What determines how nations perceive their own security? President Mauno Koivisto answered that with a whole book. It was called: Geography and historical experience.
By Jaakko Iloniemi
When we think about our own history and the history of our neighboring countries, that observation is confirmed.
During the Second World War, the experiences of five Nordic countries, similar in so many ways, were five essentially different stories. The simplest of them was the experience of Iceland. After Germany launched a major invasion of France, the British quickly occupied Iceland, preventing Germany from doing so. Later the Americans replaced the British.
The occupation of Denmark took place in the spring of 1940 overnight and without any military action. The Norwegians fought for months and received support from the British, but not enough. The occupation of Norway was brutal and lasted throughout the war.
Sweden continued its centuries-old neutrality and was equally worried about the German and Soviet invasion.
We remember the fate of Finland. After all, we don’t talk much about how Finland participated in the Second World War. We are talking about our “wars” – our own wars, which were no less than three. The Winter War, the Continuation War and the Lapland War.
When the Second World War ended and the “Cold War” began, history and geography determined how the Nordic countries reacted to that situation. Iceland was among the founders of NATO, as were Norway and Denmark. Their experiences from the Second World War indicated that one should not stay alone.
The policy of neutrality had served Sweden’s interests well during the war and therefore it was natural to continue it also during the “Cold War”.
Finland had no choice. We felt a “giant’s breath” on our necks, as the Swedish historian and diplomat Krister Wahlbäck described the fate of Finland. We were and lived in the shadow of the Soviet Union throughout the entire Cold War.
Now that both Finland and Sweden have both renounced their non-alignment and, like the other Nordic countries, have chosen membership in the defense alliance NATO, these countries are for once one security policy entity.
Finland and Sweden, the non-aligned Nordic countries, had long before their NATO decision intensified their cooperation to the extent that they – without entering into an alliance – were prepared to defend each other. Joint exercises, joint planning and even closer cooperation between political leaders turned the relationship into something that could have been called, for example, an unofficial defence agreement.
Now this relationship between the two is both part of the whole of the five Nordic countries and the whole of NATO. The cooperation is both pragmatic and principled. Its starting point is defending common values and monitoring common interests.
As close as the Nordic countries are to each other, they are nevertheless members of a larger entity, the joint defence alliance, and solidarity applies to all members of the alliance. One for all and all for one is not limited to any part of NATO. Finns have a place for new thinking in that, because we are used to the fact that Finland has no binding obligation to defend others.
When we have participated in NATO projects in the past, we have done it on our own initiative, not on the basis of a commitment. Now it’s different. Although the NATO agreement recognizes the freedom of choice that a member state can decide for itself how it fulfills its solidarity obligations. In practice, there is not much choice, because the defence plans are based on common goals.
The Nordic countries sought common defence before the Winter War, right after it and again right after the end of the Great War in Europe. Historical experience and geography pulled different countries in different directions. Three who experienced occupation during the war joined NATO, one who successfully remained neutral during the war, continuing her historical line, and one, us Finns, seeking recognition for our neutrality efforts. Now the situation is clear and stable. It has been everyone’s common goal, even though the means have varied. A common way has been found in the membership of a large defence union.