How will you ap­p­ro­ach po­li­cies re­la­ting to Rus­sia as a NATO mem­ber? Will Fin­nish mem­bers­hip es­ca­la­te the conf­lict with Rus­sia? How do you see China’s de­ve­lop­ment? These were the qu­es­ti­ons that Se­na­tor Rand Paul (R-KY) as­ked the Fin­nish Fo­reign Mi­nis­ter be­fo­re de­ci­ding how to vote on Fin­land’s NATO mem­bers­hip. We were sit­ting in his Ca­pi­tol Hill of­fi­ce in May 2022. On the Fin­nish side, we de­monst­ra­ted our firm com­mit­ment to na­ti­o­nal de­fen­se and our tra­di­ti­o­nal­ly prag­ma­tic ap­p­ro­ach to fo­reign po­li­cy. In the end, Se­na­tor Paul vo­ted “pre­sent” on our mem­bers­hip – an ac­comp­lish­ment, con­si­de­ring his long-stan­ding op­po­si­ti­on to NATO’s en­lar­ge­ment. To me, his vote sig­na­led trust in Fin­land as a count­ry that sol­ves prob­lems ins­te­ad of cau­sing more of them.


Adapting to NATO Dynamics and Regional Defense Strategies

Fin­nish-US re­la­ti­ons are at an his­to­ric high point. For the first time, our count­ries are tre­a­ty al­lies sworn to each ot­her’s de­fen­se. The Uni­ted Sta­tes has al­so be­co­me Fin­land’s lar­gest tra­ding part­ner. The backg­round for these de­ve­lop­ments is, of cour­se, the dire se­cu­ri­ty si­tu­a­ti­on in Eu­ro­pe and Rus­sia’s war of ag­g­res­si­on against Uk­rai­ne. Ho­we­ver, it would not have hap­pe­ned if Fin­land had not ta­ken the lead by ap­p­lying for NATO mem­bers­hip.

Fin­land has been close to NATO for a long time through NATO’s Part­ners­hip for Pe­a­ce and as an En­han­ced Op­por­tu­ni­ties Part­ner (EOP). Even so, it will take time for Fin­land to le­arn how to na­vi­ga­te the in­ter­nal dy­na­mics and po­li­tics of a 31-na­ti­on al­li­an­ce. So­li­da­ri­ty for the con­cerns of all al­lies and skil­l­ful con­sen­sus-buil­ding will be the keys to suc­ces­s­ful­ly ad­van­cing and de­fen­ding Fin­nish in­te­rests.

NATO mem­bers­hip has inc­re­a­sed, not dec­re­a­sed, the need for bi-, tri- and mi­ni­la­te­ral de­fen­se coo­pe­ra­ti­on with ot­her count­ries in our re­gi­on and bey­ond. The most im­por­tant of these part­ners­hips is with the Uni­ted Sta­tes. The re­cent­ly sig­ned De­fen­se Coo­pe­ra­ti­on Ag­ree­ment (DCA) fa­ci­li­ta­tes mi­li­ta­ry-to-mi­li­ta­ry coo­pe­ra­ti­on bet­ween our count­ries. For the Uni­ted Sta­tes, DCA is a glo­bal con­cept used to re­gu­la­te troop and ma­te­ri­al mo­ve­ments bet­ween part­ners and al­lied na­ti­ons. The idea is to have a si­mi­lar set of stan­dards and re­gu­la­ti­ons ac­ross the globe to ea­se plan­ning and res­pond to cri­ses more ef­fec­ti­ve­ly.


