Security policy is a difficult and demanding discipline. According to a recent poll by Helsingin Sanomat, foreign- and security policy was second last in a listing of the top-12 most important themes for this years parliamentary elections. Even though this is not very surprising, it would be desirable for voters, as well as candidates, to be interested in the defensive capabilities of the country.
Despite the lack of interest, it is hard to disagree with the relevance of security policy as a contemporary political issue. In the last five years, Europe’s situation has changed in many ways in a more negative direction. Russia’s illegal actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine have shook the security balance of Europe. Populism has made significant gains in the UK Brexit referendum and in US presidential elections. US commitment to the defense of Europe is uncertain.
At the same time, Russia, China and other countries operate in a grey hybrid zone, in an ever-more public way. Digital systems are attacked in a way that at worst can be described as cyber warfare. Disinformation campaigns are systematic and long-term. Social media allows them to be more subtle and effective.
A Year For Elections
Sweden was able to form a minority government only in January, following their elections in September. Their security policy remains largely unchanged. Sweden will hold on to their status of non-alignment. The process of forming a government was long and painful, causing the four-party right-wing alliance to fall apart.
The new Swedish government regards defense cooperation with Finland in a very positive manner, as has been the case in the past. This can be seen in the program proposed by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, as well as in the statements by the continuing Minister of Defence, Peter Hulqvist.
Security- and defense cooperation between Finland and Sweden us conducted in an ever-more demanding international atmosphere. Even though this cooperation enjoys strong support in both countries, the long-term goals of it are seen in a very different way in Finland than in Sweden. Many Finnish politicians offer cooperation with Sweden as an alternative to NATO-membership. This view is not common in Sweden.
These issues were discussed at a seminar in Hanasaari, Helsinki, on the 13th of February. The main question and theme of the seminar asked whether Finland and Sweden are together alone? They are outside of NATO, but does common EU security- and defense policy actually protect them?
During the recent Swedish parliamentary elections, security policy was not really discussed. Finnish election campaigns, which are slowly beginning, security policy is left in the shadow of questions regarding immigration and elderly care. Without negating the importance of these topic, it should be stated that foreign- and security policy also matter.
An Open Conversation Needs Young Voices
Following World War II, a culture of silence has characterized Finnish foreign politics. There has been a habit of raising foreign- and security policy above national politics, or pushing it aside, as an issue that should only be discussed in the spirit of of celebration and consensus. An aging generation of politicians still has a difficult time dealing with foreign policy within the forums and rules of normal political discourse. Many even seem to believe that an open discussion would damage our ability to conduct foreign policy.
This way of thinking is a peculiar relic of the past. I want to challenge the young generation, politicians and voters, researchers and members of the press, to become knowledgeable in matters of foreign- security policy in a new way. When the future of Finland and Europe seems unstable and the international order is in a state of change, the responsibility of candidates and those in positions of power is immense. Enlightened voters should demand this of them. Discussing foreign policy is not rocking the boat. On the contrary, it increases the safety of the nation. This is the conversation our seminar in Hanasaari attempted to advance, for its own part. The keynote speakers and panelists brought a lot of expertise and interesting insights to the table.