Friday, May 13, 2022

Finlandization for Ukraine? An Old Idea in a NATO Bottle


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Those in the know have for years spoken of ways to maintain an uneasy peace at the borderlands of the peripheries of Europe through the construction of a set of neutral zones (in the form of states) the task of which would be to cede their foreign policy sovereignty in the name of the sort of peace that is guaranteed by the separation of empires.   There are all kinds of lessons that are meant to be drawn from the oceans empire of the Americans (or the UK or Japan) when contrasted to the irritation of empires sharing a common border (Russia and the German Reich; the Soviet Union and China.

And then there is Finland.  Since the prior invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2014 (one met with significantly less drama in the international community than the invasion of 2022), those people mindful of the prerogatives of ideologically reactionary and territoriality based empire have suggested for Ukraine, the model of Finland.

The concept and idea of Finlandization, the focus of much heated debate during the Cold War, has once again appeared in the discourse of international politics in the context of the Ukraine crisis. Eminent political figures, such as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, offered ‘the Finnish model’ as a solution to the Ukraine crisis, both for Ukraine domestically and in the sense of solving disruptions in East-West relations more generally. (Tapio Juntunen, "Helsinki Syndrome: The Parachronistic Renaissance of Finlandization in International Politics" New Perspectives 25:55 (2017) arguing "that the analogy is based on an overgeneralised historical lesson that relies on a mythological re-appropriation of the original process of Finlandization during the Cold War (ibid., 57); based on a fuzzy deployment to serve as (1) an ideal type; (2) a pejorative rhetorical tool; (3)  a revisionist conceptualization of historical politics; and (4) as an emancipatory model (ibid., at 58).

This is something quite easy to advocate from the seat of another Empire over which one might have had some influence at some point, and with respect to the influence projecting organs of society one might still have premiere entree. And so it was (Brzezinski, Zbigniew (2014), ‘Russia Needs a “Finland Option” for Ukraine’, Financial Times, 23/02/2014; Ignatius, David (2014), ‘A Finland Model for Ukraine?’, Washington Post, 20/05/2014; and Kissinger, Henry (2014), ‘To Settle the Ukraine Crisis, Start at the End’, Washington Post, 05/03/2014.

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The idea is appealing not just from the perspective of 20th century leading experts who once helped shape the posture of a transitioning empire (the US), but also it is quite appealing to the leadership of emerging post global empires (China) as well as throwbacks (Russia) in the form of what the Chinese leadership describe not as Finlandization of appropriate territories, but as the novel application of the protean concept of indivisible security (Indivisible Security and Hierarchies of Sovereign Autonomy; Full text: President Xi's keynote speech, "Joining Hands to Meet Challenges and Cooperation to Create the Future," delivered at the opening ceremony of BFA annual conference 2022 (Official Translation)). And of course the numerous apologists whose role in the first third of the 21st century is to run around the world beating themselves in expiation of their own sins and that of the place that spawned them. Here the threat is generated from the Americans and the solution is a sort Mexico--the Finland of North America ("And basically, Lavrov’s proposals could plausibly be interpreted as saying: Let’s turn Ukraine into Mexico. Well, that was an option that could have been pursued. Instead, the U.S. preferred to do what I just described as inconceivable for Mexico." Chomsky text here April 2022); but no Cuba. . . . .

All of this, of course, acquires a far more interesting perspective after the start of the 2022 Russian invasion.  It seems that contrary to the rules of etiquette for smallish countries on the borderlands of empire, some model well behaved states may start reacting when the empire on their doorstep appears to break the tacit agreement that produced  neutrality.  That is, that much of the discussion of the "Finland" or "Mexico" object is a function not just of the requirements placed on the weaker state, but also the responsibility for good behavior imposed on the imperial giant. In this case, the giant misbehaved in a grossly public way (for less public lapses eg here).  It misbehaved in ways that (not withstanding the inter-familial misbehavior of the Soviets in 1956 and 1968 that night be distinguished because those occurred within an empire rather than on its periphery) raised the logical doubt that the Russians would not keep to their part of the bargain (reminding on of the famous insight of the Athenian representatives to the Melians about the amorality of imperial ambition and strategy (Thucydides Melian Dialogue)). 

