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Finland in NATO must continue to work for peace

Published on Thursday, 9 June 2022

Boy at the Lviv railway station in March 2022. Picture: Finn Church Aid

Finland becoming a member of the military alliance is no reason for the country to scale down its peace mediation and peacebuilding efforts, but rather to enhance them, stress the executive directors of CMI, Finn Church Aid and the Finnish Missionary Society.

Questions are being raised about the compatibility of Finland’s membership of NATO and peace mediation. Would Finland as part of NATO be allowed, able and willing to pursue an active foreign policy aimed at preventing and resolving international conflicts and creating the conditions for just and lasting peace?

Peace mediation has become Finland’s international brand. The country’s political leadership has distinguished itself as a facilitator of international discourse and contacts. Direct high-level relations, including with difficult partners, are widely valued. Similarly, Finland’s commitment to supporting the resolution of international conflicts, not only in words but also in practice, is valued.

Finland’s mediation work, including support for sustained peacebuilding, is based on close cooperation between the state and NGOs. In recent decades, the organisations we represent have emerged as international players in conflict prevention and peace-building. In total, we have hundreds of experts working in support of social peace and development in areas that are also important for Finland. We do not impose ready-made solutions, but support local people to resolve conflicts and develop more sustainable societies based on their own needs. We work in the regions of Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and we aim to strengthen the role of women in particular as a prerequisite for sustainable peace.  Involving young people and marginalised groups in peace work is also an important principle of our work. Working for peace is all the more important in a context where there is an increasing tendency to resolve conflicts through war rather than negotiation.

We are not isolated from international politics. But our work is not based on Finland’s international policy status, but on our expertise and our ability to gain the trust of local people. We are not usually solicited because we are Finnish, but because we can help solve a problem. Of course, our work – including that of our international experts – is influenced by the visibility of Finns in mediation and by Finnish values, but we do not operate in the world primarily as Finns. So the fact that Finland will be militarily allied will not directly affect our activities.

It certainly will have an indirect effect. It is possible that in some situations, especially in the very early stages of membership, there may be suspicions concerning our activities. We must therefore be able to be emphatically even-handed in our dealings with the parties to conflicts. In some cases, NATO membership may also have a supportive effect on our work, because it opens up new opportunities for cooperation.

Norway has shown that NATO membership and peace mediation can be effectively reconciled. Norway has emerged as one of the most important global contributors to peace mediation, despite decades of steadfast NATO membership. The Oslo talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan a few months ago are a good example of this. The active involvement of Turkey and Israel – the militarily allied countries – between Ukraine and Russia also shows that military non-alignment is not a requirement for mediation.

Finland’s opportunities for mediation will not diminish, but will change with NATO membership. In the new situation, new opportunities must be actively sought.

The key question is whether peace mediation will continue to be an essential part of Finland’s foreign policy. In our view, NATO membership is not a reason to reduce work for peace, but rather to intensify it. Finland’s strengths in peace mediation and peace-building are undeniable: we have a long tradition and a solid reputation in this field. Ours is an inspiring story of a country that has gone from being poor and ravaged by civil war to becoming the most stable and happy nation in the world. The structures of our society, from equality to bilingualism, and the strength and effectiveness of our political institutions – as the NATO debate has again demonstrated – are a natural platform for peace mediation.

Our practical peace mediation and peacebuilding work improve the security of all Finns and support Finland’s foreign policy goals. Though focus is now on NATO membership, it is worth looking a little further ahead. Successful Finnish chairmanship of the OSCE in 2025 and hopefully membership of the UN Security Council in 2029-30 will both require Finnish expertise in peace work and enable Finland to showcase its know-how in major international arenas. For our part, we are ready for this work.

Janne Taalas, Chief Executive Officer, CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation

Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director, Finn Church Aid 

Rolf Steffansson, Executive Director, Finnish Missionary Society

This text has been published in Finnish in the newspaper “Turun Sanomat” in June 2022.