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News, 5/18/2016 | Embassy of Finland, Washington

Finland’s Relationship with the U.S. is Cornerstone of Our Foreign Policy

Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini spoke about the importance of Finnish-U.S. relations at the 30th anniversary celebration of Pohjois-Kymi Paasikivi Society on May 9, 2016.

It is a great honour for me to address you at this 30th anniversary celebration of the Pohjois-Kymi Paasikivi Society. The regional Paasikivi Societies are doing precisely the work that the credibility of our foreign policy requires. The active participation of citizens and open discussion are important for the continuity of our foreign policy. It is very important that discussion also takes place elsewhere than in the social media. In face-to-face meetings, we inevitably obtain a more detailed view of the reactions of others. So there is still demand for party meetings and clubroom gatherings.

Here by the Kymi River is an ideal place to lift our gaze and also look beyond the sea. Thus my speech will focus on relations between Finland and the United States. At the Finnish Club in Helsinki earlier this year, I turned my gaze eastward and assessed our relationship with Russia.

Good and close relations with the United States have been – and continue to be – very important for Finland.

Our EU membership has expanded our international connections, but at the same time our field of vision has, in my view, narrowed. For many people, the United States seems distant and strange. The same thing has occurred in many EU countries. There are also those, of course, who fundamentally regard the United States with suspicion.

The United States is, however, a natural and important partner for us. Cooperation is based on our national interests, of which foreign and security policy is only one of many. Finland seeks to safeguard the economic and social wellbeing of its citizens. Strengthening economic relations and, for example, scientific and technological cooperation with the United States are essential to achieve this. For Finland, it is important that security in Europe is strengthened and rests on the principles of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The United States’ commitment to the security of Europe supports this development.

How, then, can we, in order to achieve our national interests, promote relations with the United States?

Finland’s image in the United States is good. We are a problem-free but interesting country.

Finland is known in the United States as a nation that paid its debts and fought for her freedom, a nation that practises a skilful foreign policy. Our hallmarks are that of a modern, highly educated and open information society. Our high-quality education system has had even the American film director Michael Moore gasping for breath. Our reputation as an equal society and innovative economy is good. The equal status of women is an ace card for us; and interest in this opens many doors in the United States. Country image matters. Advocacy and marketing work should be promoted with long-term, bold initiatives. There are good prospects for strengthening relations, and the celebration of the centenary of Finland’s independence in 2017 offers an excellent opportunity for this.

It is important that Finland is recognised as a Nordic country in which social innovations and Nordic values take society forward. The so-called Nordic model has aroused interest and has also been a visible theme in the United States’ presidential election campaign.

With the United States, we are part of the Western community, which to a large extent shares the same values and interests. Cooperation is wide-ranging and it should be maintained as such. We cooperate in a concrete way, for example in promoting equality and human rights.

We have a long history of beneficial cooperation in arms control and disarmament, and recently also in health security. We work to further democracy and the principles of the rule of law. Cooperation between the Nordic countries and the United States in the UN covers among other things strengthening the status of women, inter-cultural dialogue, peace mediation, peacekeeping, and promoting good governance.

The international rules-based system to a large extent bears the imprint of the United States. Now, there are efforts to undermine this system. The close cooperation of the United States and Europe is important for maintaining it.

A summit meeting of the United States and the Nordic countries will be held in Washington on Friday this week (13 May). We welcome the meeting and I will attend it myself in the delegation led by President Niinistö. We have an excellent opportunity to promote diverse cooperation and common goals in a concrete way.

The United States’ leadership in the world is not undisputed.

The United States is the world’s most powerful economy and a key engine of global economic growth. Structural changes are sweeping through the U.S. – just as they are in Europe.

However, the United States’ strong capacity for innovation and renewal as well as its dynamic business and financial sector will drive the economy forward.

The United States, like other countries, promotes its own interests in its foreign policy, but often relying on the support of its allies and partners. For the United States’ own wellbeing, its key interest is to secure as stable an international situation as possible. In a world of interdependence, our key interests are therefore to a large extent convergent.

In the United States, there is an internal struggle about whether it is better to let the world manage on its own or whether it should take a leading role. In practice, attempts to isolate itself or withdraw have more often than not ended up with the United States ultimately recognising that it is “compelled” to assume a stronger role or leadership.

