Finland Wrestles with the Russian Bear and Believes NATO Will Offer Protection. No, I’m not Joking.
For some time, I’ve been pondering Finland’s consideration of joining NATO. What does each have to bring to each other’s table? The superficial purpose, of course, for Finland, would be a promise of defense from its only discernible threat, Russia. Yet, Russia has made no aggressive overtures toward Finland for decades. Until quite recently, when talk of joining NATO became serious.
For Finland, the obvious reasons lay in its power structure. More prestigious positions for already prestigious people. Military expenditures, the purchasing of weapons systems, a greatly expanded military industrial complex. A large military budget inevitably ensures a river of money from which the mighty may drink. But what has Finland to offer NATO? The alliance would derive none of what it thrives on in its endeavors: oil and other valuable natural resources. Finland has none to exploit. Its only advantage would be the potential to put NATO missiles on Finnish soil, and with it, the ability to fire them within spitting distance of a perceived—for reasons unclear—enemy.
Also, how would NATO come to Finland’s defense? I sit here now with Google Earth open in front of me, and on other windows, the military strengths of Finland, Nato and Russia. Russia, with its over 1,000,000-man military and thousands of aircraft, tanks, missiles, and a weakened but viable navy, could occupy Finland within days. How could NATO respond? Could it respond at all? Russia is not at war. The U.S. military, the true power behind NATO, is already strained from fighting wars for years on multiple fronts.
Could NATO bring forces up the West Coast of Finland via the Baltic and the Gulf of Bothnia? Even gaining a beachhead would be a slaughter on a scale that would turn the Gulf red. After doing so, a land war from west to east along a front hundreds of miles long would be an Armageddon. Coming in through the east, through the Gulf of Finland toward St. Petersburg would be suicide, hit by a crossfire of missiles bristling the Gulf from each direction. Whichever gulf was used for a counter-attack, Russian submarines would lie in wait below, in narrow shooting galleries ideally suited for blowing NATO vessels out of the water.
What about entering from the far north, crossing from Norway into Finland. Two massive armies collide in a land war across a shorter front, also vulnerable to naval attack on the northern end of it. Not too promising. Which leaves the Barents Sea, and I believe that this is the point for NATO. Not to protect Finland—which it will never in hell do, but to be able to use the treaty as an excuse to occupy its territorial coastal waters to protect Arctic interests.
Let’s back up a decade and chart the course of events.
Russia’s stated a policy of preventing the West from building a pipeline through Georgia, since it would carry non-Russian gas to Europe through territory not under Moscow’s control. The invasion was a message to border states from the Baltic to the Black Sea to reverse their pro-Western trend. Kosovo’s independence sparked anger. Russia claimed a constitutional right to defend the life and dignity of all Russians, regardless of where they live. It also declared its right to a sphere of interest that included neighboring states. This set precedents that it could now use as a pretext for invasion, citing defense of Finns and Estonians of Russian descent.
Russia wished to divide transatlantic unity in the belief that the power of the West was on the wane. Backing South Ossetian and Abkhazi separatists was payback for the strengthening of American influence in Georgia. This was similar to the situation of today. At the time, it was a battle for control over the pipelines carrying oil and gas out of the oil fields under the Caspian Sea. Because the United States had its military resources tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many EU countries depend on Russian energy, Moscow considered prospects good for reclaiming territory lost in 1991. They could have send troops into Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, which transit Georgia and its pipeline.
Moscow wanted the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline to pass through Russia, to allow it to make money and exert some control over the supply of oil to the West, much as it does with the Druzhba pipeline, which flows from southeast Russia to Europe. Russia needs European Union cash to keep its economy running. If Western oil companies got their way, and the BTC pipeline routed oil from Azerbaijan and gas lines from Turkmenistan, which transit Georgia, through Turkey instead of hooking them up to Russian pipelines, the potential for loss was tremendous. The situation was resolved, but the policies and attitudes formed then remain today.