It should come as no surprise, then, except to those still inhabiting the 20th century and its tropes, or those who view any crisis as another means of undermining the liberal democratic core,  that Finland might react. In the process Finland has provided an ironic evolution of the notion that once pejoratively bore its name.

Finland’s leaders said Thursday they’re in favor of rapidly applying for NATO membership, paving the way for a historic expansion of the alliance that could deal a serious blow to Russia as its military struggles with its war in Ukraine. The annoucement by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin means that Finland is all but certain to join the Western military alliance, though a few steps remain before the application process can begin. Neighboring Sweden is expected to decide on seeking NATO membership in coming days. (Finland’s leaders call for NATO membership ‘without delay’)

This updated Finlandization suggests as well the path that Russia has now made possible because it was just too impatient and too brutal, and too reactionary, to utilize post global techniques of dependency to manage Ukraine.  But perhaps for Russia, after all, the old ways are best.  And it may be a sign of the times that they are calculating that the old ways, if they are successfully will again become the new ways.  It is unclear--I suspect there is less thinking than calculation--a recipe for error; buy not our kitchen. And indeed, it is the heirs of empires long gone that seem to have taken the news hardest--whether within NATO (for domestic reasons: "President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday it was not possible for NATO-member Turkey to support plans by Sweden and Finland to join the pact given that the Nordic countries were "home to many terrorist organisations;" here) or from the expected target ("Russia would have to "rebalance the situation" with its own measures were Sweden and Finland to join NATO;" here).

The Russian Foreign Ministry Statement follows below in the original and in a crude translation into English. The statement is quite interesting for its perspective: Finland was doing well enough as a nbeutral zone--and indeed had even been permitted to chart, more or less, their own political course, as long as they remained, more or less, an empty vessel. "But why should Finland turn its territory into a frontier of military confrontation with the Russian Federation, while losing independence in making its own decisions, history will judge." (Russian Foreign Ministry Statement ("Но зачем Финляндии превращать свою территорию в рубеж военного противостояния с Российской Федерацией, лишаясь при этом самостоятельности в принятии собственных решений, рассудит история."). Why indeed? Yet the Russians need only have looked to their south and west for the answer--that, indeed, the entire periphery around Russia had effectively already been turning into a "frontier of military confrontation." And that is the problem: Beyond internal campaigns--Georgia, Moldova, Syria, and meddling in post-Soviet Central Asia before the much more aggressive and comprehensive action in Ukraine appeared to make it clear that whatever the Finns may have thought of the arrangement, the Russians increasingly viewed neutral zones as spaces created for their use and through which they could project their own power.  Both Russia and China have played the "encirclement" card effectively in the Western press and among sympathetic members of the elites embedded within the camps of their political competitors, China with the Trans Pacific Partnership (see, e.g., here) and Russia  with respect to meddling with the states once part of the Soviet Empire, itself in part a product of negotiation with the worst elements of Fascism (with which Russia found it convenient to partner when it suited them). 

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For Ukraine, of course, the Finnish model remains appealing, perhaps more so now. Post-global Finlandization reminds one that neutrality in the shadow of empire  imposes duties and responsibilities of all sides.  It also suggests that in an age of tech based warfare and of autonomous private actors--the difference between big and small may have shrunk.  Yet the fundamental lesson for Ukraine is clear--'Be like Finland'.  On the peripheries of  post-global spaces in which Russia has a territorial interest there appears to be little choice now, especially as against the renewal of ancient Russian raiding practices along its frontiers and in those spaces.

The real issue for Russia, though,will remain unresolved. That issue points to the post-global challenge for all second tier states, and especially difficult for those states that were once at the heart of pre-modern and modern territorial empires now fallen--Tsarist, Ottoman, Iranian Imperial etc. And it is this: how does one reconcile a second order status dependent on the apex power (for Russia increasingly China) and at the same time be able to project power onto dependent states of their own.  That, of course, is the essence of post.-global empire, now being structured (despite the inability of the chattering and related classes to see it; see here, here, and here).


