Finland Table of Contents

Finland, independent only since 1917, does not have a long tradition of neutrality. In the interwar period, it declared itself neutral, but its foreign policy was not neutral enough to satisfy the security concerns of the Soviet Union, and Finland was drawn into World War II. The years immediately after the war were taken up by the country's struggle to survive as an independent nation. The treaties of 1947 and 1948, which confirmed the existence of a Soviet military base on Finnish territory and created a defensive alliance with the Soviet Union, seemed to preclude Finnish neutrality.

The Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance (FCMA) of 1948 mentioned in its preamble, however, Finland's desire to remain outside the conflicts of the great powers and to maintain peace in accordance with the principles of the UN. A first example of the Finnish policy of avoiding entanglements in superpower disputes was the decision in early 1948 not to participate in the European Recovery Program, also known as the Marshall Plan. Finnish rejection of the much-needed aid was caused by Soviet contentions that the program was an effort on the part of the United States to divide Europe into two camps.

In the late 1940s, Finland joined the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Bank, participating in their economic programs, but avoiding any political implications of membership that could be seen by the Soviets to link the country to the West. Finland also stayed out of the discussions of the period about the formation of a Nordic defense union.

During these early years after World War II, there were few official Finnish statements about neutrality, but in a speech in 1952 Prime Minister Kekkonen held that the FCMA treaty presupposed a kind of neutrality for his country. In 1955 a major impediment to Finnish neutrality was removed by the closing of the Soviet military base located near Helsinki, and in the following years leading Soviet officials praised the neutrality of their neighbor. In 1955, too, Finland was able to join the UN and the Nordic Council, acts that reduced its isolation and brought it more fully into the community of nations.

By the early 1960s, Finnish neutrality was recognized by both the West and the East, and the country entered a more confident period of international relations when it began practicing what came to be officially termed an active and peaceful policy of neutrality. Finland participated in local and in global initiatives aimed at creating conditions that allowed nations to avoid violence in their relations with one another. As President Kekkonen noted in 1965 in an often-quoted speech, Finland could "only maintain its neutrality on the condition that peace is preserved in Europe."

An essential element of Finland's active neutrality policy was the concept of a Nordic Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone (Nordic NWFZ), first introduced by Kekkonen in May 1963 against the background of a Europe increasingly armed with nuclear weapons. The Finnish president proposed the creation of a zone consisting of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. Their de facto nuclear-weapon-free status was to be formalized by the creation of a Nordic NWFZ that would remove them somewhat from the strategic plans of the superpowers. The zone idea was based on the supposition that, as these countries had no nuclear weapons in their territories, they might avoid nuclear attacks from either of the two alliances, whereas, the presence of nuclear weapons would certainly invite such attacks.

The Nordic NWFZ idea was not realized at the time it was initially proposed. A major impediment was the membership of Denmark and Norway in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and hence their pledge to consider the deployment of nuclear weapons on their territories in a time of crisis. Despite its lack of success, the zone proposal remained part of Finnish foreign policy, and in 1978 it was reintroduced in an altered form in the light of new developments in weapons technology. In Kekkonen's opinion, the cruise missile made the use of nuclear weapons in war more likely. His new Nordic NWFZ proposal contained the concept of a negative security guarantee, according to which the superpowers would bind themselves to refrain from attacking with nuclear weapons those countries belonging to the zone.

The zone proposal has since become a permanent part of security discussions in Nordic Europe, with support from a variety of quarters. President Koivisto declared his firm support for the zone proposal in a speech at the UN in 1983, and in 1985 a Nordic parliamentary group convened in Copenhagen to discuss the idea and to set up a commission to study it.

In addition to the problem of Danish and Norwegian membership in the Atlantic Alliance, other problems continued to prevent the zone's realization. A central question was how, and to what extent, the Baltic and Barents seas and the adjacent areas of the Soviet Union would be included. The Soviet Union, the only power of northern Europe that had nuclear weapons in its arsenal, always welcomed the zone proposal but left its participation in the zone uncertain. Finnish officials seemed content to hold continued talks about the zone. Foreign affairs specialists occasionally commented that Helsinki was more interested in using discussion of a Nordic NWFZ as a means of emphasizing the existing stability of northern Europe than in the realization of such a zone.

Another core element of Finland's active policy of neutrality was the country's participation in arms control and disarmament initiatives. In 1963 Finland signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, prohibiting nuclear testing underwater, above ground, and in outer space; and in 1968 it approved the Treaty on the NonProliferation of Nuclear Weapons. It was the first country to form an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency concerning the peaceful use of nuclear power. In 1971 Finland signed the treaty banning the placement of nuclear weapons on the world's seabed, and in 1975 it joined in the prohibition of the development, production, and stockpiling of biological weapons. Since the early 1970s, Finnish scientists have been developing technology for the detection of chemical weapons, and since the mid-1970s, they have been engaged in perfecting a global seismic verification station system.

Helsinki was the site for some of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), and in 1973 and 1975 Finland was the driving force behind the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and the host of its first and third meetings. The signing of the Final Act of the CSCE in Helsinki in 1975 was the high point of the country's policy of active neutrality. The signed document recognized the legitimacy of neutrality as a foreign policy, a point demonstrated by Finland's hosting the conference. The country has continued to work as a member of the neutral and nonaligned group at later CSCE meetings, where the emphasis has been on the formation of confidence-building and security-building measures (CSBM). The fourth CSCE meeting was scheduled to take place in Helsinki in the spring of 1992.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress