Prime Minister Stubb: Finland Should have Joined NATO in 1995

Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, Oct. 27, 2008SPIEGEL: Mr. Stubb, Moscow is following with great concern just how sympathetic you are to the idea of Finland joining NATO. Do you see it as a threat when President Vladimir Putin speaks of the “special attention” he devotes to economic relations with your country?

Stubb: Russia for us is a large, powerful neighbor with which we share a 1,300 kilometer-long (810-mile) border and against which we have waged war in the past. We know how the Kremlin speaks and acts. But I’m not anxious or afraid, because Finland is an integral part of the European Union.

SPIEGEL: Putin confidant Sergei Markov has explicitly warned of the consequences of NATO membership, saying it could trigger a World War III.

Stubb: Rhetoric can be razor sharp, and just as one needs to take some comments seriously, others should not be.

SPIEGEL: Currently, though, you’re playing down tensions even though Russian jets have repeatedly breached Finnish air space recently.

Stubb: Finland is not an isolated case in that regard. Moscow is provoking a number of its neighbors. The most dismaying example is Ukraine. The message is: “Look, Russia is still a superpower.”

SPIEGEL: Putin wouldn’t simply accept Finland joining NATO.

Stubb: That may well be. But for us the question has to be whether this step would increase our security. And if doing so would provide us with greater influence over European security policy. This is a decision we will make without asking for permission.

SPIEGEL: In contrast to you, many in your country are critical about joining NATO.Stubb: We should have become a member in 1995 when we joined the EU. Nevertheless, we are very satisfied with the close partnership we maintain with NATO — even if things like the security guarantee in the event of an attack are formally missing. Still, even though we are paying great attention to the issue, for the time being I don’t see any broad majority for joining soon.

SPIEGEL: During the Cold War, Finland remained neutral in order to keep from provoking the Soviet Union. Does intimidation by the Kremlin still have an effect today?

Stubb: On the contrary. Each threatening gesture strengthens those who support NATO membership. But of course some of my compatriots become cautious when Moscow falls back into the tone that prevailed during the Soviet era.

Excerpts from Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb interview with Dieter Bednarz, Spiegel.

Image: Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, Oct. 27, 2008 (photo: Nordic Council of Ministers))