Whatever one’s view of the United States’ leadership, it is a fact that without the United States’ participation and leadership significant international challenges cannot be solved: whether it is a matter of climate change, terrorism, poverty, infectious diseases or crises.

During President Obama the United States has emphasised multilateral cooperation and the role of international organisations. This has been, from Finland’s perspective, very welcome. To be sure, we have experienced also different kind of periods and we may see them also in the future. It is in Finland’s interests that the United States sees Europe and the EU as an essential partner whose views and needs it is important to take into account. President Obama’s commitment to Europe was very clear on his recent visit to Europe. One should hope this trend to be continued also in the future.

For Finland, the United States is a very important trade and investment partner. In October last year, the United States overtook Russia as the largest market area outside the EU for Finland’s goods exports. After Sweden, the United States was Finland’s second biggest export destination for services in 2014. Finnish businesses can also succeed in the United States with single special products. For example, Laitilan Wirvoitusjuomatehdas Oy’s gluten-free Kukko beer has aroused interest in the U.S. Our economic situation requires bold action from businesses and an active policy from the Government. Many opportunities are still untapped.

Enhanced competitiveness and structural changes are required. Active promotion of exports is also needed. The Government is currently strengthening export promotion resources in the United States. We have also organised an extensive tour focused on business coaching. On this roadshow, in addition to the participation of the authorities, businesses have told about their experiences in the United States market. This type of sharing of best practices and mentoring is extremely important, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises.

We have activated our honorary consul network for Finland’s export promotion. The honorary consuls, who serve in Finland’s interests, are a significant Team Finland resource. I am very grateful for their valuable work for Finland.

In shifting global power structures the development prospects for economic relations between the United States and EU are vitally important for both. Close economic relations are the backbone of the transatlantic partnership. The EU and the United States are the world’s largest actors and investors in international trade. The United States is the most important export destination for the EU. On average, every day the EU and the United States engage in trade of goods and services amounting to three billion euros! The investments - made by businesses based in the EU - in the United States are eight times greater in value than in China and India together.

In an environment of intensifying competition, the United States and the EU can influence the international rules and standards decisively only if they can form a common vision. For this reason, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is important. Finland will actively promote the achievement of an ambitious outcome of the TTIP negotiations that is acceptable and beneficial to Finland. In addition to the economic considerations, the agreement has also strategic significance.

Arctic cooperation with the United States is an area of focus.

During the last 20 years, Arctic issues have become a new, natural area of cooperation for Finland and the United States. Viewed from an Arctic perspective, we are actually neighbours!
As northern sea routes open up and economic activity increases in the Arctic region, there will increasingly be new opportunities for us to cooperate. At the same time, issues to be decided in the wider sphere will also arise. We can only move forward in these through the constructive cooperation of all countries of the Arctic region.

Finland embraced Arctic cooperation as soon as it became possible after the end of the Cold War. The United States has recently brought to cooperation its own substantial contribution, particularly by highlighting the effects of climate change in the Arctic region.

The tightening of the security situation in Europe – due to the Ukraine crisis – has hardly affected Arctic cooperation. For Finland, it is essential that all Arctic countries participate in discussing Arctic issues. This is particularly important now when the United States holds the presidency of the Arctic Council and Finland is preparing to assume the presidency after the United States in 2017–2019.

Bilateral cooperation of Finland and the United States focuses on the economy and research. There is a need in the United States for Finnish expertise in cold weather aviation ("snow-how"). Marine industry engineering, consulting and construction are particular strengths of Finland. Finland can offer the entire production chain relating to icebreaking. There is a long tradition of research cooperation, and contacts between universities are also extensive in teaching and research on Arctic issues. It should now be possible to utilise fully and purposefully Finland’s Arctic expertise and the interest shown towards it. This is an area in which political cooperation can significantly contribute to the development of economic and other cooperation.

The United States has an important role in Europe and NATO.

The United States’ commitment to European security within the framework of NATO has to a large extent facilitated cooperation and integration of the European democracies. The framework formed by the transatlantic security relationship, whose cornerstones are NATO and ultimately the United States, has to a large extent facilitated the extensive promotion of security. This NATO-centrality in European security is also highlighted in the recent assessment of NATO made by four independent experts.

