Finland joining NATO is just a “natural step”, MP Östman says
Never before Finland was part of a military alliance. The country never desired to be so either. But soon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, the Finnish appetite changed. The Christian Democrats support that shift. “Joining NATO is the natural next step for us”, Peter Östman says.
He has been in the Finnish Parliament since 2011. Östman is one of the five Christian Democrats (Kristillisdemokraatit, KD) in the 200-member Finnish Parliament.
During his years as president of the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM), he constantly travelled through NATO member countries. That was no problem for him since he supported the so-called “NATO option.” The short version of that is: today, we are not a member state. But if that becomes necessary tomorrow, then we will join without regret. “That has been in our security policy for decades already.”
Meanwhile, the situation has changed, and therefore it is time to join NATO, Mr Östman says. “Due to the Russian aggression in Ukraine, most party members (80 per cent according to a member survey this month), however, now think it is time to realise that option. This is well in line with the national opinion, which also tipped over to a majority for NATO membership after the war broke out.”
Although Östman has always been “slightly optimistic” about a Finnish NATO membership, he finds it essential to conduct the membership process in a secure and legitimate way. “We should not allow any aggression or information operations in Finland. Therefore, I don’t think that a Finnish NATO membership process could include a referendum.”
On Friday, your party’s council will meet. What do you expect from that?
“It is clear that Finland’s security situation has changed forever. We need to rebuild our national defence. It’s not surprising that we see NATO as the best partner for that. Therefore, to me, it seems natural that NATO support has also been strengthened within our party after Russia’s aggression.
For us, applying for NATO membership is the natural next step in the new security environment. For this situation, the Christian Democrats have supported the NATO option. Based on the strong support in the member survey and last week’s statement from the party board, nothing else seems likely.”
To what extent is Finland ready for membership of NATO?
“Finland has a long history of NATO partnership actually already. Finland fulfils all membership criteria. Our equipment is compatible with NATO. We spend a minimum of 2 per cent of our GDP on defence. And we have military exercises with NATO member states. A few months ago, Finland placed an order for the F-35 fighter jets. As far as I see it, Finland is very much ready for a NATO membership.”
Most Christian Democratic parties in Europe have always been strongly transatlantic, even in Sweden. Why was the Finnish one different?
“I believe the reason for that can be found in the different political cultures. Finland has a different historical relationship with Russia. Above that, we share a 1,300 km border with Russia. That means that our security policy must be taken very seriously also on a level of discussion. There is a consensus culture regarding security policy. Deviating from the consensus has been rare.”
What role does your faith play in this discussion?
“As a Christian, I believe in an almighty God. However, God has given us the wisdom and intellect to make laws and to enter alliances too. I can’t see any Biblical argument against NATO membership, rather the opposite. I see NATO as a defence alliance and a political alliance working for peace and democracy.”
How do churches and Christian communities look at NATO?
“Religious communities are important value leaders. They do not tend to engage much in political decision making. As far as I can see, NATO has not been discussed extensively in churches or other communities, which I believe is good. The communities now have their hands full with what they are best at doing: taking care of Ukrainian refugees with one hand and sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine with the other.”
Even last summer, you said that it was better to stay out of NATO, according to an article on your party’s website. From where this change?
“I do remember the party congress in August. In the role of the party’s vice president, I spoke on behalf of the board. The article represents my speech as the board representative, giving the motivation to the board's proposition to vote down the motion. Even in that statement, I emphasised the NATO option and the party’s acceptance for a membership application if the security environment would change.”
Some countries have to wait ten years or longer in NATO’s waiting room. How do you assess Finland’s chances?
“Finland fulfils the membership criteria already. So, the only process that might take time is the assessment in the member countries. Some NATO members, such as Estonia, have stated they would assess a Finnish application immediately.”
Finland will lose its cherished ‘neutrality’ for good. How precious was that for you if you can change so easily?
“To be honest, Finland had not been neutral for decades. In 1948, we signed the Finno-Soviet Treaty (in which Finland’s neutrality during the Cold War was guaranteed, EvV). A few years later, in 1955, we already joined the Nordic cooperation. After that, we joined the European Union, and we belong to many global organisations promoting Western values.
It is true that we have not been part of any military alliance before. Still, nonetheless, Finland has had strong partnerships both with NATO and with countries like Sweden and the US. Therefore, NATO membership is a natural next step in a development going on for years. And most importantly, it is an inevitable step in the new security environment.”
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