Opinion | How Canada helped bring Sweden and Finland into NATO

Three summers ago, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto was in Toronto for a conference on Ukraine reform attended by leading figures from nations around the world. Haavisto liked Toronto; he enjoyed the chance to hear President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the conference and get to know Justin Trudeau’s government a little better.

What Haavisto didn’t know then was that Canada and Ukraine would become a big part of his work in 2022, and that one of this minister’s legacy achievements could be to help bring his country into NATO, with some strategic assistance from its Canada. counterpart, Mélanie Joly.

Haavisto, a leading member of the Green League party, has twice run for president in Finland. He was not only the first openly gay candidate in the country’s history, but he was also the first man to seek such a job who opted for non-military service in Finland’s compulsory conscription program.

“I am a member of a Green Party and the Greens are a very peace-loving people, anti-military people in that sense, and our political party has never been pro-NATO,” Haavisto said in a telephone interview this week. .

However, everything changed on February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine. For some politicians, that has become a standard line in their foreign affairs speeches. For Haavisto, it’s more than a line. It is a profound truth, professional and personal.

“The morning of the 24th was like a shock. She felt like, ‘Uh-huh, it’s our generation. We’re in a war again,’” he said. “It’s that feeling that you’re waking up in a totally different world.”

Haavisto was not the only Finn to feel this way. The people of Finland are well aware of how close Russia is: the two countries share a 1,340-kilometre border, and in the days before the invasion, some seven million Finns and Russians crossed that border each year.

Before Russia’s hostile march on Ukraine, the vast majority of Finns, including the foreign minister, were unwilling to join NATO. Neutrality seemed a preferable approach. A poll taken a month before the invasion showed only 28 percent public support for the NATO option, with 42 percent against. In early March, that figure hit 48 percent and has only climbed ever since.

In mid-May, Prime Minister Sanna Marin was ready to announce that Finland “must apply for NATO membership without delay.”

Here in Canada, that was not a surprise. Quietly, more than a month earlier, Joly had dropped into Helsinki and dined with Haavisto and his officials to discuss this profound change in attitude toward NATO. It was at that dinner that things got under way for Joly and Canada to help Finland and Sweden accelerate their entry into NATO.

I spoke with Haavisto and Joly over the past week to get a sense of what was going on behind the scenes as Canada became an enthusiastic supporter of expanding NATO membership for Finland and Sweden.

This month, Canada boasted that it had become the first NATO country to ratify Finland and Sweden’s application for membership. Joly, who calls it “a friendly competition” for which he takes some credit, points out that Canada had laid the groundwork to be first. He consulted with opposition critics in advance, and the House of Commons voted unanimously in support of ratification in June (although Parliament’s approval was not technically required).

Other nations have jumped on the ratification bandwagon since Canada signed on (Denmark, Norway, Germany, Estonia and Iceland), but it could take up to a year to get all NATO members on board. There is still a question mark over whether Turkey’s approval, for example, will come with some kind of strings attached.

Joly believes that the importance of this NATO expansion cannot be overstated. For these “very progressive countries,” he says, it is “one of the biggest changes in their foreign policy in 50 to 100 years.”

Joly received some withering criticism earlier this year when he publicly spoke of Canada’s “convening power” on the world stage. To critics of the Trudeau government, it was seen as an admission of no power at all, or at least a confession of Canada’s weakness with respect to NATO.

But Haavisto says he and the Finnish government appreciated how Canada, and Joly in particular, convened talks on expanding NATO membership with other countries in the spring.

Canada, he said, provided “significant” assurance that Finland and Sweden would get the unanimous approval they need from NATO’s 30 member states, including Turkey, which has raised some objections, and that bureaucratic hurdles could be quickly overcome.

“Canada has been very consistently supporting us,” Haavisto says, noting, like Joly, that their shared interests as Arctic nations played a big role in the discussions.

Canada, like Finland and Sweden, is part of the Arctic Council, an eight-nation intergovernmental forum that also includes the United States and Russia. Due to the crisis in Ukraine, the council suspended cooperation until last month, when it announced that it would resume its work, without Russia.

“For us, Canada, it was critically strategic to have them (as members), because now, at this point, seven of the eight countries will be part of NATO,” Joly said.

Haavisto still talks to Joly quite often: “She’s always traveling,” he commented. She says that she has been busy trying to “keep up the momentum” behind this bid to get Sweden and Finland into NATO. Joly has been meeting with Turkey and several other NATO members in recent weeks, trying to gauge where potential problems and delays might arise.

In the meantime, however, Joly notes that Canada will already treat Finland and Sweden as permanent members. The three nations will also discuss what needs to be done in the Arctic to protect it from possible Russian aggression.

I asked Haavisto if Finland’s new support for NATO might wane in the long run, once the Ukraine crisis is over. If everyone, including the foreign minister, could change their minds so quickly, could pro-NATO sentiment disappear just as quickly?

No, Haavisto says. “This is not the temporary change. This is really a long-term change.”


Conversations are the opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of conduct. The Star does not endorse these views.

Leave a Comment