NATO: One year in

Global Politics and Communication Director S.M. Amadae moderated the panel discussion titled “NATO: One Year In” to explore the ramifications of NATO membership for Finland following the nation’s 4 April 2023 accession into the North American Treaty Organization.


Our panel discussion explored issues concerning the large change in Finland’s security environment following its accession into NATO in April of 2023.  From the perspective of Global Political Economy, Finland’s new government has adopted austerity policies within its domestic sphere while simultaneously committing to increasing defense spending.  Considering Governance and Organisations, the office of the president has a newfound importance given the president’s role in foreign affairs, including representing the country in NATO.  The recent emphasis on national security over other concerns, encompassing climate change and carbon gas emissions abatement to achieve net zero by 2035, now have a less urgency.  Information warfare has become a leading topic for Media and Democracy Studies.  The panel was structured to learn about how the current government will handle tradeoffs between defensive build up and realizing other goals including those of environmental sustainability.  As well, arguments for and against militarizing the Åland Islands were examined.  The latter question was not fully addressed because the keynote speaker and Member of Parliament Pekka Toveri was not able to make it to the panel at the last minute. 

With Pekka Toveri absent, Maria Ohisalo, a current member of the Finnish Parliament and a former Minister of the Interior and Minister of the Environment and Climate, presented the only keynote talk, and panel members included former Member of Parliament Elisabeth Nauclér, who represented Åland, Paul Ingram representing Cambridge University’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, and Dr. Iro Särkkä of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. Global Politics and Communication Programme Director S.M. Amadae organized and moderated the discussion.  The panel was co-sponsored by GPC, the Faculty of Social Sciences, and the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.  The discussion follows the earlier panel, “Assessing NATO Membership for Finland: Historical, Regional, and Geopolitical Implications,” held on 9 May 2022 that had panelists Professor Juhana Aunesluoma, Professor Jari Eloranta, Professor Tuomas Forsberg, Associate Professor Johanna Rainio-Niemi and Major General Emeritus Pekka Toveri.

Below we have summarized the conversation, and each section of the panel can be watched separately, with the entire video linked at the end of the article. 

Maria Ohisalo: “There is a need for a comprehensive approach to security”

The keynote speech was given by MP Maria Ohisalo, who presented three major arguments. Firstly, Finland’s NATO membership is a response to the altered geopolitical and security landscape in Northern Europe, changing Finland’s strategic position in relation to Russia and the West in the wake of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Ohisalo argued that, in practice, the accession to NATO did not entail a huge change, since Finland has been a close partner of NATO for years, as well as being NATO compatible. However, in principle, Ohisalo perceives a significant change in Finland becoming a full member of NATO, given that Finland has now fully embraced the alliance and abandoned even formal military non-alignment.  

Secondly, Ohisalo emphasized the need to address emerging unconventional threats that have expanded the security agenda of NATO. In this context, Ohisalo brought up the Finnish model of comprehensive security, which incorporates civil preparedness, social cohesion and cross-sectoral security cooperation. Ohisalo also highlighted the importance of environmental themes on security, which has also been recognized in NATO strategic planning. 

Thirdly, Ohisalo expressed her view that Finland has a great deal to contribute to NATO through its model of comprehensive security and expertise on the impact of environmental issues on security. The increasing importance of environmental issues on security affords Finland the opportunity to shape the agenda of NATO in this area. All in all, Ohisalo indicated her hope that Finland could steer NATO in the direction of focusing on overall security and the effect of environmental issues on security. 

Panel: Opening statements
Paul Ingram: “The crisis is with us today and we cannot wait”

The panel opened with a statement from Paul Ingram, according to whom Finland has a great deal to offer in NATO in terms of social cohesion, the Nordic model and the concept of common security, which entails the ability to work with our adversaries in order to address existential issues and crises. Ingram argued that the current confrontation with Russia in the context of the war in Ukraine is impeding our ability to tackle existential crises, such as the climate crisis. Therefore, in Ingram’s view, we need global cooperation, even with actors that have violated international norms and with whom the West is in an adversarial relationship. Ingram views strategic autonomy as a deep mistake that undermines our capability to solve the meta crisis that we face. 

Ingram asserted that NATO has a significant role in tackling these issues, given its role as the most powerful military alliance in the world, as well as the responsibility it shares for many of the crises we face today.  NATO needs to use its power to facilitate open conversations with other actors and prevent isolation and separation, which in Ingram’s view will only exacerbate global problems. As a positive example of non-confrontational global problem solving, Ingram cited the Stockholm Initiative, in which nuclear and non-nuclear states engaged in open dialogue to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament. 

Iro Särkkä: “We need to study the options of nuclear deterrence carefully”

The next panelist to give a statement was Dr. Iro Särkkä. Särkkä recognized the importance of the comprehensive security approach, while also conceding that she places more emphasis on hard security than either Ohisalo or Ingram. Consequently, Särkkä advocated for the expansion of Finland’s conventional deterrence to also include nuclear deterrence. In Särkkä’s view, we need to study the options of nuclear deterrence carefully, outlining three options for the present conjuncture:  

  1. Participation in NATO exercises  
  2. Taking part in conventional support mechanisms related to nuclear missions 
  3. Engage in NATO's nuclear sharing (unlikely at the moment)

Särkkä also noted that Finland’s status in European politics has increased due to its accession to NATO and that its state identity is changing. However, Särkkä stressed that we should not compromise our traditional core values, such as equality, respecting human rights, and the rule of law. Särkkä also mentioned the importance of keeping sustainability in mind as a NATO member, including on issues related to nuclear deterrence. In Särkkä’s view, we also need to commit to spending at least 2 % of our GDP on defense, as well as critically examine the adequacy of our current reserve-based conscription model.  

