FINLAND`S POSITION IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS

Speech given at the National Press Club, Washington, 17 October 1961

I am pleased to have this opportunity of meeting so many representatives of the American Press, which plays such a vital role in the public life of this country and whose influence and responsibilities extend far beyond the borders of the United States. This Club is known throughout the world, and I regard it as a privilege to be invited to address its members.

I am aware of the fact that in recent times you have seldom had occasion to write about Finland. Since the days of the Second World War Finland has hardly ever been front-page news. We Finns have no reason to be upset about this. For as you know, we wish to stay out of the conflicts and controversies of the big powers, and no nation that succeeds in doing so has much news value these days. The lack of publicity is indeed an indication of the success of Finnish neutrality.

I have heard it said that neutrality has been imposed upon us. This is not so. It is a way of solving our problem of security that has its roots in our history, and it reflects, I believe, a realistic appraisal of our national interests and possibilities and a true understanding of our position in the world today.

Allow me at this point to remind you briefly of some of the events and facts that have shaped Finland`s present position.

At the end of the last world war, Finland was a crippled nation. In addition to the heavy human toll of the wars, we had lost one tenth of our territory, and the entire population of the ceded areas, more than 400,000 people, had to be resettled. We had undertaken to pay a war indemnity which economic experts considered exceeded our capacity to pay. Few people in this country or elsewhere at that time had much confidence in our ability to survive as an independent nation -- not to speak of the re-establishment of Finnish neutrality.

Of all the European countries involved in the war, Finland was, besides England and the Soviet Union, the only one which averted foreign occupation. Our political institutions were still intact, and in an essential sense we had regained control over our own destiny. What was perhaps even more important, the Finnish people in this difficult situation demonstrated their faith in the future. They worked hard to rebuild the country and to pay the war indemnity -- goods worth more than half a billion dollars were delivered to the Soviet Union in eight years. They also had the toughness of mind needed to learn from the lessons of experience.

We had seen that Finland could ignore the vital security interests of the Soviet Union only at her peril. We had also found that we could not seek security from protection by others. As an outpost of an anti-Soviet coalition Finland would always be the first to be overrun, yet without the power to affect decisions on war and peace. Neutrality, too, was without value, as we had experienced, unless others had confidence in it.

We needed a new look in foreign policy, and this was provided by the leadership of my great predecessor, J. K. Paasikivi. His line continues to guide us today. It means, in essence, that we must convince the Soviet Union that her security in no circumstances can be threatened through Finland. We desire to live next to the Soviet Union -- to quote the United Nations Charter -- in peace as good neighbours. In this, I believe, we have succeeded. There are no outstanding issues between Finland and her great neighbour today. Our relations are friendly and normal. And I am convinced they will remain so, because this relationship is based on the firm foundation of mutual interest.

The basic features of Finnish-Soviet relations are defined in our Treaty of Friendship of 1948. In it Finland undertakes not to permit her territory to be used as a base or a route of aggression against the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union on its part recognizes Finland`s desire to stay outside the conflicts of interests between the big powers -- that is, our neutrality.

We are determined to fulfil our commitments in all circumstances. We are equally determined to maintain our neutrality, as we have done in the past. It has been a source of deep satisfaction that our neutral policy has gained wide recognition. When I visited Britain last May, Prime Minister Macmillan expressed his Government`s understanding of Finland`s policy of neutrality. President Kennedy on his part stated in the communique issued at the conclusion of our discussions yesterday that the United States will scrupulously respect Finland`s chosen course. Such statements are appreciated in Finland.

The present international situation has features that perhaps could best be explained or at least analysed by way of paradox. Let me present the Finnish paradox as follows:

Normally it would seem that when in a border country between West and East the influence of the Western world is on the increase, the influence of the East would correspondingly diminish. And in reverse, if the influence of the Eastern world grows, the West must retreat. Finland is one of the countries on the border of West and East. But in our case, the better we succeed in maintaining the confidence of the Soviet Union in Finland as a peaceful neighbour, the better are our opportunities for close co-operation with the countries of the Western world. For example, in 1955, the Porkkala base, leased to the Soviet Union by virtue of the Armistice Agreement of 1944, was returned to us. In the same year Finland joined the Nordic Council as fifth member. Another example is the fact that in 1960 Finland decided to associate herself with the European Free Trade Association. But we have also found that when mutual confidence between Finland and the Soviet Union for some reason is impaired and suspicions arise, we must in our interest contract our sphere of activity in our relations with the Western world.