Заявление МИД России о членстве Финляндии в НАТО


Заявление Президента Финляндии С.Ниинистё и Премьер-министра Финляндии С.Марин, высказавшихся сегодня в пользу присоединения Финляндии к НАТО, является радикальным изменением внешнеполитического курса страны.

В течение десятилетий политика военного неприсоединения служила основой стабильности в североевропейском регионе, обеспечивала надёжный уровень безопасности финляндского государства, была прочной основой для выстраивания взаимовыгодного сотрудничества и партнерских отношений между нашими странами, в которых роль военного фактора была сведена к нулю.

Ни заверения России об отсутствии каких-либо враждебных намерений в отношении Финляндии, ни долгая история добрососедского и взаимовыгодного сотрудничества наших стран не убедили Хельсинки в преимуществах сохранения курса на военное неприсоединение.

Цель НАТО, страны-члены которой напористо убеждали финскую сторону в безальтернативности членства в альянсе, ясна – продолжить расширение к границам России, создать еще один фланг для военной угрозы нашей стране. Но зачем Финляндии превращать свою территорию в рубеж военного противостояния с Российской Федерацией, лишаясь при этом самостоятельности в принятии собственных решений, рассудит история.

Российская сторона неоднократно отмечала, что выбор путей обеспечения своей национальной безопасности – за властями и народом Финляндии. Однако в Хельсинки должны отдавать себе отчет об ответственности и последствиях такого шага. Присоединение Финляндии к НАТО нанесет серьезный ущерб двусторонним российско-финляндским отношениям, поддержанию стабильности и безопасности в североевропейском регионе. Россия будет вынуждена предпринять ответные шаги как военно-технического, так и иного характера в целях купирования возникающих в этой связи угроз её национальной безопасности.

Вступление в НАТО станет также прямым нарушением международно-правовых обязательств Финляндии, прежде всего, Парижского мирного договора 1947 г., предусматривающего обязательство сторон не заключать союзы или участвовать в коалициях, направленных против одной из них, а также Договора 1992 г. между Россией и Финляндией об основах отношений, которым установлено, что стороны будут воздерживаться от угрозы силой или применения силы против территориальной целостности или политической независимости другой стороны, не будут использовать или разрешать использовать свою территорию для вооруженной агрессии против другой стороны. Впрочем, с учетом нынешнего безразличного отношения коллективного Запада к международному праву, такое поведение стало нормой.

Будем реагировать по ситуации.


 Statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Finland's membership in NATO


The statement of Finnish President S. Niinistö and Finnish Prime Minister S. Marin, who spoke today in favor of Finland joining NATO, is a radical change in the country's foreign policy.

For decades, the policy of military non-alignment served as the basis for stability in the Northern European region, provided a reliable level of security for the Finnish state, and was a solid basis for building mutually beneficial cooperation and partnerships between our countries, in which the role of the military factor was reduced to zero.

Neither Russia's assurances of the absence of any hostile intentions towards Finland, nor the long history of good-neighborly and mutually beneficial cooperation between our countries convinced Helsinki of the advantages of maintaining a policy of military non-alignment.

The goal of NATO, whose member countries vigorously convinced the Finnish side that there was no alternative to membership in the alliance, is clear - to continue expanding towards the borders of Russia, to create another flank for a military threat to our country. But why should Finland turn its territory into a frontier of military confrontation with the Russian Federation, while losing independence in making its own decisions, history will judge.

The Russian side has repeatedly noted that the choice of ways to ensure its national security is up to the authorities and people of Finland. However, Helsinki must be aware of the responsibility and consequences of such a move. Finland's accession to NATO will cause serious damage to bilateral Russian-Finnish relations, maintaining stability and security in the Northern European region. Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop the threats to its national security that arise in this regard.

Joining NATO will also be a direct violation of the international legal obligations of Finland, primarily the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947, which provides for the obligation of the parties not to enter into alliances or participate in coalitions directed against one of them, as well as the 1992 Treaty between Russia and Finland on the basis of relations, which established that the parties will refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of the other party, will not use or allow the use of their territory for armed aggression against the other party. However, given the current indifference of the collective West to international law, such behavior has become the norm.

We will react according to the situation.

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