A Better Year? Looking Back at Finland’s First Year with NATO

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A year ago, Finland ended its long-held policy of neutrality to join NATO as its 31st member, signaling a significant shift in its foreign and security policy stance.

This move marked Helsinki’s departure from its post-World War II diplomatic strategy aimed at maintaining amicable relations with Moscow.

The catalyst for Finland’s alignment with NATO was Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This aggressive act convinced Finnish policymakers and the majority of its citizens that joining NATO was a necessary measure to prevent a potential Russian invasion of Finland

Is finland really the happiest country in the world?

Finland’s status as the happiest country in the world was covered in an article by Gript on April 4. The article questions Finland’s status, contrasting it with Ireland’s declining happiness ranking.

It highlights Finland’s challenges, including high rates of intimate partner violence, workplace harassment, and mental health issues such as depression and drug-related fatalities. The methodology of the World Happiness Report has been criticized, suggesting that factors like GDP per capita do not accurately measure individual happiness.

It also challenges the self-reported nature of happiness surveys, questioning their reliability. The article suggests that these metrics may not accurately capture the complexities of individual happiness and societal well-being.

Furthermore, the article discusses Finland’s mental health challenges, particularly concerning its youth population. High suicide rates, drug-related fatalities, and increasing rates of depression and anxiety paint a more nuanced picture of Finland’s societal well-being, contrasting with its image as a happy nation.

Finland: From Partner to Ally

Finland has been a NATO partner since 1994. Since its status changed to a full ally last year, Finland is already showing itself to be a capable ally. NATO remains popular in Finland, with approximately 89% of the population supporting the Alliance. The Finnish government is hitting NATO’s 2% benchmark of spending on defense and anticipates hitting 2.3% in 2024, its contributions to Ukraine not included. Finland has one of the largest wartime strengths in NATO with 280,000 troops, and around 900,000 people out of a total population of 5.5 million have had military training. In historical terms, Finland has a fighter per capita ratio equivalent to ancient Sparta. As a new ally, Finland participated in a series of firsts in the last year–its first NATO Defense Ministers meeting, NATO Foreign Affairs Meeting, and its first NATO Summit. These are critical first steps into deepening Finland’s cooperation with NATO.

Finland is already keen to showcase its capabilities and know-how. Hosted by the Nordic countries, Finland, Norway and Sweden, 20,000 soldiers began exercises as part of the Steadfast Defender series, NATO’s largest military exercise in decades. Finland participated in cyber defense training with the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden and the United States in Rovaniemi during Exercise Nordic Response 24. For the last year, Finland has emphasized the necessity for Sweden’s NATO accession to conclude. Finland’s full potential as a NATO Ally has yet to be realized due to the delay of its sister–Sweden–in joining the alliance. Sweden is Finland’s closest ally in security and defense policy, and together they dramatically reshape the Alliance approach to the high north and the Baltic Sea region.​ Finland has stepped up its participation in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing since joining NATO. Finland’s Air Force led the Arctic Challenge 2023 exercises, consisting of 150 aircraft. It was also announced the Finnish navy and air force would participate in NATO peacetime missions, with Defense Minister Häkkänen stating: “Finland’s participation in NATO’s collective peacetime missions and the organisation of NATO exercises in the territory of Finland, for example as part of Steadfast Defender 24, are concrete examples of what Finland’s membership in NATO means in practice.”

“Nato represents freedom to choose”

Thursday also marks the 75th anniversary of Nato’s founding, which will be celebrated on a larger scale at the Nato summit in Washington next July. Late Wednesday, the alliance held its first ministerial meeting with Sweden as a full member.

Swedish foreign minister Tobias Billström took part in the meeting in Brussels after the country became Nato’s 32nd ally last month. Finland and Sweden applied to join simultaneously in May 2022, but Sweden’s application was blocked for months by Turkey and Hungary. “Nato represents the freedom to choose,” Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen (NCP) said at the meeting. “Democratic nations, free people chose to join, unlike how Russia expands its by aggression or by illegal annexation,” she added.

Finland at Year Two in NATO

What will year two in NATO look like for Finland? As a new member, Finland has been extraordinarily forward leaning and is quickly assimilating itself into Alliance structures, customs and formats. Finland has dramatically increased its knowledge on nuclear deterrence in a remarkably short timespan. The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, now in its third year, will remain a grave security threat for NATO and Finland. As talks of Russia being able to reconstitute its armed forces within 2-5 years and its potential to target Western bases supporting Ukraine, the next few years for Euro-Atlantic security are full of uncertainty.

In terms of next steps in the Alliance, the question of whether Finland will host a NATO Centre of Excellence remains unanswered. The current government of Finland suggested they were open to welcoming a specialized NATO center–there are 28 accredited today across the Alliance (2 are pending accreditation) that focus on various elements of security from energy to strategic communications. NATO’s Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) announced two new test centers and an accelerator in Espoo and Oulu. More announcements on additional centers coming to Finland will be expected in the years ahead, further enmeshing the Nordic country in the defensive alliance.

12 Comments
  1. LenaSmith12 says

    Finland made a wise decision by joining NATO to ensure its security in the face of potential Russian threats. The country’s shift from neutrality signifies a proactive approach to safeguarding its interests in a volatile geopolitical landscape.

  2. EmilySmith87 says

    Finland’s decision to join NATO was a bold and necessary step in the face of Russia’s aggression. It’s crucial for the country’s security and stability.

  3. EmilySmith says

    I believe Finland made the right decision to join NATO, especially after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ensuring security is crucial in today’s world, and aligning with NATO was a necessary step for Finland’s defense.

  4. Emily87 says

    While Finland may have its challenges, it’s important to consider the broader context and not just rely on rankings. Happiness is a complex and subjective concept, and factors like mental health and societal well-being play a significant role. Finland’s alignment with NATO reflects its commitment to security amidst evolving geopolitical threats.

  5. AlexaSmith123 says

    Is Finland really the happiest country in the world?

    1. DavidJohnson456 says

      Finland may be ranked as the happiest country, but as highlighted in the article, there are significant challenges regarding mental health, workplace harassment, and intimate partner violence. It’s essential to consider the complexities beyond the rankings and prioritize addressing these issues for genuine well-being.

  6. JennaSmith23 says

    Does Finland’s decision to join NATO indicate an escalating tension with Russia, or was it solely a defensive move to ensure its security?

    1. ChrisBrown88 says

      Finland’s decision to join NATO was primarily a defensive move to ensure its security in light of Russia’s aggressive actions, rather than an indication of escalating tension. By aligning with NATO, Finland aims to protect its sovereignty and maintain stability in the region.

  7. EmilySmith87 says

    Finland’s decision to join NATO was a bold but necessary step given the current geopolitical climate. The shift away from neutrality shows a commitment to ensuring the country’s security and stability in the face of potential threats. It’s commendable that Finland is taking proactive measures to protect its interests and align itself with like-minded nations.

  8. AlexJohnson82 says

    Do you think Finland’s decision to join NATO has significantly impacted their national security?

    1. JuliaSmith79 says

      Yes, I believe Finland’s decision to join NATO has indeed significantly impacted their national security. By aligning with NATO, Finland has strengthened its defense capabilities and formed closer ties with other member states, enhancing its ability to deter potential threats. This move has underscored Finland’s commitment to ensuring its security in the face of evolving geopolitical challenges.

  9. SarahJohnson82 says

    Is the shift in Finland’s foreign policy towards NATO really proving to be beneficial for the country’s security and stability?

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