Finlandisation – The Hindu


Understanding the foreign policy concept coined from the nature of the relationship between Finland and the erstwhile Soviet Union

Understanding the foreign policy concept coined from the nature of the relationship between Finland and the erstwhile Soviet Union

Soon after Russia’s revanchist assault on Ukrainian sovereignty precipitated by the threat of Ukraine joining NATO, its foreign affairs spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, came out with the following statement: “Finland and Sweden should not base their security on damaging the security of other countries and their accession to NATO can have detrimental consequences and face some military and political consequences “.

Sweden and Finland responded to Moscow’s veiled threats with the Finnish government brushing down Moscow’s dictum saying that they have heard such words before and that they do not see this as Moscow threatening them while the Swedish Prime Minister said, “It is Sweden that itself independently. decides on our security policy ”. There seems to be a stark contrast in how both these nations have decided to respond to Moscow.

The origin of Finlandisation within this dynamic can be broadly traced back to the Cold War when Finland did not join NATO and enjoyed years of a relatively non-interfering stance from Moscow as a result of the Finno-Soviet Treaty of 1948. Moscow was, of course, deeply concerned with developments in Finland and did not want them to sway towards Moscow’s ideological adversaries. While a claim could be made that Moscow did influence Finland’s domestic and foreign policy, it nonetheless ‘allowed’ them to maintain their sovereignty and did not actively interfere in their affairs. Relations turned sour during the infamous Night Frost Crisis of 1958 when Moscow refused to accept a social democrat, Karl-August Fagerholm, as the Prime Minister of Finland.

It was only in 1959, three years after Urho Kekkonen, heading the Agrarian government, became the President, did relations between the two nations begin to thaw. His presidentship is largely seen to signal the beginning of full-scale Finlandisation in a bid to appease the Soviets. Before Kekkonen, President Juho Kusti Paasikivi followed a more docile approach to neutrality. This ‘neutrality’ of course meant that they would not take steps that would not be in the best interest of the Soviets and work as a more democratic form of a satellite state.

The trouble, however, did not stop there. The Social Democrats felt that Kekkonen did not support the government during the Night Frost crisis and thus, alongside the Conservatives, fielded a candidate against him. This was viewed by Moscow as potential German interference – part of a larger international ploy at work aimed at strengthening German influence in the region. For reasons which can only be debated without much proof, the candidate stepped back, and Kekkonen went on to win the next election, and then a few more, eventually ending his 26-year long presidency in 1982.

While the term ‘Finlandisation’ can largely be seen to mean that a smaller power bows down in front of a larger power to safeguard its titular independence, we need to be careful when applying the same principle to other countries. In the current context, the Finlandization of Ukraine (from any side of the power aisle) makes little sense.

For one, Moscow has already stormed an assault on the sovereignty of Ukraine, and from what seems to be a likely result, would be looking to balkanise the region in the event of peace talks failing and them successfully crushing Ukrainian defenses. Secondly, the current geopolitical reality is starkly different. We see a dwindling Russia, an ascending China, and a US which, while still being militarily strong, is not the ultimate hegemon that it once was. We also do not see any similar incursive tendencies from a European country.

At best, the situation with Moscow could be described as maintenance of status quo which of course includes the West not trying to actively shimmy their way in. From the American standpoint, an all-out Finlandization of Ukraine (towards Washington) would have resulted in exactly what we see unfolding right now.

The post-Cold War geopolitical climate has not only been one of the maintenance of the status quo of America’s hegemony (only recently challenged by China) but also proxy wars being fought around the world. China’s ascension has shifted the dynamics and bent the game in its favor. Looking at Taiwan, we see how unlikely a Finlandisation of it from an American perspective is going to work. If the Americans are not coming to help the Ukrainians by lending them military support and are only trying to help through the imposition of economic sanctions on Moscow, what hope can the Taiwanese have that, if China decides to get a little more adventurous, the Americans will show up to help them.

Nuclear weapons change everything. Washington isn’t militarily intervening in Ukraine because it would mean two nuclear powers coming at loggerheads and one does not have to think too hard to imagine how that would play out.

Changing centers of power, coupled with seemingly reactionary non-rational political leaders at the helm of affairs, nations either considering developing their own nuclear weapons program or vying to enter security alliances, and actors with revanchist tendencies only make the international security climate more tumultuous and more prone to such acts of brute force assault on one nation’s sovereignty by another.

Rishabh Kachroo is a Ph.D. scholar at the Department of International Relations and Governance Studies at Shiv Nadar University.

THE GIST

Finlandisation means that a smaller power bows down in front of a larger power to safeguard its titular independence. But one needs to be careful when applying the same principle to other countries.

The origin of Finlandisation can be traced back to the Cold War. Finland did not join NATO and there was no interference from Moscow due to the Finno-Soviet Treaty of 1948.

However, the relations between the two nations turned sour during the infamous Night Frost Crisis of 1958 when Moscow refused to accept Karl-August Fagerholm, a social democrat, as Prime Minister of Finland.



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