Risto Volanen in English


In March 18, 2010, I participated as a panelist in Washington Atlantic Council seminar on the U.S. Force Posture in Europe.

The other speakers were: Hank Allen, Andrzej Karkoszka, Klaus Naumann, Boyko Noev.

The panel was chaired by Ian Brzezinski.

Here are my first remarks, with some minor technical corrections.


I reprint this text because it still presents the major dynamic in the Northern Europe. Unfortunately the risks described in 2010 have more or less trigged as an escalation. Therefore, there is an urgency get them under control.  



“MR. VOLANEN:  I start from the Northern European or High North perspective.


President Dwight Eisenhower was mentioned here, that he would be in trouble if he knew that still American forces are in Europe. Well, the post WW II configuration for Northern Europe was very intelligent. So it guaranteed very stable environment and next to Soviet Union, one of the superpowers, next to its major city Leningrad and its major strategic asset of Murmansk, we were able to develop five modern Nordic welfare states, in very peaceful environments. So Dwight Eisenhower must be thanked very much.


But we are not now discussing about president Eisenhower. We are discussing about president Clinton because after the Cold War, it was President Clinton who redesigned the Northern European system which also is very stable as it stands now. It was in Helsinki in 1997 that President Clinton and President Yeltsin met each other and the agreement was found that the Baltic countries could join NATO and it was President Clinton who was the advocate of all these countries becoming NATO members, according to Asmus and some other sources.


So we have now relatively stable situation and a good configuration: Baltic countries members of European Union and NATO, Sweden and Finland are nonaligned countries, members of European Union, Finland still having very well-organized and relatively strong military structure - we never took our peace dividends. We still invest in general conscription army and it’s one part – constructive part of this whole setup.


So to discuss now seriously that the US should leave Europe in the sense that also forgetting all the commitments to the Baltic countries would be very alarming message from any discussion. So from our closest Nordic point of view, we highly respect the constructive role of NATO, U.S. commitment to Northern Europe. And from our point of view, this is also for Russia, a very stable solution.


So we should be all happy about that and not speculate about changing something of the fundamentals. One part of the Finnish policy is that we have excellent relations to Russia also. So we have had 200 years of relation of some kind of reset, reassurance combination, which has worked well.


The next point about High North is the Arctic. We haven’t mentioned it yet. Twenty years ago, I was with my friends in New York and we went to taxi. And we talked Finnish and taxi driver asked, where do you come from? We said, from Finland. And then he was silent. We asked, do you know where Finland is? He said, oh yes, of course, I know. You go to Soviet Union and you turn left.


But now with the ice melting on the – in the north, the whole just logistic system will change in 20, 30 years and the whole natural resource situation will change. So in a way, from the US perspective you must say now, if you go to Finland, so you go to North and you then turn right. We must combine now these new elements and Northern Europe is, in a way, not backyard but front yard to the United States and Russia. So the whole setup is changing in this sense.


Next point. Normally answers depend on what you ask. And if you ask, what is the most economic way to position your forces in the present world – having Afghanistan, having this and that and that – so for Europe the answer may be rational: Leave it; let’s forget it. But this is not the question.


The question is, how do we together manage this century – century of being obviously just in the beginning of major turmoils. We are less than 1 billion Americans, Europeans. There are 6 billion people together in the world – quite soon, 8 billion. We are 10 percent of the world population. We have had 200 years of this modernisation –  revolutions, world wars, many other turmoils. How can we think that the other civilisations would just make smoothly the development towards modernity? And then we have the whole climate change.


So the question is, how do we manage, how do we work together for this century? And here there are many instruments already available. The US telling that, you Europeans, you take care of your own business – would be a divorce in the face of something in which we need fundamental cooperation in the future.


Second point, Russia. If we are 10 percent of world population in 20 years, Russia is now 140 million people. Sooner or later Russians will recognize that they need friends. And sooner or later, reset policy will work. So this is the Finnish experience that you can manage, you can be firm and cooperative in the same time.