Elizabeth Nauclér: “Neutralization of Åland should be defended in all international fora”

The last panelist to speak was Elizabeth Nauclér, who discussed the unique status of the Åland Islands as an autonomous, demilitarized and neutralized region in the Baltic Sea. Delving into Åland’s history, Nauclér explained that in 1921, the League of Nations determined that Åland should remain part of Finland, with extensive autonomy and guaranteed Swedish cultural and language rights. Since no mechanisms existed at the time to ensure these rights, they had to be invented. Therefore, Åland’s status has been widely studied around the world, although Nauclér pointed out that it can only serve as inspiration for conflict-resolution in other contexts, not as a model.  

In 1922, the demilitarization of Åland was reiterated and reaffirmed, ensuring that no military constructions could be built there. Demilitarization of Åland was perceived as a confidence building measure that would make states around the Baltic Sea feel safer. Since it is impossible to defend a demilitarized zone with weapons, Åland was neutralized. Neutralization means Åland should be kept out of any war actions in accordance with treaties.  

Nauclér noted that Åland’s status has remained unaltered in the aftermath of Finland's accession to NATO, with the previous Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö, stating that Åland’s position is more stable than ever, given that an attack on Åland would constitute an attack on NATO. Nauclér also expressed her confidence in the Finnish Defence Forces’ surveillance capacities, not believing they would be incompetent enough to allow an attack on Åland to occur. 

Panel: Discussion
The connection between Åland and Ukraine is very theoretical.

After the initial statements, Sonja Amadae led to a broader panel discussion. Following Elizabeth Nauclér's statements, she asked, “Can Åland be a role model for the situation in Ukraine?”. Elizabeth Nauclér is skeptical about that, although she recognized some similarities between Åland and Crimea: All conflicts were generally different. Åland, for example, had no natural resources and another language, which was the initial reason for the Åland settlement. However, there are still some lessons that can be learned. Since the beginning, there was an arbitral body between Sweden and Finland, a form of special cooperation that had been copied by many places worldwide. 

Is the autonomy of Åland under threat because of the NATO membership?

Asked if she is worried that Åland's status will be changed, Elizabeth Nauclér clearly stated that “the status is always threatened.” Aland was the only territory in the EU that was not represented in their bodies, a situation in which Åland was also responsible for not being persistent enough when Finland became a member of the EU. For Iro Särkkä, it is clear that Finland needs to listen to the needs of Åland, and there it was not necessary to change the current situation. 

Why is NATO so little present in public?

From the audience came a more general question: Why is NATO so little present in public? Iro Särkkä first emphasized the general discrepancy between the EU and NATO. While the EU is transparent in all they do, NATO handles more classified material. She then, however, emphasized the important role of the media. They must permanently engage to generate as much transparency as possible. Other ways for the public to get more information about NATO were the NATO website and the NATO events with high-profile speakers. 

Paul Ingram emphasized the crucial role of the public in general based on his experience in the UK. After the Cold War, the public's general interest in consistently engaging with NATO decreased. He recalled the “Peace through NATO” campaign, which toured the UK almost 40 years ago and was well-visited by people. Since NATO has been an inherent secret organization, he further emphasized the role of civil organizations like “NATO Watch.” They had no position on NATO apart from accountability and transparency. Such organizations were important since NATO sometimes gets the balancing act between openness and secrecy wrong. 

Should winning the war be the requirement to engage in cooperation with Russia?

Paul Ingram clarified that he doesn´t see trust as a requirement for negotiations with Russia. The trust in the Soviet Union during the Cold War was lower than today, but the West and East still talked. In general, constant talking was necessary. “If we see others as a problem and ourselves as victims, we won´t make any progress,” according to Ingram. It was essential to understand the dynamics that drive conflicts. It was possible to condemn the war and still understand some of the dynamics that led to it. 

Iro Särkkä agreed that we have to understand different views. Sometimes, however, there was a classic black-and-white situation. In the current situation, we need to stay with the attacked country. Furthermore, we had to use hard measures to make it clear to other countries like China that war is no option. Sometimes, it is just necessary to be "hard against hard". 

Elizabeth Nauclér is convinced that we know what we should do, but in actuality that we don't because the situation is too complicated. There is a day after Putin, and we have to prepare for it. Dialog is the most important end to that. It is, however, more difficult than fighting. 

What conditions should be used in the negotiations with Russia?

Paul Ingram emphasized that the Great Powers needed to acknowledge their part, which led to war, to construct a successful peace treaty while reminding them of the different outcomes of the Versailles vs the post-WWII situation. Although it doesn´t excuse what Putin did, NATO expansion has contributed to the conditions that support Putin. The main question should be, “How can we create a world in which we don´t destroy ourselves?” and for that, we need to “move beyond the idea that one state is problematic, and the others are ok.” 

For Iro Särkkä, it is clear that a negotiation can only happen if Russia helps to rebuild the country and the crimes of war will be investigated. Furthermore, Ukraine should become a NATO member.  

Elizabeth Nauclér emphasized that there is no peace without justice, and money will be the main driver. Nevertheless, important questions will be “What did we do wrong?” and “Who will be on the other side of the table?” 


NATO: One year in - entire video