For the United States, its European commitments are not only a question of Europe, but of its own credibility, even on a global scale. Ultimately, the objective is the preservation of a liberal rules-based system. In this, the European Union is seen as an indispensable partner. For this reason, the future development of the EU will be closely followed in the United States. Likewise we in Europe will be following and assessing the domestic policies and different developments in the United States

The objective of the United States’ Europe policy is accordingly a strong and unified European Union. For this reason, the United States no longer views the EU’s growing role in security and defence policy as problematic. On the contrary – the United States is actually calling for Europe to bear greater responsibility for its own security and the security of its neighbourhood.

From the United States’ perspective, NATO’s role as the cornerstone of transatlantic security cooperation will continue. More investment in NATO is now expected from Europeans. Alongside the military dimension, greater attention is being given to the overall security of societies. Cyber and hybrid threats have become a critical factor in the sustainability of societies.

In situations in which European security deteriorates, the significance of the United States’ presence as a stabilising factor is highlighted. We are living once again in such a time. It is of paramount importance that the United States’ commitment to Europe also remains strong in the future. In the current security situation, the United States’ strong presence in the Baltic Sea region creates stability and increases security. The stability of the Baltic Sea region is also Finland’s objective. Our perspectives and roles are different, but our interests are to a large extent parallel.

It is true that, in the future, the United States’ strategic investment will be significant particularly in Asia. At the same time, the Middle East and its crises will require a lot of resources and attention. Russia’s actions and the uncertainty about its fundamental objectives have, however, again forced the United States to be more active also in Europe.

The United States’ commitment to Europe is of particular importance for Finland.

The United States commitment to Europe and its activity in NATO were also a prerequisite for Finland gradually being able, during the Cold War, to strengthen its position as a Nordic country and to build its international status in the direction of neutrality.

As is now known, during the Cold War Finland’s relations with the West had to be handled somewhat clandestinely and cautiously. The relationship with the United States in particular remained for a long time at the “secret lover” stage. This was despite the fact that, for us, our relationship with the West was vital in terms of economic and social development as well as strengthening our foreign policy position.

Our opportunity to reach the status of a neutral country depended substantially on the military strength of the West and an openness to find special solutions taking Finland’s interests into account. A situation in which Denmark and Norway belonged to NATO with two restrictions – no nuclear weapons or forces during peace – and in which Sweden’s neutrality was strongly tilted toward the United States created a certain kind of deterrence in the direction of the Soviet Union.

This state, known as the Nordic Balance, strengthened Finland’s position and provided support for attempts to increase room for manoeuvre after the war.

My recollection is that this was not a very pleasant time. The negative effects and phenomena of the handling of our Eastern relations during the Cold War have been extensively discussed. This has been very important. The "balancing liturgy" from the Cold War began to live a life of its own. To my amazement, it still appears from time to time in talk about our place between East and the West and in the difficulty of recognising the importance of our relationship with the United States.

It is good that in ceremonial speeches we are reminded that Finland is part of the West. But it is also symptomatic that we need to be reminded of it. A part of the understanding of history and of the nature of our society is missing if our Western character is not obvious to everyone.

So from time to time we have to venture to say loud and clear that good relations with the United States are extremely important for Finland. The United States is central to Finland’s security interests, whether we are considering security in a broad sense or more traditional military security. The international open and rules-based system – which is vital for a country like Finland – relies to a large extent on the support of the United States and its allies.

We by no means always agree with the United States on all issues or on "ways and means". But good and dynamic relationships also include disagreements. Through cooperation Europe should also try to influence the behaviour of the United States.

It should be clear without saying that good a relationship with the United States does not conflict with the fact that we take good care of our relationship with Russia. Since this does not seem to be clear to everyone – I do have to say it, now.

Also today, Finland’s position and security depends to a large extent – but certainly not exclusively – on the United States’ commitment to the security of Europe, on the strength of NATO and on the stable policy of the alliance. This is regardless of the fact that we are not a member of NATO.

The objective of the United States in Europe is to strengthen its own and NATO’s military capability, so that it presents a sufficiently high threshold to deter Russia from instigating measures against members of the alliance. At the same time, dialogue is maintained with Russia and the door left open for improving the relations, if Russia changes its policy. A balance-seeking and problem-solving policy is welcome and important from Finland’s perspective.

