interest and debate. President
Tarja Halonen was re-elected in January by a surprisingly
thin
margin over her Conservative Party challenger, Sauli Niinsto.

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Security policy -- and especially the NATO issue -- played a
significant role in the presidential campaign. Halonen, a
Social Democrat (SDP), had long opposed joining NATO and had
expressed similar reservations about European Security and
Defense Policy (ESDP) planning. (At one point, she suggested
that no EU military operations could be legitimate or
justified in the absence of UN authorization, but
subsequently
moderated that stance.) Niinsto stopped short of advocating
outright NATO accession, but his positive comments about
possible future membership and his support for greater
regional and international engagement by Finland were widely
interpreted as de facto support for accession sooner rather
than later.

3. (SBU) Pundits in Finland have long predicted that public
support for NATO membership would be the kiss of death for
any
Finnish politician, and that debate rages on as the
Parliamentary contests approach. With Niinisto almost having
pulled off an upset, many now argue that his outspoken stance
on security policy may have been the issue that separated him
from Halonen and others and captured the imagination of
voters. Those same voices hold that although Halonen won,
her
poorer than expected showing resulted in part from a
perception that her idealism was coloring her foreign policy
judgment too much and leading to unrealistic "ivory tower"
policies that risked isolating Finland from the European
mainstream. However, others -- including leading
Conservative
Party strategists -- tell us that NATO and security policies
actually were the kiss of death for Niinisto. In their
version, had he not been so forward leaning in these areas,
he
would have picked up the additional 2.5 percentage points he
needed and toppled Halonen. In particular, Conservatives now
say, Finnish Center Party voters, who favored many of
Niinisto's other arguments, remained staunchly opposed to
NATO
membership and reacted to Niinisto's NATO arguments either by
voting for Halonen or by staying home. Opinion polls still
show a large majority of Finns opposed to NATO membership,
but
opposition remains especially high among the largely rural
voters who make up the vast majority of the Center Party's
base. One final factor, according to both our Center and
Conservative Party contacts, was the overwhelming and still
passionate opposition to the US invasion of Iraq. Although
polls indicated that most Finns believed NATO membership
should remain a viable option, and that Finland would
inevitably accede at some point, they still link NATO to the
US, and the war remains a factor in voters' calculations.

The Press Kicks Off This Season's Debate
----------------------------------------
4. (SBU) Campaign season for the March 2007 contests does not
even begin until January 1, but Finland's press corps kicked
things off in October when Finland's two largest newspapers
--
the Helsingin Sanomat (Helsinki) and Aamulehti (Tampere) --
ran their first-ever editorials officially advocating NATO
accession for Finland. The two big dailies were followed
quickly by several smaller publications. The newspapers'
argument for accession was based on the fact that Finland is
an active participant in NATO operations in Afghanistan, the
Balkans, and elsewhere but that regardless of what shape or
form an enhanced NATO partnership might take after the Riga
Summit, lack of full membership would relegate Finland to
continued second-class citizen status -- without the role in

HELSINKI 00001248 002 OF 003


decision-making, operational planning, and intelligence-
sharing that the country desires. A secondary theme that was
addressed obliquely was renewed concern over Russia. Finnish
politicians and journalists alike are cautious when alluding
to any possible threat from the Russian bear, and concerns
about Russian backsliding on human rights and democracy are
not the driving force behind the current debate; however, a
level of concern about recent trends in Moscow is always a
hidden subtext in any Finnish debate on security policy.

Lipponen and Kaariainen Square Off
----------------------------------
5. (SBU) Hard on the heels of the editorial staffs, two of
Finland's most prominent politicians -- one historically pro-
NATO, the other a staunch opponent -- weighed in publicly.
Social Democratic (SDP) Speaker of Parliament Paavo Lipponen,
the longtime advocate, said that Finland would be hard
pressed
to defend itself in the future without help from NATO.
However, Lipponen also knows that NATO is not a winning issue
for his Social Democratic party, largely because its other
heavy hitters -- namely President Halonen and Foreign
Minister
Erkki Tuomioja -- strongly oppose Finland's joining NATO.
For
that reason, while holding true to his convictions, Lipponen
also tried to pre-empt a discussion of NATO during this
campaign, suggesting that the real debate should wait until
after the 2007 elections. Then, possibly, a more NATO-
friendly Parliament might be seated, and leading NATO
detractors like Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja (SDP) and
Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (who is constrained by his
Center Party constituency) might be removed to less powerful
roles.

