“We have not been able to provide any credible alternatives to NATO”

An Interview with Finnish leftist Henrik Jaakkola. Spoke with Henrik: Oleksandr Kiselyov. Translated from English by Anna-Maria Kotlyarova


Initially, the party “Left Union” (“Vasemmistoliitto”) was so categorically against Finland’s accession to NATO that it made it a condition of its participation in the government. What was the reasoning behind such a security policy of the “Left Union” at that time?

Finland’s accession to NATO was opposed not only by our party “Left Union”, but also by the vast majority of Finnish citizens and Finnish politicians, including even our right-wing conservative president. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, four out of five Finns did not want Finland to join NATO.

We believed that military non-alignment is the most stable solution for Finland. This gave the country the opportunity to play a more significant role as a mediator in international arenas. Joining NATO significantly changed the foreign policy and security course of Finland, which until then remained quite stable within the framework of this policy. We valued our own highly effective military and an independent defense policy. For us, the military alliance with such countries as the USA, Turkey, Poland and Hungary was not a reliable guarantor of human rights and democracy in the world. We believed that our role as an independent country outside of military alliances would be useful in negotiating world peace.

A significant part of our criticism towards NATO remains similar even today, even though it is obvious that now the situation has changed radically, as has our position regarding Finland’s membership in NATO.

In part, the mass media associate skepticism about NATO with alleged ties to or sympathy for Russia. What is your position on this? Did your party have any illusions about this?

Our party has never had sympathy for the Russian leadership, their military incursions and ambitions. Since Putin came to power in Russia, our party has been very active in criticizing his rule and politics within the Russian Federation, as well as his waging of war with his neighbors.

However, in the mass media and among our political opponents, there has always been a persistent effort to accuse our party and politicians of Putinism. No matter how persistently and consistently we express our opposition to Russia, the right automatically associates everyone whom it considers “unpatriotic” with “pro-Russian”. This is not unique to Finland, but perhaps exacerbated by our history and proximity to Russia.

Our opposition to NATO has never been based on the idea that Russia needs to be protected from the Western military alliance, or that NATO has somehow offended Russia by accepting new members, for example, from among the Baltic states. We opposed both NATO and Russia, based on their track record, and refrained from pledging allegiance to any geopolitical bloc.

After the start of the war in Ukraine, the party completely changed its position on joining NATO. This came at a time when many on the left viewed the Russian invasion as being provoked by NATO. How did the discussion go and what did it lead to in the “Left Union”? Changes in public opinion are often mentioned, particularly among party members and supporters. Why do you think this happened?

After the invasion in February 2022, the debate about Finland’s membership in NATO escalated very quickly. Finnish public opinion has changed dramatically: from almost complete disagreement on membership to almost complete agreement1. Almost everyone was frightened and sincerely feared that Finland could become the next target of Russian aggression. It was also visible from our members and voters. If earlier the party and its supporters were unanimous, now we had different, and well-founded, views… About half were still against Finland’s membership in military alliances, while the other, slightly larger, half was in favor of Finland joining NATO .

But why? The consensus, as I understand it in discussions with comrades, is that we have not been able to provide any credible alternatives to NATO. We always emphasized that we had an independent, strong army that Russia would not dare to challenge – and since we were outside NATO, they had no reason to challenge us.

After the invasion of 2022, such a defense policy was no longer perceived as adequate. Looking back, she really wasn’t. We should have worked harder in the years leading up to the war to plan and propose a Nordic European alternative, something to counter the threat from Russia and something that would not rely on countries like the US and Turkey. However, we did not have a well-prepared alternative to offer, so our members and supporters turned to what was already there, which was concrete and widely discussed.

However, the discussion lasted for some time, the pluralism of opinions was constantly emphasized, the parliamentary faction voted inconsistently, and the leader of the party did not express her position for several months. Why did this happen?

Our party has never had a top-down policy regarding NATO. In our programs we were naturally opposed to NATO, but the discussion within the party was minimal, at least in the years leading up to 2022. Everyone in the “Left Union” was quite naturally opposed to the military alliance and especially to Finland’s potential membership in it, so there was really no need to even think about what we would do as a party if opinions began to differ.

Now that opinions began to differ, we decided very early on not to impose any position on our politicians or members. Everyone had the freedom to form their own opinion on this matter, as, in fact, it happened. The vote in Parliament, where a majority voted in favor of entry and a large minority against it, reflects the views of our members very well.

As for the party leader, she said that she wanted to give space to party members to form their own opinion without imposing it on them or creating an impression of her. I believe that this was extremely important in order to preserve the unity of the party, despite the difference in views. In fact, there was never any threat of a real split in the party over NATO. Even now, in the leadership of our party, there are politicians who voted for joining NATO, as well as those who voted against.

What dignity is the party’s position regarding NATO now? Do you ignore it now, or do you accept it as the lesser evil out of necessity, or do you accept it, but with some caveats? What is your view on other related cooperations, such as the Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) with the US?

The “Left Union” believes that Finland should emphasize that its NATO membership is of a defensive nature and that we do not want to have nuclear weapons, permanent NATO bases or troops.

Regarding the Defense Cooperation Agreement between Finland and the United States, we have not yet taken a final position. We are still waiting for the government’s bill on the agreement.

The “Left Union” hopes that the Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) will be carefully and thoroughly discussed in the parliament, as it is a significant change in foreign and security policy. We are also concerned about the legal liability of the soldiers, as we want to make sure that none of the Finnish victims are forced to face justice in a US military court. The issue of nuclear weapons on Finnish soil is also important for us. We don’t want nuclear weapons here.

One of the topics of constant debate, particularly on security issues, is whether the left should focus on defending the principles laid out in the books, no matter the circumstances, or whether it should pragmatically assess each situation and do what it can for the greater good. What do you think about this?

