On Monday, May 8th, international Ph.D. and master’s students from the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Social Sciences had an incredible opportunity to sit down and discuss with not one but two Ambassadors from the United States. Ambassador Douglas Hickey has served as the U.S. Ambassador to Finland since April of 2022, and has an extensive background in global economics and telecom, internet, and technology industries. Ambassador Julianne Smith has served as the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO since December 2021 and has led a distinguished career in foreign policy, international affairs, and transatlantic security. The discussion was part of Ambassador Smith’s first official diplomatic visit to Helsinki, and she was eager to engage with students on the subject of Finland as a NATO member and answer their questions.
The Power of Finland
Setting the tone for the discussion, Ambassador Hickey stated that “It is a historic time to be in Finland”. He noted that with the Finnish state officially joining the NATO alliance on April 4, 2023, Finland’s new place in the global community is now being recognized. In response to students' questions about what this means for Finland and what it means for NATO more broadly, Ambassador Hickey said that “Finland brings an awful lot of value to NATO” citing how Finland has more army reservists than France, Italy, and Germany combined, and “a navy built for the Baltics”. However, he further explained that the benefits do not end at NATO, as accession into the military alliance has only served as a starting point for international actors in all fields and industries to recognize the “value” and “power of Finland”. Ambassador Smith, with her years of experience sitting physically
“at the table” of NATO discussions and interacting with Finnish partners, expressed how “Finland is an incredibly capable ally” and that she is proud that Finland has finally taken “its rightful place at the table”. Both ambassadors expressed the emotion and powerful sentiment that surrounded them and their Finnish counterparts as they watched the Finnish flag being raised over NATO headquarters.
NATO’s Future and American Democracy
Looking ahead, the U.S. Ambassadors spoke about the role NATO will play in the ongoing war in Ukraine, as well as its impact on other geopolitical arenas, such as the Indo-Pacific. Ambassador Smith remarked that after years of NATO pursuing “side-projects” the alliance is returning to its “original mission” of providing collective defense and protecting the lives and interests of its global allies and partners. She noted her anticipation of the NATO Summit that will be held in Vilnius, Lithuania later this year, and assured the room that “NATO unity is not going anywhere”. Answering further questions along this theme, Ambassador Hickey voiced his trust in democracy, both in America and its allies, and explained that even in a divided environment of domestic politics, NATO and Ukraine continue to be unifying themes that can rely on bipartisan support. This support and the incorporation of new allies like Finland will only further enable NATO, the U.S., and other allies to better address security concerns and balance a variety of threats throughout the global stage.
Leaders for Change
In response to a question near the end of the discussion, Ambassador Smith shared her focus on addressing the global need for retaining women professionals in the realm of international affairs and foreign policy. As a co-founder of the Leadership Council for Women in National Security, she spoke with the students about her work addressing the needs of women in their careers to better understand how women professionals can serve more prominently in leadership positions. Ambassador Hickey then highlighted the pivotal role that students have in international affairs, and encouraged those present to be “leaders for change”. Both ambassadors took substantial time after the discussion to speak with students one-on-one, sharing insights and advice about research and careers. Ambassador Smith and Ambassador Hickey stayed as long as possible, shaking hands and sharing encouragement until the very last moment as they were being hurriedly ushered out of the door to their next diplomatic visit.
An Opportunity Like No Other
The event provided students with the unique privilege to ask questions and engage in a live discussion with Ambassador Smith and Ambassador Hickey about important questions in international affairs and about the future of Finland. Following the Ambassadors’ visit, the students were able to network during a luncheon with the University of Helsinki Chancellor Kaarle Hämeri, Vice-Dean at the Faculty of Social Sciences Hanna Wass, and the Global Politics and Communication Program Director S.M. Amadae. The event was described by those who participated as “an opportunity like no other” and a “defining moment” for their time as students in Helsinki.
The University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS) and Global Politics and Communication Programme hosted the event which followed closely on Finland’s 4 April 2023 accession to join NATO. The discussion was held in honor of Ambassador Smith’s first official visit to Finland, and provided the opportunity for her and Ambassador Hickey to jointly hold an open discussion with students. Vice Dean Jari Eloranta opened the event on the behalf of the Faculty. Programme Director S.M. Amadae and Vice Dean Hanna Wass co-hosted the event, with Dr. Amadae moderating the discussion. The edited collection of FSS student research papers Computational Transformation of the Public Sphere, published to commemorate the Faculty’s 75th anniversary, was presented as a gift to the ambassadors.