Courtesy of Yle     March 15, 2016

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves has warned Finland against getting complacent about the idea that it could quickly sign up for NATO membership in a crunch. In an Yle interview Ilves noted that many in Finland have the idea that if the country finds itself in a tight spot, it could join the military alliance.

Speaking on Yle’s Aamu-tv breakfast programme Tuesday, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves speculated that Finland’s path to possible NATO membership would be a winding one, if the country sought membership in a crisis. Ilves said that in such a case, Finland might not necessarily find support among all NATO members.

“The accession treaty would have to be accepted by the parliament of each member state. Many would probably think the timing is bad,” Ilves told Yle.

The Estonian President hinted at discussions on security policy that he’d had with many Finns.

Concerns about provocation

“Various people in Finland have said, ‘If the situation gets serious, then we will join NATO.’ And I would say to that, ‘Well, if the situation is that serious, there would be too many people saying, no no no, that would be too provocative an act, let’s not do that’,” Ilves noted.

According to Ilves, in 2003 Finland’s accession to NATO would have proceeded quickly, however it would be a different matter now, more difficult. He said if Estonia – already a NATO member – were to consider joining today, it would also be in the same position.

“If in this environment, Estonia was not a member of NATO and applied, no matter how good we are, or how well our military functions, or if we do our two percent of GDP [military spending] … I can guarantee there will be countries saying, ‘It’s too provocative, this is not the time, we should wait, we don’t want to scare the Russians.’ So when people say, ‘No, now’s not the time and we’ll wait until it gets really serious.’ It’s not automatic, you don’t just step in,” Ilves remarked.

Traditional opposition to NATO

Estonia became a NATO member on March 29, 2004. NATO membership has traditionally been a radioactive discussion topic in Finland with a majority of Finns opposing the idea.

An Yle poll conducted in October last year found little change in the status quo, with a majority – 55 percent – opposing membership, down only slightly from 58 percent in 2014.

The poll showed support for joining the military alliance at 22 percent, marginally lower than 26 percent in the previous year. However when respondents were asked about joining if Sweden joined NATO, support for the alliance increased to 35 percent, while opposition fell to 47 percent. Another 18 percent remained on the fence on that question.

Both Finland and Sweden signed a host nation support agreement with NATO in 2014 that provides assistance from alliance troops in emergency situations.