I think leftist politics cannot achieve what we want without a socialist theory and understanding of our world based on the material reality of our society. At the same time, theories can never be applied to the real world as such. For example, we could, for reasons of principle, choose to “lay low” by opposing Finland’s NATO membership and completely ignoring the change of mind of the Finnish people, our party members and our voters. Would it bring us closer to peace, a democratic socialist society and a better world? I think we will have to continue to balance the principles laid out in the books and the real world.

Can we then say that public opinion, rather than security considerations, was the deciding factor here?

It can be said that the lack of any reliable security alternatives other than NATO has caused a change in public opinion, including the opinion of our supporters. Awareness of this became the decisive factor.

Has the change in your party’s position on NATO affected your relations with the radical left in other countries, given that the left is largely opposed to NATO?

As far as I know, no, judging by discussions with international comrades, who are mainly other European leftists. Most of them are also members of left-wing parties in other NATO countries. Now we are also a leftist party in a NATO country. Most left-wing parties do not campaign for withdrawal from NATO as their main goal, even if it is part of their main manifesto.

It is also important to emphasize that our position is not explicitly pro-Native. We are just as critical of Western imperialism as before and have a common position on these issues with our sister parties. Especially with those who also recognize and actively oppose Russian imperialism.

For our part of the world, what is or is a viable security solution other than NATO?

This is exactly the question to which we should have given a clear answer long before February 2022. This could be something that relies more on Europe and other Scandinavian countries.

The alternative we had until 2022 was a strong and reliable national defense based on general military conscription. The public decided it wasn’t enough, but it was virtually all we had.

I think we should still be looking for an answer to the question of alternatives to NATO. A military alliance led by Western countries that facilitate the commission of war crimes and commit atrocities themselves cannot be our only salvation from another imperialist-expansionist regime in the East.

Will smaller countries ever be able to rely on national defense in a viable way, at least economically? Or, leaving the US behind, is the further development of EU mutual defense an alternative that you can imagine, or is it better to move to regional cooperations such as the Scandinavian Defense Union?

The short history of this debate in our party is that until February 2022 there was a general consensus that it was best for Finland to remain militarily non-aligned and maintain a strong independent armed force.

Eventually, in the weeks and months after February 2022, it became clear that this position was no longer viable for our supporters, party members and politicians. So what followed was a very hasty discussion of these possible alternatives, it was too limited and too late. As party leader Lee Andersson concluded, the left was opposed to the Nordic Defense Alliance because NATO member states and non-NATO member states cannot build defense together, and on the other hand, it did not understand in time the importance of deepening defense cooperation in the EU, respectively to Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty.

The mass media and the public debate strongly insisted that Finland join NATO and that all parties were unanimous on this issue. Did they want to be disgraced as “Putinists”. So after just a few months, the discussion transformed into a discussion of what we want to do now that Finland will definitely be in NATO. How can we prevent nuclear weapons and foreign bases in Finland etc. So currently there are really no discussions about alternatives to NATO.

The Finnish model is sometimes offered as an option for the future of Ukraine. Could you explain how it was and what it meant for your country?

In the Nordic countries, we talk about the “Nordic model”. It contains at least strong unions, strong social security, public services such as education and health care for all, multi-party representative democracy, and progressive taxation. This is the social-democratic model of the mixed economy that the labor movement in the Nordic countries managed to achieve after decades of struggle.

It is also something we have learned to take for granted, but which is gradually being destroyed by right-wing governments in Finland and Scandinavia. That is why nowadays we often wage a defensive struggle with the right to protect our old model, instead of fighting for radical socialist reforms.

We are very proud of the Nordic model and have good reasons for it. I see no reason why this model should not be something Ukraine could and should adopt. In fact, maybe she shouldn’t be called a “Nordic model”. It is not related to our geography or culture. It is what the workers here managed to achieve, and it is what, undoubtedly, the Ukrainian workers could also achieve.

This is something that we will definitely note. But there is another Finnish model, which is usually mentioned first in discussions – the so-called “Finlandization”. What was it, how does the left in Finland evaluate this period of its history and can it really be considered a reliable solution that can be offered to other countries?

AT! I misunderstood.

We are not used to calling it the Finnish model, but “Finlandization” is a familiar term. In Finland, our official policy towards the Soviet Union was called the “Paasikivi-Kekkonen doctrine.” It was a foreign policy doctrine of neutrality and friendship between the Eastern and Western blocs, which was simultaneously praised for shrewd political realism and criticized for capitulation and self-censorship. I think both points of view have their place and are held to be partially valid by the left today — decades after the end of the Cold War.

It can be argued that neutrality was necessary to guarantee our independence after the defeat of the Soviet Union in World War II. At the same time, I am not sure how viable this doctrine would be for Ukraine in the modern world. Even if we imagine that the war will end for Ukraine with a defeat by Russia, as it happened with Finland, Ukraine in 2024 is not the same as Finland in 1944. Of course, there are similarities. A large number of territories in the east of Finland went to Russia. These territories are now Russian, and probably always will be. Is this acceptable for Ukrainians in view of the territories currently occupied by Russia?

I think this is something that only Ukrainians can decide, and I’m not sure how useful external intervention in this debate can be. I don’t think that the Finnish people should even try to claim that the experience of the 80-year-old war or the foreign relations of the Cold War is something that we can simply import abroad, as something that other countries could implement. It is very important to study in history classes. It is also very important to realize that the world is very different now.


  1. Support for joining NATO in Finnish society jumped from 24% in October 2021 to 85% in October 2022.  ↩︎

Source >> Commons

Date: 14/06/2024

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