Regional Security and Cooperation in Northern Europe

In the Fin­nish case, the ag­ree­ment is pri­ma­ri­ly about the Uni­ted Sta­tes de­li­ve­ring and plan­ning for the se­cu­ri­ty com­mit­ments it has al­re­a­dy gi­ven us through NATO and ef­fi­cient de­ter­ren­ce of hos­ti­le ac­tors in Nort­hern Eu­ro­pe. The Uni­ted Sta­tes now has De­fen­se Coo­pe­ra­ti­on Ag­ree­ments with Den­mark, Swe­den, Fin­land, and Nor­way. It looks at the re­gi­on sin­ce rein­for­ce­ments and de­fen­se ma­te­ri­al would flow from the At­lan­tic Oce­an to Nor­we­gi­an and Swe­dish har­bors and air­ports in any cri­sis or conf­lict and con­ti­nue to Fin­land and the Bal­tic sta­tes as foun­ding mem­bers of NATO, Nor­way and Den­mark have a long his­to­ry of close de­fen­se coo­pe­ra­ti­on with the Uni­ted Sta­tes. Their ex­pe­rien­ces can be­ne­fit Swe­den and Fin­land. Ove­rall, it will be es­sen­ti­al to avoid com­pe­ting for US at­ten­ti­on bet­ween the Nor­dic count­ries and ins­te­ad fo­cus on a joint ap­p­ro­ach to US en­ga­ge­ment in Nort­hern Eu­ro­pe.

Anc­ho­ring the Uni­ted Sta­tes to the se­cu­ri­ty of Nort­hern Eu­ro­pe in the long term is a high pri­o­ri­ty for all Nor­dic count­ries. At the same time, Fin­land, Swe­den, Nor­way, and Den­mark un­ders­tand that from a stra­te­gic pers­pec­ti­ve, the Uni­ted Sta­tes wants to and needs to fo­cus more on com­pe­ting with China. Ar­tic­le 3 of NATO’s foun­ding tre­a­ty lays the pri­ma­ry bur­den of res­pon­si­bi­li­ty on each mem­ber state for their de­fen­se and se­cu­ri­ty. This suits the Nor­dic count­ries well. By and lar­ge, we are unp­rob­le­ma­tic al­lies who want to take care of their se­cu­ri­ty and the de­fen­se of NATO’s new nort­he­as­tern flank. In exc­han­ge, the Nor­dic count­ries seek cer­tain­ty that the Uni­ted Sta­tes will stand with us in a tough spot.


Looking Towards the 2024 Election and Beyond

 The US pre­si­den­ti­al elec­ti­ons will di­rect­ly im­pact how tran­sat­lan­tic re­la­ti­ons will de­ve­lop. Ac­cor­ding to re­cent pol­ls, many Ame­ri­cans are wor­ried about inf­la­ti­on, the eco­no­my, im­mig­ra­ti­on, and glo­bal conf­licts. In a lar­ger pic­tu­re, the US po­pu­la­ti­on is gro­wing, get­ting yo­un­ger and more di­ver­se. More and more fa­mi­lies trace their ori­gins to La­tin Ame­ri­ca. For Eu­ro­pe, we must en­ga­ge bro­ad­ly with Ame­ri­can so­cie­ty to fos­ter and up­hold con­nec­ti­ons and un­ders­tan­ding bet­ween Eu­ro­pe­ans and Ame­ri­cans.

 No mat­ter who wins the US pre­si­den­cy, a good wor­king re­la­ti­ons­hip with the next ad­mi­nist­ra­ti­on is ne­ces­sa­ry for Fin­land and ot­her count­ries bor­de­ring Rus­sia. The most im­por­tant thing we can do to ac­hie­ve this end is to take care of our na­ti­o­nal de­fen­se ca­pa­bi­li­ties, cont­ri­bu­te to col­lec­ti­ve de­fen­se by sho­wing so­li­da­ri­ty with the se­cu­ri­ty con­cerns of ot­her al­lies, and ac­ti­ve­ly take part in sol­ving eve­ry­day prob­lems in Eu­ro­pe and glo­bal­ly. Ins­te­ad of brin­ging more is­su­es to Was­hing­ton, D.C., we would do well to sol­ve prob­lems both in our neigh­bor­hood and more bro­ad­ly.


The wri­ter is a Re­se­arch Fel­low at the Fin­nish Ins­ti­tu­te of In­ter­na­ti­o­nal Af­fairs (FIIA), where he stu­dies Fin­nish fo­reign po­li­cy, Nort­hern Eu­ro­pe­an Se­cu­ri­ty, and NATO. Be­fo­re joi­ning FIIA, he wor­ked as a Spe­ci­al Ad­vi­sor to the Mi­nis­ter of Fo­reign Af­fairs (2019-2023). He is al­so a Doc­to­ral Re­se­arc­her at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hel­sin­ki.