So sooner or later, there will be a partnership between Russia, Europe and the United States given the fundamentals of the challenges of this century. So this is the other aspect: We must integrate the reset policies and reassurance policies. If they are dealt separately, then it wouldn’t work.


And here we come to the next point and it is the situation why we need now, or why do you now talk about reassurance of some of the partners in Europe? Obviously, because of what happened after the Munich conference of 2007. I was there. I saw the shock of everybody when President Putin made the speech.


The Russians have felt that they have gone backwards and now it’s time to push back. And now there is a kind of push and push on the both sides. And we must manage this that this push wouldn’t develop a kind of virtual new dynamics of copying or imitating each other.


And here we come to the situation that the experience of Georgia and also the Estonia means that local situation matters. So you can’t just say that over there, we will go there if need be. Local situation matters and also numbers matter. How do we tailor such a policy that we reassure in the same time and also reset in the same time - and have a balanced process towards the questions needs that we need to answer together in this century.


And I remind also what Dr. Kissinger once said, that whatever the color of the century or the ideology, the best interest of the United States is that you take care that if some alliances take place on the Eurasian continent, United States will be there. If you just say that, you’ll take care of your own business, you’ll never know where you find yourself – we find ourselves in 50 years.


So conclusion, the Eurasian tectonic plates, they are now calm. But storms may come or, like they say, weather may change. But the other plates – tectonic plates in the world will be trembling and we must work together, all of us the US, Europe and Russia to manage this tremblance, which may come and unfortunately obviously will come. Thank you very much.


For me Julian Lindley-French is one of the broad minded, history conscious and new ways seeking commentators in today’s geopolitical net space. Therefore it has been a pleasure to follow and to agree or to disagree.


Now he has been in Moscow with conclusions: “The day has been dominated by what for most Europeans and North Americans are yesterday’s issues; NATO enlargement, the defunct Conventional Forces Europe treaty and that old favourite ballistic missile defence.”


Poor Russians do not understand their own interest and are completely out of track. And even worse: “The irony for me about today’s debate is that Russia’s inner Europe-Europe border with EU and NATO members is Moscow’s one stable border shared as it is with its main trading and economic partners. In other words to this friend of Russia Moscow’s stated intent of a stable Europe and the concerns it expresses simply do not add up.”


As much as this is true and a consensus in most of Europe and the traditional West it is also false in Northern Europe, next to Russia’s main assets St. Petersburg and Murmansk. It is in nobody’s interests, but in the shadow of the major global concerns of the major powers, a kind of frozen history of the 17the and 18 century has been relaunched in the Nordic-Baltic region or in the European High West.


The post Cold War Clinton-Jeltsin settlement of 1997 first seemed to work as decently as the post WW II settlement. And from the local perspective the first decade of this century seemed to be the best ever.


But then came the ballistic missile defence and Münich of 2007 followed by Tallin and Georgia. Followed president Obama’s redrafting of missile defense, reset and reassurance and then combined budget cuts and Asian pivot – all of them having their unnoticed side effects in the Nordic-Baltic region, like strengthening the historical russofobic trends.


The net local Nordic-Baltic effect has been a kind of emerging regional Water Glass Cold War ping pong without any major notice even from Julian Lindley-French. With or without master minds several local and more distant factors are translating themselves into a kind of Nordic-Baltic hybrid military network for many hopefully melting finally to Nato, if compared to the real life and its trends a fragile net standing on air.


For the US this may seem to be interesting and it is one more argument to make the savings in this corner of the world and forget the US Baltic policy after 1939 and 1997. For the Russians it does seem a Nato offensive pushing them back to the 1709 pre Pultava position - therefore meaning a need to increase their North-Western assets. With the US gone and the Russia up, the most obvious net effect being then finally traditional Western side vacuum and Russian domination in the European “High North”.


Before that there would be many shadow ping pong hits in nobody’s interest. So far the play has been in the hands of local government teams and the functional militaries of the major players. It is always nice to tell the political boss that the other side is bullish and I need more your attention.


