Finns shun prospect of security in larger Nato

The Finnish government is sticking to its policy of not joining Nato despite the prospect that most European security issues could soon be decided by an enlarged alliance in concert with Russia.

"Finland is not the focus of threats, for the prevention or repulsion of which security guarantees from a military alliance would be necessary. Finland's non-participation in military alliances supports stability in northern Europe," said a government report on defence issued this week.

Despite this firm statement, some Finnish experts say Finland may have to reconsider. Since Nato is preparing to embrace several former Communist states in Eastern Europe, and is seeking a special security relationship with Russia, Finland could be in danger of losing influence over matters directly affecting its security, they say.

"The emergence of an enlarged Nato with a wider mandate to deal with European security problems, and with a co-operative relationship with Russia, would constitute a new European security order," said Max Jakobson, a former Finnish ambassador to the United Nations. "To remain outside of Nato is to be without a seat at the table where the decisions on European security will be made."

Finland's neutrality after the Second World War was based on a delicate formula which combined Western-style freedom at home with a scrupulous care not to annoy the Soviet Union. The policy was a success in that Soviet Communism ultimately collapsed and Finland became free of its old constraints. But the Cold War years remain a sensitive subject, and many Finns are bitterly critical of the self-censorship of those times.

As a member of the EU since 1995 and of Nato's Partnership for Peace programme, Finland has already drifted away from the old, post-war policy of absolute neutrality. EU membership is more popular in Finland than in neighbouring Sweden partly because, as the government report observes, it "strengthens Finland's security position".

That sense of security could diminish if Nato's enlargement goes wrong and Russian-Western relations deteriorate. "Finland is striving to ensure that neither Nato enlargement nor whatever treaty arrangement the alliance arrives at with Russia leads to the emergence of lines of division or spheres of interest that would detract from stability in northern Europe," the government report says. There is particular concern for the Baltic states, above all Estonia, to which Finns feel closest.