Foreign relations of Finland

According to the latest constitution of 2000, the President (currently Tarja Halonen) leads foreign policy in cooperation with the government (currently Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen and Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb), except that the government leads EU affairs. In surveys, most diplomats and foreign policy experts consider the current constitution flawed because it is often unclear who is in charge. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs implements the foreign policy.

During the Cold War, Finland conducted its foreign policy in association with the Soviet Union and simultaneously stressed Nordic cooperation (as a member of the Nordic Council). After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Finland freed itself from the last restrictions imposed on it by the Paris peace treaties of 1947 and the Finno-Soviet Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance. Although opposed by socialists and agrarians, the government filed an EU membership application three months after the dissolution of the USSR and became a member in 1995. Finland did not attempt to join NATO, even though other post-Soviet countries in the Baltic sea and elsewhere joined. Nevertheless, defense policymakers have quietly converted to NATO equipment and contributed troops.

President Martti Ahtisaari and the coalition governments led Finland closer to the core EU in the late 1990s. Finland was considered a cooperative model state, and Finland did not oppose proposals for a common EU defence policy. This was reversed in the 2000s, when Tarja Halonen and Erkki Tuomioja made Finland's official policy to resist other EU members' plans for common defense. However, Halonen allowed Finland to join European Union Battlegroups in 2006 and the NATO Response Force in 2008. Relations with most countries except Russia have been good.

Relations with Russia are cordial and common issues include bureaucracy (particularly at the Vaalimaa border crossing), airspace violations, development aid Finland gives to Russia (especially in environmental problems that affect Finland), and Finland's energy dependency on Russian gas and electricity. Behind the scenes, the administration has witnessed a resurrection of Soviet-era tactics. The National Security Agency, SUPO, estimates that the known number of Russian agents from SVR and GRU now exceeds Cold War levels and there are unknown numbers of others.


From the end of the Continuation War with the U.S.S.R. in 1944 until 1991, the policy was to avoid superpower conflicts and to build mutual confidence with the Western powers and the Soviet Union. Although the country was culturally, socially, and politically Western, Finns realized they must live in peace with the U.S.S.R. and take no action that might be interpreted as a security threat. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 opened up dramatic new possibilities for Finland and has resulted in the Finns actively seeking greater participation in Western political and economic structures. The popular support for the strictly self-defensive doctrine remains.

Relations With the Soviet Union

The principal architect of the post-1944 foreign policy of neutrality was J.K. Paasikivi, who was President from 1946 to 1956. Urho Kekkonen, President from 1956 until 1981, further developed this policy, stressing that Finland should be an active rather than a passive neutral. This policy is now popularly known as the “Paasikivi-Kekkonen Line.”


Finland signed the Paris Peace Treaty with the Allies in February 1947, which:

  • confirmed Finland’s concessions in the Moscow Peace Treaty with exception for the Soviet lease of Hanko Peninsula in south-westernmost Finland
  • limited the size of Finland’s armed forces
  • ratified the cessions after the Winter War and the Continuation War
  • gave the Soviet Union a naval base at Porkkala 30 kilometres west of Helsinki including rights of free transit
  • contained provisions directed against “Fascism in Finland”
  • called for Finland to pay to the Soviet Union war reparations amounting to an estimated $570 million in 1952, the year the payments ended. Arguably these reparations, however, strengthened the Finnish economy.

The development from the Abyssinia crisis, indicating the failure of the League of Nations, to the Paris Peace Treaty, when the last hope of more than oral support from the ideologically akin Western countries faded, convinced the Finns that they had absolutely no-one other than themselves to rely on in their problematic relations with the Soviet Union.

The Finnish Army, which in defence against the Soviet Union had numbered to over 500,000, was to be limited to 34,400 men, the navy to 4,500 men and 10,000 tons, and the air force to 3,000 men and 60 planes. With this provision the Western Allies had, seemingly, left Finland in the Soviet Union’s power.

The political clauses of the Paris Peace Treaty were particularly alienating. Through this clause, the Allies agreed to the Kremlin view that the Soviet Union represented “Liberty” and Finland represented “Fascism”. The peace treaty stipulated that the country should take all measures necessary to secure “human rights and the fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, of press and publication, of religious worship, of political opinion and of public meeting.” Finland’s government undertook further to prevent the resurgence of Fascist organizations or any others, “whether political, military or semi-military, whose purpose it is to deprive the people of their democratic rights.” With the exception that the victor’s interpretation of “Fascist organizations” turned out to be wide, these clauses had no practical effects.


(See also: Finlandization)

For the survival of Finland as an independent sovereign country, firmly convicted in the value of democracy, human and civil rights, Finland had to find a formula to convince Stalin and his successors, that the Soviet Union’s vital interests could be met voluntarily by the Finns. This was the gist of the Paasikivi doctrine.

In April 1948, Finland signed an Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union. Under this mutual assistance pact, Finland was obliged — with the aid of the Soviet Union, if requested by Finland, not unilaterally by USSR — to resist armed attacks by Germany or its allies against Finland or against the U.S.S.R. through Finland. At the same time, the agreement recognized Finland’s desire to remain outside great-power conflicts. This agreement was renewed for 20 years in 1955, in 1970, and again in 1983 to the year 2003. In practice, this prevented Finland from joining NATO. Also, President Urho Kekkonen gained a disproportionate political advantage over his opponents by monopolizing this policy.

Finland responded cautiously in 1990–91 to the collapse of the Soviet Union. They unilaterally abrogated restrictions imposed by the 1947 and 1948 treaties, joined in voicing Nordic concern over the coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and gave increasing unofficial encouragement to Baltic independence.

