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Mon, 08 Sep, 2014 03:49:55 AM
FTimes-Xinhua Report by Juhani Niinisto, Sept 8

 

Finnish decision makers have claimed that their country has not taken any step closer towards the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) despite the fact it has signed a protocol on hosting NATO troops last week at the NATO summit in Wales, UK.

But some believed it will face difficult choices in case a conflict emerges.

Finland also became part of a NATO Programme of Enhanced Opportunities as a Partner for Peace. Besides Finland, the programme includes Australia, Sweden, Jordan and Georgia.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said on Thursday in Wales that Finland was not "entering NATO through the back door." He said that parallel to relying on its own defence, it is in the interest of Finland to get networked.

The president listed Sweden, the rest of the Nordic countries, the EU and NATO as partners.

Finnish Defence Minister Carl Haglund said on Friday that the most important aspect in the widened programme is the exchange of views on the political level. Encounters are to continue regularly at the ministerial level, Haglund said.

No specific agreement was signed to launch the Enhanced Opportunities Programme. Details of the new level of partnership will take shape as practical co-operation develops.

The protocol on hosting NATO troops may lead to situations where Finland has to actively weigh the repercussions of its actions. Possible dilemmas facing Finland as a result of the protocol have been discussed widely in the Finnish media.

A former senior Defence Ministry official and diplomat Pauli Jarvenpaa took up the likely situation when NATO would like to use Finnish territory for defending Estonia in a conflict.

The protocol unequivocally establishes that NATO troops can enter Finland following a Finnish invitation only,  but the decision to invite or not to invite during a crisis may be difficult.

Interviewed on national radio, Jarvenpaa did not predict what Finland would do, but underlined  it would be "a question involving the fate of Finland."

"Estonians would like to see help from Finland, of course," he said.

Earlier, Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said Finland would not allow its territory to be used for anything that Russia would consider hostile.

Jarvenpaa is a known supporter of Finnish membership in NATO and has said that in a war situation Finland would need international support.

Talking to Xinhua, the Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Defence Committee and former Defence Minister Seppo Kaariainen, representing the opposition party Centre, stressed that Finland continues to be militarily nonaligned, dismissing the view that the protocol would bring Finland any closer to participating in the defence of the Baltic states.

Meanwhile, another opposition member of the Parliamentary Defence Committee, Jyrki Yrttiaho, representing the Left Faction, told Xinhua that in his view last week saw a major step by Finland towards NATO.

Yrttiaho has voiced public criticism against getting any closer to NATO. "But a framework  is now  being created and actual membership of NATO would then only need a political decision," he said.

Support of NATO membership has increased slowly in Finland, but the majority of the population appears to be against it for the moment.

According to a poll commissioned by the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat in late August, 57 percent were still against a NATO  membership.

The figure for support was at 26 percent. It had been at 22 percent in March 2014. The number of Finns who could not take a stand on the issue was at 17 percent.

The view prevails in Finland that a Finnish NATO membership would have to be confirmed in a referendrum and a decision by Parliament alone would not be enough.

Member of Parliament Jyrki Yrttiaho expressed pessimism about such a referendum though. He said it would probably be arranged in a situation where the public opinion would be in a state of panic and thus the outcome could be predestined.

 

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