Cablegate: Finland: Georgia Conflict Spurs Debate On Security


DE RUEHHE #0427/01 2631355
R 191355Z SEP 08



E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/10/2018

Classified By: Ambassador Barbara Barrett for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY. While the crisis in Georgia appears not to
have changed public opinion about Finland's security, it has
generated debate and discussion about security policy. The
consensus-based coalition government's policy on maintaining
the "option" to join NATO remains, though the consensus
appears stretched. President Halonen has stated that the
crisis will not affect the basic direction of Finland's
security policy, which she sees as not including NATO
membership. Similarly, Prime Minister Vanhanen has stated
that Russia's actions do not warrant an increase in defense
spending or consideration of NATO membership at this time.
However, Foreign Minister Stubb, well known for his
Atlanticist leanings and enjoying popularity from his
well-regarded chairmanship of the OSCE, created a stir by
expressing his support for NATO membership in a speech to
Finnish Ambassadors. More recently Stubb has denied any
shift in government policy and maintained that NATO remains
an option. Stubb's party, which holds the Foreign Affairs and
Defense portfolios, may well stretch the consensus on
security and foreign policy, perhaps resulting in actions in
line with our own policies, e.g., greater engagement in
Afghanistan. However, given the constitutional division of
foreign policy between President and Cabinet, NATO membership
remains an option to be activated, if at all, after President
Halonen's term. END SUMMARY.

Opinion Poll: Georgia Conflict Will Not Affect Security
--------------------------------------------- ----------

2. (SBU) According to an opinion poll taken in the second
week of the conflict, sixty percent of Finns polled believe
that the conflict would not affect the security situation in
Finland. One-third felt that the country,s security had
been adversely impacted. Thirty-eight percent blamed Russia
for the conflict, while only ten percent blamed Georgia (28
percent blamed both equally, with the rest undecided). In a
September 3 meeting with Embassy officials, several Ministry
of Foreign Affairs (MFA) officials speculated about the poll
results. They asserted that most Finns are unfamiliar with
Georgia - its people, its location - so the conflict was too
distant to impact their security. The officials noted that
Finns might become more concerned about their security
situation should something similar happen in Ukraine, given
their greater familiarity from student exchanges and the
presence of Ukrainian workers in Finland.

Conflict generates debate on security and NATO
--------------------------------------------- -

3. (C) While the poll did not reflect the latest public
attitudes towards NATO, Finnish officials have inserted NATO
into the public sphere since the crisis began. References to
NATO have sprung more often from the National Coalition Party
(NCP), the center-right government coalition member that
favors NATO membership, leaving the other parties to respond
or ignore. Foreign Minister Stubb (NCP) made his support for
NATO membership well known in an August 25 speech to Finnish
Heads of Foreign Missions. Stubb spoke very favorably of
NATO and said there was "reason for closer cooperation,"
e.g., participation in the NATO Response Force (NRF), though
he added that it was not yet time for a decision on the NRF.
President Halonen also spoke to the diplomatic corps. Though
her speech covered Finland's defense, including the need for
Finland to maintain its own defense and to promote security
through international organizations, she made no mention of
NATO. She previously said that the crisis would not affect
the government's current quadrennial security review (report
due in the fall). On September 1 Vanhanen (Center Party) said
publicly that Russia's actions did not merit raising
Finland's defense spending or taking full NATO membership
into serious consideration.

4. (C) On September 8, visiting Ambassador Schulte asked a
small group of Finnish officials whether Finland would be a
NATO member in ten years. Vanhanen's Chief of Staff Risto
Volanen declined to answer directly, stating that it was in
Finland's "natural national interest" to cooperate with the
U.S. on security. Volanen, managing to avoid even uttering
the term "NATO," stated that it remains a "serious security
option" for Finland. He added that Vanhanen's references to
membership as an "option" intentionally strikes a middle
ground from which he can criticize others in the government
(or in the opposition) who swing too far towards or away from
the question of membership. Unlike Volanen, MFA State
Secretary Teija Tiilikainen was unhesitating in stating that
Finland would be a NATO member. She critized as "old
thinking" the view (described by Volanen) that Finns should
"keep their head down" so as not to anger their Russian

neighbor. Tiilikainen believes that, with a generation
having grown up without seeing NATO as a bulwark against the
Soviet Union, Finns will eventually decide to join the
alliance, and much sooner than 10 years.

