The enduring Finnish-American diplomatic relations is a tribute to the skilled statesmen from both countries who have served the interests of their nations with distinction.
There is a strategic geo-political explanation for the large U.S Embassy in Finland (US Embassy is the second largest embassy in Finland). Helsinki is about 110 km away from the Russian border. During the Cold War, Finland held a strategic position between two hostile blocks—U.S. and Soviet Russia. Finland was a “buffer zone” and a “military transit route.” Both sides cultivated the potential to use tactical nuclear weapons against targets in the Finnish territory, at least pre-emptively. Both sides engaged themselves in intensive intelligence activities in Finland and in the bordering areas.
The United States and Finland have enjoyed almost centennial years of cordial relations. Upon gaining independence from Russia in 1917, Finland sought diplomatic recognition from the United States. However, the Wilson administration, concerned about Finland’s political instability and ties with Germany, refrained from granting Finland diplomatic recognition until 1919.
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Finland was the only nation to continue to pay off its World War debts it owed the United States.
Relations between the United States and Finland reached the lowest point during World War II. The United States severed diplomatic relations with Finland in June 1944 but did not declare a war against Finland. However, once Finland signed an armistice with America’s allies in September 1944 and expelled the Germans from its territory, the United States appointed a U.S. representative to Finland. In 1945, the two nations re-established diplomatic relations.
After World War II, U.S.-Finnish ties was marked by renewed stability and increasing cooperation. Finland pursued a strict policy of neutrality. The United States, acutely aware of Finland’s precarious geographical position, supported Finland’s neutrality and promoted policies that would not provoke Soviet retaliation. It also endorsed Finland’s independence and democratic institutions. U.S.-Finnish relations focused on economic assistance and expansion of trade.
Following World War II, Finland embarked upon a foreign policy of neutrality. Their policy sought cooperation with the East and the West. Known as the “Paasikivi-Kekkonen line” after 1945, it was meant to convince the Soviet Union that Finland had no intentions of undertaking foreign policies that were deemed dangerous to Soviet interests to avert possible future Soviet aggression against Finland.
Finland’s cautious and realistic foreign policy was successful. Finland maintained working relationships with the Soviet Union and its communist allies but also cultivated expanded contacts with the West. It carefully steered toward membership in the Nordic Council and admission to the United Nations in 1955.
The U.S. Embassy had a large and efficient Military Attaché department following WWII. Many of their officers spoke Finnish. A secret report of the Finnish general staff counter-intelligence department stated in 1953 that the one of the main tasks of the western Military Attachés was to study Finland as a future combat area.
The narrowest area, the “waist” of Finland, interested Americans and Soviet Russia. The Russians were not interested in the southern part of Finland. They were interested in the area where the distance between NATO and Soviet Union was the shortest, namely, northern Finland. This area was also of great interest to Americans.
NATO had regarded Finland as an area not possible to defend and it worried that Finland as a country was cooperating too closely with the Russians. NATO suspected that Soviet troops could cross northern Finland in about one week. Even if Finns resisted a Soviet Russian attack, they would be forced to retreat toward the south and not the west. The Western line of defense was drawn between Finland and the Scandinavian peninsula.
Washington became positively disposed towards Finnish armed forces by the 1970s for several reasons. The Americans were impressed by the Finns’ fighting will and ability. The military officers in Finland were western-minded. More importantly, ordinary Finns were patriotic and anti-Communist. The educated guess was that, in the event of a war, the Finns would fight with the west against the Soviets. According to U.S. military experts, there would be no resistance worth mentioning from the Finnish side if American troops entered Finland.
2017 will mark the centennial celebrations between United States and Finland. United States is considered the leading protagonist in higher education, while Finland is considered the world leader in rendering top quality basic/elementary education for its youngsters. There are synergy benefits to be realized from close co-operation in education between the two countries.
Helsinki, August 29, 2016