6. (SBU) Lipponen's remarks were followed by those of Defense
Minister Seppo Kaariainen (Center Party), who told
journalists
that by 2020, Finland would be unable to maintain its current
system of territorial defense without large increases in
shrinking defense budgets or NATO membership. Kaariainen's
comments were initially noteworthy, because he has never
favored NATO accession and generally shied away from entering
the public fray. They also prompted immediate attacks. FM
Tuomioja blasted the DefMin for "threatening" the GoF with
the
inevitability of NATO membership. Although Tuomioja didn't
use the word "blackmail," the gist of his remarks was that
Kaariainen was indeed blackmailing the government for greater
defense expenditures by presenting NATO as the only option in
the absence of bigger budgets for the military. The FM said
that joining NATO was a political issue, not an economic one;
and could not be made on the basis of budgetary
considerations
alone. President Halonen predictably seconded Tuomioja's
position saying there was no need for Finland to join NATO,
no
need for further debate at the present time, and no plans for
the GoF to revisit the issue in the near future. PM Matti
Vanhanen (who is a committed trans-Atlanticist but knows he
stands to gain nothing from his own base by favoring NATO
membership) initially stayed clear of the public sparring,
but
later showed solidarity with the FM and President, declaring
that NATO issues should not be discussed during the campaign.

Lesser political luminaries such as former communist Jaako
Lakso, an outspoken member of Parliament from the Left
Alliance, also added their voices to those decrying
Kaariainen's assessment.

7. (SBU) Kaariainen and Lipponen did not respond publicly to
any of the commotion; but sources from across the political
spectrum now tell us that Kaariainen's gambit, in particular,
was never intended as a show of support for Finland's NATO
accession. Instead, they said, it was a clever means of
allowing others such as Halonen and Tuomioja to publicly shut
down the NATO debate. Liisa Jaakonsaari, the SDP chair of
Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee (and, like Lipponen, a
strong supporter of NATO membership, was unusually harsh in
her public criticism of the GoF's position -- especially that
of Halonen -- and she was furious with Kaariainen.
Jaakonsaari lamented in particularly the fact that
Kaariainen's response seemed designed to allow Halonen and
others to cut off all debate on the subject. As another MP
put it, Kaariainen "certainly hasn't changed his tune on
NATO,
he just wants a bigger defense budget." Max Jakobson,
Finland's most respected ex-diplomat and foreign policy "grey
eminence," also spoke out against the government's negative

HELSINKI 00001248 003 OF 003


assessment and attempt to close down the dialogue. The
career
minister said that it was unfortunate the GoF was trying to
"close the door" on NATO membership for the foreseeable
future
and implied that some NATO membership opponents were afraid
of
an open debate about accession.

Even the Bear Growls
--------------------
8. (SBU) Not to be left out, Russian officials took advantage
of the opportunity to register their interest. Russia's
ambassador to Finland said that Moscow was "satisfied" with
what he described as "Finland's clearly stated policy" to not
apply for membership in the near future. The visiting Chief
of the Russian General Staff went somewhat further; speaking
at a Helsinki press conference alongside his Finnish
counterpart, the general opined that Finland should consider
"the consequences of joining the alliance" on the Finnish-
Russian bilateral relationship. He referred to the Baltic
states as having been turned into "worrying gray areas" by
their decision to join NATO.

Comment
-------
9. (SBU) If nothing else, the NATO and security policy debate
promises to be a major theme in the upcoming parliamentary
campaign, despite the efforts of several senior politicians
to
muzzle it. We will follow it closely and, on the public
diplomacy side, continue to do our part to dispel rumors,
correct misimpressions and simply offer the facts regarding
the US position. Subsequent reporting will examine how the
campaign and the election results will impact the Finnish
NATO
debate going forward.
WARE

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