At the same time, by replacing the Soviet-Finnish mutual assistance pact with treaties on general cooperation and trade, Finns put themselves on an equal footing while retaining a friendly bilateral relationship. Finland now is boosting cross-border commercial ties and touting its potential as a commercial gateway to Russia. It has reassured Russia that it will not raise claims for Finnish territory seized by the U.S.S.R., and continues to reaffirm the importance of good bilateral relations.

Although the Karelian question in Finnish politics remains in the public debate, irredentists have persistently failed to gain support from the majority of the populace, political establishment or political parties.

Multilateral Relations

Finnish foreign policy emphasizes its participation in multilateral organizations. Finland joined the United Nations in 1955 and the European Union in 1995. As noted, the country also is a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace as well as an observer in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Western European Union. The military has been prepared to be more compatible with NATO, as co-operation with NATO in peacekeeping is needed, but military alliance does not have popular support.

In the European Union, Finland is a member of the Eurozone, and in addition, the Schengen treaty abolishing passport controls. 60% of foreign trade is to the EU. Other large trade partners are Russia and the United States.

Finland is well represented in the UN civil service in proportion to its population and belongs to several of its specialized and related agencies. Finnish troops have participated in UN peacekeeping activities since 1956, and the Finns continue to be one of the largest per capita contributors of peacekeepers in the world. Finland is an active participant in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and in early 1995 assumed the co-chairmanship of the OSCE’s Minsk Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Cooperation with the other Scandinavian countries also is important to Finland, and it has been a member of the Nordic Council since 1955. Under the council’s auspices, the Nordic countries have created a common labor market and have abolished immigration controls among themselves. The council also serves to coordinate social and cultural policies of the participating countries and has promoted increased cooperation in many fields.

In addition to the organizations already mentioned, Finland is a member of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the International Finance Corporation, the International Development Association, the Bank for International Settlements, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Council of Europe, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Finland has moved steadily towards integration into Western institutions and abandoned its formal policy of neutrality, which has been recast as a policy of military nonalliance coupled with the maintenance of a credible, independent defence. Finland’s 1994 decision to buy 64 F-18 Hornet fighter planes from the United States signalled the abandonment of the country’s policy of balanced arms purchases from Communist countries and Western countries.

In 1994, Finland joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace; the country is also an observer in the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. Finland became a full member of the European Union (EU) in January 1995, at the same time acquiring observer status in the EU’s defence arm, the Western European Union.

Relations with various countries

Generally, Finland has abided by the principle of neutrality and has good relations with nearly all countries, as evidenced by the freedom of travel that a Finnish passport gives.

Relations with United States

Relations between the United States and Finland are warm. Some 200,000 U.S. citizens visit Finland annually, and about 3,000 U.S. citizens are resident there. The U.S. has an educational exchange program in Finland that is comparatively large for a Western European country of Finland’s size. It is financed in part from a trust fund established in 1976 from Finland’s final repayment of a U.S. loan made in the aftermath of World War I.

Finland is bordered on the east by Russia and, as one of the former Soviet Union’s neighbours, has been of particular interest and importance to the US both during the Cold War and in its aftermath. Before the USSR dissolved in 1991, longstanding US policy was to support Finnish neutrality while maintaining and reinforcing Finland’s historic, cultural, and economic ties with the West. The US has welcomed Finland’s increased participation since 1991 in Western economic and political structures.

Economic and trade relations between Finland and the United States are active and were bolstered by the F-18 purchase. U.S.-Finland trade totals almost $5 billion annually. The U.S. receives about 7% of Finland’s exports — mainly pulp and paper, ships, machinery, electronics and instruments and refined petroleum products — and provides about 7% of its imports — principally computers, semiconductors, aircraft, machinery.

Relations with Sweden

Finland and Sweden have always had very close relations, resulting from shared history, numerous commonalities in society and politics, and close trade relations. A newly appointed Foreign Minister makes his first state visit to Sweden. Finnish politicians often consider Sweden's reaction to international affairs first as a base for further actions, and thus finally both countries often agree on such issues. If there has ever been any dissonance between the two countries those were the Åland question in the early 1920s and the Swedish neutrality during the Winter War.

Relations with Russia

Relations with Russia are peaceful. Finland imports a lot of goods and basic necessities, such as fuel, and the two nations are agreeing on issues more than disagreeing on them.

Finland was a part of the Russian Empire for 108 years, after being annexed from the Swedish empire. Discontent with Russian rule, Finnish national identity, and World War I eventually caused Finland to break away from Russia, taking advantage of the fact that Russia was withdrawing from World War I and a revolution was starting in earnest. Following the Finnish Civil War and October revolution, Russians were virtually equated with Communists and due to official hostility to Communism, Finno-Soviet relations in the period between the world wars remained tense. Voluntary activists arranged expeditions to Karelia (heimosodat), which ended when Finland and the Soviet Union signed the Treaty of Tartu in 1920. However, the Soviet Union did not abide by the treaty when they blockaded Finnish naval ships. Finland was attacked by the U.S.S.R. in 1939. Finland fought the Winter War and the Continuation War against the Soviet Union in World War II. During these wars the Finns suffered 90,000 casualties and inflicted severe casualties on the Russians (120,000 dead in the Winter War, 200,000 in the Continuation War) as compared to other nations such as Poland.

International organization participation

See also: Politics of Finland, Finnish diplomatic missions

See also


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