Finnish Prime Minister Still Eyes NATO Membership

Alexander Stubb when he was foreign minister, August 22, 2011Finland is unlikely to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the coming years because of a lack of support among Finnish voters—despite Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea —but the country’s new prime minister still believes membership is both desirable and possible in the longer term.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Alexander Stubb said that full NATO membership for Finland would “increase our security in the Baltic Sea region.”

Russia’s annexation of the Crimea Peninsula in Ukraine earlier this year has rekindled the debate over whether Finland should join NATO, one that has ebbed and flowed over the past 20 years in a country that shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia.

NATO membership would not only strengthen Finland’s security, it would also launch the country into an alliance of liberal democracies “to which we belong.” he said, adding that he has been campaigning for Finnish membership of NATO since 1995, “unfortunately with little success.”

Mr. Stubb, 46, assumed office on June 24 after his predecessor and fellow party member Jyrki Katainen stepped down to pursue a top EU post. His five-party coalition government is bound by a policy platform that stipulates Finland won’t seek NATO membership during the parliamentary term ending in 2015, when elections will be held.

Nonetheless, the Finnish premier expects an open debate on whether Finland should join the defense alliance over the next 10 months. “Then we will see what the next government’s position is. . . .”

Mr. Stubb described himself as “a political realist” and said that if a majority of politicians and voters were against NATO, it would be pointless to try to cram membership down “the throats of the general public.”

“Even in the best scenario we would be talking about a timeline of many years” for Finland potentially joining NATO, he said. . . .

President Vladimir Putin and his colleagues have repeatedly warned in recent years that Finland’s membership in NATO would harm its relations with Russia.

Mr. Stubb declined to give his opinion on how Russia would react should Finland join NATO, except to say that “NATO in my mind isn’t a threat to Russia in any way,” adding that Denmark could be a template for gauging Russia’s potential reaction.

Image: Alexander Stubb when he was foreign minister, August 22, 2011 (photo: Estonian Foreign Ministry)