The support of the United States has facilitated Finland’s and Sweden’s strong NATO partnership. Through this, interoperability will be maintained, national defence developed, and a dialogue conducted on the security of the region to create a common understanding of the situation. The United States is genuinely interested in Finland’s – and Sweden’s – views particularly in relation to the Baltic Sea, even though we are not members of NATO. Themes of current interest include issues relating to the cyber operating environment, where we have an interest in engaging in dialogue and developing cooperation.

The defence cooperation of Finland and United States has long and solid foundations.

From time to time there is public discussion about Finland’s defence cooperation with the United States. In fact, all of Finland’s key defence cooperation partners are Western countries. In this way, we create skills, develop expertise and build cooperation relationships in order to strengthen our own defence. In particular, long-term and active cooperation with the United States with respect to both defence material and exercises is very important for Finland, for the simple reason that the United States’ armed forces are the most effective in the world.

Finland’s active participation in crisis management operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan, as well as Finland’s involvement a couple of years ago in the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons have demonstrated Finland’s willingness and capacity to participate in the burden sharing  of international responsibilities. A natural extension of this cooperation has been Finland’s involvement in the training of the Iraqi armed forces as part of the coalition against ISIL. We will double our participation during the current year.

The core of relations stems from citizen-level activity.

America is important to us as a result of many individual human decisions. The “American Route” has presented opportunities for many Finns. Emigrants left Finland to search for a better life – many fled persecution. In the early decades of the 20th century, nearly 300,000 Finns moved to the United States. Around 700,000 Americans with Finnish roots live in the United States today. In addition, thousands of Finns are living in the United States temporarily. Our common history provides a foundation for strengthening connections between citizens at the grassroots level.

In the United States, the change in global power relationships and the involvement of new generations has turned the country’s gaze from Europe to Asia in particular. Interest in Europe has weakened. European crises, it’s true, pull in the other direction, but the undercurrent is drawing attention elsewhere.

This distancing in connections and personal relationships is problematic for the future. Finland has its own special challenges. We don’t have a visible local community in the United States in the same way as even Norway has. Finland’s country image is good, but narrow compared with, for example, Sweden and Denmark.

Bold visions and decisive action are required. We should be more enthusiastic about business and high-tech. The United States is not only situated on the east coast; Silicon Valley and the west coast are also important.

Exchanges of students, researchers and public servants should be enhanced. Finnish businesses already established in the US market could expand their operations and mentor newcomers. The extensive honorary consul network should be utilised better.

Particularly important is the personal networking of politicians and others in positions of influence. The political field is strong and active in both Europe and the United States. Nothing can replace direct personal contacts. They should be built on a long-term basis and on a large scale – with Republicans and Democrats alike. In this way, we will best put forward our views and be understood.

One successful example of long-term and goal-oriented cooperation is the ASLA-Fulbright Programme, which has operated since 1949. To date, approximately 3,600 Finnish students and researchers from different fields have participated in the programme, which was launched on the initiative of Senator Fulbright. Some 1,700 American students, scholars and professionals, moreover, have had the opportunity to study in Finland via the programme. The exchange has opened many doors and increased understanding on both sides.

It would be possible to increase cooperation between our civil societies still further. The League of Finnish American Societies and many exchange student organisations are good examples of active grass root level activities In both the United States and Finland there is interest in increasing citizen-level activities, for example people-to-people connections. Young people’s entrepreneurship, education and arctic issues are themes of interest in both countries.

In accordance with the Government Programme, Finland will strengthen wide-ranging transatlantic cooperation both bilaterally and via the EU. This aim reflects the fact that cooperation with the United States is increasingly important for Europe. This is the case both in global and regional affairs, but also in strengthening common values and principles. In my speech, I have outlined how we could move forward with this in a concrete way.

Our national interest is to develop relations with the United States both politically and economically. We must take responsibility for it ourselves – this cannot and will not be delegated to anyone else. The relationship, moreover, should not be taken for granted. In the United States, the priorities of decision-makers have changed and will continue to change – also with regard to foreign policy. Daily crises and domestic policy issues dominate politicians’ agenda as well as that of the media.

Finland must have the agility and speed to propose its own initiatives, and respond to initiatives presented by the United States that interest us and which at the same time strengthen our bilateral relations.

As Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have taken the relationship of Finland and the United States one of my key priorities and I, for my part, will ensure that transatlantic relations are strengthened and diversified with determination in accordance with national interests.

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Updated 5/18/2016

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