As you see, the task of guiding our policy of neutrality in a world of paradoxes is difficult, yet fascinating.

Neutrality, as I have said, is a way of solving our security problem. It is not an ideological attitude. I have complete faith in the lasting strength of Finnish democracy, based on respect for the individual and the idea of freedom under law. And if anyone has any doubts of the vitality of our democratic institutions, let him go to Finland now to have a look at the vigorous presidential campaigning taking place there.

Our political institutions, our legal system and social structure are similar to, and in some respects identical with, those of the other Scandinavian nations with whom we also share an historical and cultural tradition. Scandinavian cooperation, therefore, has a natural basis -- it is really a habit that we take for granted. The borders between the Scandinavian states are as friendly and open as the one between the United States and Canada. Passports have been abolished and a common labour market is in operation. In the social and cultural fields a high degree of integration has been achieved. It is true that on the vital issue of security Scandinavia has divided: Norway, Denmark and Iceland are members of NATO, Sweden and Finland are neutral. But this does not prevent the foreign ministers of the five countries from meeting regularly twice a year to exchange views and discuss common problems, and more often than not they find themselves agreeing on international problems. There is what I would like to call a Scandinavian point of view on world affairs that transcends differences of foreign policy.

With the United States, too, Finland has a long tradition of friendship. Hundreds of thousands of Finns have chosen this country as their new homeland.

Cultural exchanges between our two countries have never been so lively as they are today, thanks largely to the wideranging scholarship programmes established by the United States Congress. As you may know, the repayments Finland continues to make on the loan we received from the United States after the First World War are now being used to finance the exchange of scholars and students between our two countries. I know that loan has made Finland famous. But we Finns would not wish this to be regarded as an exceptional or unique achievement. The strict fulfilment of all our commitments and contracts is the cornerstone of our foreign policy. For a small nation that maintains a neutral position international confidence is an essential asset.

Since the Second World War we have received many valuable loans from this country, from the World Bank and other countries. They have helped us to rebuild and develop our economy. But let me make it quite clear that we have not received any aid in grants, nor are we asking for such assistance, either here or anywhere else. We do continue to seek foreign loans, but every cent will be paid back with interest, as has been done in the past.

The great economic progress that has taken place in Finland since the lean years of the nineteen forties has rewarded the faith of the Finnish people in their future. The volume of industrial production today is about two and a half times what it was in 1938. The rate of industrial growth in the past ten years has averaged almost seven per cent annually, and national income per capita last year exceeded one thousand dollars. This may seem modest by American standards; by international standards it provides a standard of liivng that is surpassed in relatively few countries.

The prosperity of Finland depends decisively on foreign trade: More than 30 per cent of our national income is derived from exports. We thus have a vital interest in the free flow and continued expansion of international trade. In March this year Finland concluded an agreement of association with the European Free Trade Association in order to safeguard her position in the markets of its members, above all in Britain, which is our biggest customer. In view of the fact that two thirds of our exports go to Western Europe, it is natural that we follow with intense interest the developments in that area, so as to maintain our trading interests there. But we are equally interested in maintaining and developing our trade with other areas, including the Soviet Union and the United States.

I have touched upon some of our achievements and our problems. No doubt other points will come up with your questions. But before I conclude I should like to remind you of the words of a great American statesman, which I think have special relevance in this connection. George Washington, in his Farewell Address, advised the young American Republic to exclude permanent, inveterate hostility against particular nations and passionate attachments to others. He exhorted his fellow countrymen not to implicate themselves, by artificial ties, in combinations and collisions of other states, to extend their commercial relations without political connections and to fulfil their engagements with perfect good faith. `Observe good faith and justice toward all nations,` he said, `cultivate peace and harmony with all.` These thoughts fit with great precision the principles Finland endeavours to apply to her relations with other nations. And, when you observe what Finland does or fails to do, I should hope that you would keep in mind that in all circumstances our policy has but one single purpose: to safeguard and to further our independence, our liberty and our democracy.