Enter the Arctic.
In 2007, Russia planted its flag on the ocean floor beneath the North Pole, the time-honored tradition is which a nation claims a territory as its own.
China has now constructed the world’s largest non-nuclear icebreaker to conduct “scientific research” in the Arctic. Russia’s Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky warned, “We are observing the penetration of a host of states which… are advancing their interests very intensively, in every possible way, in particular China.” He continued: Russia would “not give up a single inch” in the Arctic, and stated that “The ships of the Northern and Pacific fleets are continuing to increase their military presence in the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation with new navy ships.”
China and Russia are not alone in this race for the Arctic. Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States are also trying to file territorial claims. Why now? Ironically, global warming has provided potential for accruing fortunes beyond imagination. How?
The polar ice cap has shrunk 40% since 1979. Sea ice in the Northern Polar Region is at the lowest ever recorded. In 2007 alone, 1 million more square miles of ice beyond average melted, uncovering an area of open water of continental proportion, and commercial opportunities in the Arctic are increasing exponentially. The U.N. convention on the Law of the Sea governs the Arctic. According to the convention, a coastal state nation governs waters two hundred miles, sometimes as much as six hundred, from its coast.
The Arctic is rich in offshore oil and gas as well as valuable metals and minerals. A treasure trove. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimate: the Arctic contains 13 % of the world’s undiscovered oil resources and 30 percent of its gas resources. And as the ice melts, cargo transport potential has increase many multiples of its volume of only a few years ago. Russia announced it intends to establish a fighting force designed for military warfare in Arctic conditions.
A couple weeks ago, General Nikolai Makarov, the commander of Russia’s armed forces, made a speech to Finns in the military hierarchy. He warned that Finland was not to conduct exercises in eastern Finland, nor to engage in military co-operation with other Nordic and Arctic countries, or strengthen ties with NATO.
Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, responded, in a blunt manner, that Makarov’s views were off base.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has now stated that Finland will surrender its right to act independently in the event that it joins the western military alliance, and that Moscow will respond to deployment of any NATO attack missiles based in the Nordic country. “The involvement of any country in a military bloc deprives it of a certain degree of sovereignty, and some decisions are made at a different level,” Putin said to Niinisto. “The same has occurred over the question of visas, where part of Finland’s sovereignty is handed over to the European Union.” Putin concluded by saying: “If NATO decides to deploy missile systems, Russia will take retaliatory measures,” Putin told reporters after talks with Niinsto. “Russia’s retaliatory measures will be guaranteed. But what would we need that for?”
I don’t think the message could be more clear. Russia intends to take the Arctic at all costs. If Finland joins NATO, the level of aggression is unclear, but tangible and stated. If NATO missiles are placed here in Finland, the nation will be invaded and occupied. I hope the lessons of 1939 are ingrained. Treaties be damned, no nation is coming to Finland’s defense under those circumstances. There is nothing here to be gained. If NATO fires even one bullet in defense of Finland, it will be in its coastal waters to protect its Arctic offshore interests so that it can exploit them later. It will never defend the nation at large.
NATO, if Finland chooses to join it, and cooperates as NATO will inevitably request, when push comes to shove, will throw Finland to the dogs—or rather, to the bear.
October 10, 2012
With his first internationally published novel, Snow Angels, James Thompson proved himself Finland’s best and most popular representative in the rise of Nordic noir. It was selected as one of Booklist’ s Best Crime Novel Debuts of the Year and nominated for an Edgar Award, an Anthony Award, and a Strand Critics Award. His novel, Lucifer’s Tears, has received critical acclaim from all quarters, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus, and was selected as one of the best novels of the year by Kirkus. His novel, Helsinki White, was released to critical acclaim in the U.S. in March, 2012. He is also a reviewer for The New York Journal of Books. The first three books in his Inspector Vaara series have been optioned for film.