5. (SBU) A poll taken in mid-September by Suomen Gallup for
the leading paper Helsingin Sanomat showed greater
uncertainty amongst Finns on the question of NATO membership
from last year. One in five Finns are unsure whether Finland
should join, up from 16 percent last year and 11 percent 18
months ago. The rise in uncertainty comes at the expense of
both the "NATO-yes" and "NATO-no" groups. The poll indicates
that a majority still opposes membership, while over 20
percent are in favor. Support for membership within the NCP
has dropped from a majority to 50 percent, with the number of
those uncertain doubling from ten to twenty percent.

Opposition leader drawn into security, NATO discussion
--------------------------------------------- ---------

6. (SBU) Jutta Urpilainen, head of the opposition Social
Democrats, publicly stated that neither ties to NATO nor the
basics of Finland's security policy need to be reviewed
following the events in Georgia. She reportedly expressed a
willingness to forego a future referendum on NATO membership,
stating the next parliamentary elections could be a
replacement. (COMMENT: Urpilainen may simply be attempting to
push the matter beyond the October municipal elections. She
has said little on security since assuming leadership in
June, and only addressed the subject of security policy over
three weeks after the crisis in Georgia started. END

7. (C) Urpilainen also stated that Finland's non-aligned
stance must follow the majority of the public. Such a
position appears at odds with history and political reality
in Finland, where public opinion often follows government
policy and action. At a September 3 meeting with MFA
officials, several noted that public opinion is currently
largely against NATO membership. They pointed to the example
of Finland's EU accession, saying that the public did not
support EU membership until the government undertook a public
campaign in support of accession. In the same way they saw
the public eventually supporting NATO membership, but only
after the government arrived at a consensus in favor. They
agreed that many in the government support NATO membership,
but said that none are willing to publicly challenge the
consensus policy on maintaining the NATO option.

Conflict Highlights Policy Differences Within Coalition
--------------------------------------------- ----------

8. (C) While not openly challenging the current security
policy, Stubb seems to be testing the consensus. His August
25 speech to the diplomatic corps caused a stir within the
government and in the media. That speech described a
"comeback" of "nation-states and power politics," and warned
of the challenge to international institutions from single,
obstructionist states (e.g., within OSCE and the UN Security
Council) and from a possible confrontation between Russia and
the West. Stubb senior advisor Jori Arvonen told PolChief
that the speech - which also called for an "intensified"
Finnish foreign policy that does not withdraw into empty
statements and is freed from "phobias, handicapped attitudes
and old illusions" - reflected the NCP's view of where
Finnish foreign policy should go, and was crafted knowing the
reaction it could provoke.

9. (SBU) The media picked up on Stubb's support for NATO. On
August 31 the Prime Minister, in a radio interview program,
dismissed Stubb's comments as reflecting his party's
position, but also obliquely chided Stubb for stating NCP
views to a gathering of Ambassadors. One editorial asserted
that Finns have only a vague impression about how the
country's foreign policy is run, and by whom, and that Stubb
has compounded the confusion by speaking simultaneously as
the Foreign Minister, OSCE Chairman and private citizen.
During Parliamentary debate on September 10, members of
opposition parties questioned whether the government still
had a common position on security. In addressing the
Parliament, Stubb drew directly from his August 25 speech to
deny that his comments called into question the government's
consensus view, and reiterated that Finland still has the
NATO option.

10. (C) COMMENT. While Vanhanen states publicly that the
consensus on security policy is firm, that consensus is being
stretched. The NCP would like to capitalize on this debate,
for even though the government has a strong influence over
public opinion on the question of NATO membership, the NCP

needs more public support in order to head the next
government that would take Finland into NATO. Under the
constitution foreign policy is divided between the Presidency
and the Cabinet, and Halonen has said Finland will not join
NATO on her watch. So, while the NCP may succeed in
stretching the consensus, with results in line with U.S.
interests - e.g., Stubb's public call on September 13 for
"strengthening" Finland's role in Afghanistan - the question
of NATO membership still lies beyond the next presidential
election. END COMMENT.


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