Do the Finns know something we don’t?
Reporting out of Helsinki – as deficient as ever with the mainstream media – says the Finns have negotiated what amounts to a military alliance with Washington. Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö says he hopes the deal – incorporating joint military training, information sharing and research – will be concluded before the U.S. presidential elections.
Given Finland’s long and tortured effort to maintain its neutrality, one has to speculate. The move appears to fly in the face of growing American criticism and perhaps support of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance as well as the Obama Administration’s general withdrawal.
Helsinki’s No. one concern [with its 5.5 million], of course, has to be its giant Russian neighbor [143.5 million]. It’s not a new one, nor a simple one: when Moscow grabbed Finland in its wars with the declining Swedish Empire, it made a distinction. The Grand Dutchy of Finland was not part of the Tsarist Empire; an Helsinki statute memorializes favorably the ill-fated Nicolas II as Grand Duke since he continued to permit Helsinki autonomy.
But in 1939 Josef Stalin made demands Helsinki would not meet, the Finns gave Moscow a black eye in the three-month Winter War. With their white-clad ski troops and wirery little Uzi submachine gun, the Finns held off the Russians long enough to win the hearts of most of the democratic world. Even the hardest-nosed U.S. “isolationist” cheered the Finns [except for an Communist English professor at Chapel Hill, N.C. – where else! – who set up an “Aid for the Soviet Unuion” desk!]
But the cheering didn’t include breaking the American Neutrality Act and the West Eutopean democracies were still appeasing dictators to avoid the outbreak of War. According to later statistics by Soviet Dictator Nikita Kruschev, 1.5 million Soviet men were sent to Finland and one million of them were killed, while 1,000 aircraft, 2,300 tanks and armored cars and an enormous amount of other war materials were lost. Little Finland’s losses were limited to 25,904 dead or missing and 43,557 wounded.
But in the end, the Finns paid a heavy price, reparations originally totaled $300 billion [1938 prices] in electrical goods, shipping and motors. But ironically the goods shipped to the Soviets – which did not do much for an already crippled economy there – industrialized a former agricultural country.
Even the territorial concessions were stark, in the long term, including abandoning the heartland of the old Finno-Urugian heartland in the Karelian peninsular [where workers were once recruited for building Peter the Great’s Petrograd window on the West]. More than 400,000 Finnish Karelians,] or 12% of Finland’s population, had to be relocated. But their generally higher skills and education spread across the remainder of Finland helped build the new economy wqhich by the 2000 was leading the world’s wireless telephony.
Stalin, who said he feared an alliance of the Finns with Nazi Germany because of its prominent Baltic German minority, produced a self-fufiling prophecy. Nazi troops employed Finnish bases after Hitler’s attack on Poland opening World War II. [The Finns held out against some of the more notorious Nazi repression, including moving against its small Jewish population.] In the postwar settlement, Finland lost access to the Arctic and more of Karelia. [But, again ironically, even large recent Finnish investments in Karelia timber and minning where Stalin moved in other Empire settlers, has left it a crippled appendage of Moscow.]
Successive Finnish governments since World War II have tried to maintain a neutrality between the Blocs in the Cold War, sometimes aided at its back by a nominally Swedish neutrality. [Swedish neutrality has often been honored more in the breach than in its observance: Stockholm permitted transit of Nazi troops to Norway in 1940 and was an important German source of high-tech weaponry during the War].
Helsinki has already signed a similar agreement with the U.K. and both Sweden and Finland have taken part as observers in recent NATO meetings and military exercises. Finland spokesmen, with a 800-mile border with Russia, say the option of joining NATO is open, but opinion polls show a majority opposed. Although Vladimir Putin has publicly announced the withdrawal of Russian troops on Finnish borders, that is not the case, and the threat – also hinted at in relations with the Baltic States including against fellow Finno-Urguians just a short ferry ride away in Estonia with its large Russian-speaking minority.
The general speculation is that Finland is abandoning neutrality because of the growing threat from Putin. But it may well be just the opposite: despite the recent attempt to rebuild Russian military forces after breakdowns in the August 2008 attack on Georgia, there is a widespread view that Putin is bluffing, that continuing threats against Ukraine and the Baltics are only feints. Russian Federation forces, more and more dependent on Moslem recruits from Central Asia, are in sad shape.
If that were the Helsinki view, it might well explain why neutrality before a diminished foe is less an option than an alliance with even an increasingly reluctant American intervention and a NATO badly needing reconstruction. And there are the American elections which could turn U.S. policy around.