Now it is time to take another look and to take the process under control so that Julian Lindley-French’ “main trading and economic partners” could do their job without historical concerns on any side around the Baltic or Scandinavia.




Risky “NATO’s Nordic Model”


There is a risky confusion in Magnus Nordeman’s column “How the Nordic Countries Are Quietly Leading Alliance into the Future”. And it is also echoed in Jorge Benitez’ report “NATO’s Nordic Model”. Recently Edward Lucas’ “A Nordic defensive shield” argued in the same way.


Nordeman first correctly reports the achievements of the Nordic countries in various fields. Their contributions in Afghanistan, Libya or even in Mali are described and thanked – with good reasons.


A Nordic observer is also happy to read about NATO’s Smart Defense and about the fact that “the Nordics have quietly been working under this approach for years under the label Nordic Defense Cooperation (NORDEFCO).” So far so good.


But Nordeman then goes on taking as given something he has been advocating: “This construct could potentially be a real model for NATO as it thinks through how to implement smart defense at a regional level, and how to work closely with partners….” Sweden and Finland “have signed on to participate in Icelandic air policing, although flying unarmed to satisfy the reservations of some Allies about having non-NATO countries participating in an Article V operation.”


First there was certain academic confusion between NATO’s cooperation with partners on the one hand and cooperation under Article V on the other. But now this loose wording has become a habit also on the highest political levels in the Nordic countries. And now this way of speaking has hit its first rock in the case of the Icelandic air policing operation.


With blue eyes first from Norway and then from Iceland, Sweden and Finland it was declared that the two partner countries should participate the Article V based real life Icelandic air policing. Any informed person could see how impossible it was from the outset. But against the fundamentals of diplomacy the two governments decided to be demandeurs and to hear the rejection from NATO itself.


In the Nordic-Baltic region the confusion between partners’ cooperation and Article V cooperation is increasing. Quite recently Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt said that Sweden will “not be neutral” if any of the Baltic states is attacked. With all respect, this is much said from a country disarming itself. The earlier formulation was that Sweden will “not remain passive”.


No wonder in this case the NATO realism was quite quickly communicated to Sweden by Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen of Norway: “it is uncertain whether Norway will help if Sweden is attacked because they are not members of NATO….”


It is true that Foreign Minister Bildt complemented his statement by saying that “Sweden is not looking to replace NATO or the cooperation the US has with the Baltic states”. But this is exactly the point.


Together with extensive member-partner exercises loose talk confusing partner cooperation and Article V cooperation is simply counterproductive to the Post Cold war stability in the Nordic-Baltic region. It creates expectations not only in the Nordic-Baltic countries but in the US and in Russia on what is now happening and what could happen in real life in future.


Loose talk like that of Nordeman’s can contribute misjudgments not only among analysts but also among political decision makers. At the time of austerity in the US military it gives an extra argument to leave the High North and Highest North stability to the hands of the imaginary Nordic-Baltic cooperation in a real situation. And at the time of booming Russian military economy, it gives an extra argument to Russia to counterbalance regionally against imaginary Nordic-Baltic “real model for NATO”. So the net effect could be shaking the stability reached at after the Cold War – complemented with the local cuts in defense budgets also helped by the loose talk confusing partners’ and Article V cooperation.


The Nordic-Baltic region risks to become a box of accidental side effects of major strategic decisions due to the complacent loose thinking and talk - and its small weight and complex geography or history.


However, it is important to recognize that the European High North and the Globe’s Highest North together are not just one detail among the others. The US commitments to the Baltic countries are not just some post WW II relics. It was from the beginning of the WW II in 1939 that the US committed to their independence. In 1997 president Clinton repeated the commitment through reaching an agreement with president Jeltsin on the NATO –membership of the Baltic countries. And on the real map of the Globe the Highest North linked to the European High North is next to home yard not only for Canada but also of for the US.


So, the better way to approach the Northern Europe and the Highest North is to take real map of the Globe. And to see that there the post Cold War commitments and stability based on them are continuously in everybody’s interest – also in the interest of the US and Russia.