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Finland Ambassador: Irish neutrality debate full of 'wrong notions' and 'false asumptions'

Raili Lahnalampi has served as Finland’s senior diplomat in Dublin since 2019.

THE DEBATE ON Irish neutrality has been full of “wrong notions” and false assumptions that Ireland would be forced to enter an EU army, the Finnish ambassador in Dublin has said. 

Raili Lahnalampi has served as Finland’s senior diplomat in Dublin since 2019. The career diplomat has worked in UN and OECD roles, including under-secretary of State. 

Her country is currently debating the merits of joining NATO as it faces down Russian aggression on its borders.

Finland and Ireland have many similarities including population size, a modern economy based on technology and a history of squabbling with a bigger neighbour to secure sovereignty. 

The Nordic nation of 5.5 million has traditionally been militarily non-aligned, in part to avoid provoking its eastern neighbour, with which it shares a 1,300 kilometre border.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February saw public support for joining NATO double from 30 to 60% according to a series of polls.

While Taoiseach Micheál Martin said his Government will host a debate on neutrality, Finland is well advanced on that debate and is now likely to join NATO.

269Taoiseach In Finland Taoiseach Micheal Martin with Sanna Marin Prime Minister of Finland during his visit to Finland earlier this month. GIS GIS

The Ambassador spoke to The Journal in recent days to give her country’s perspective on Irish concerns about national security. 

She said there are significant difficulties with the general public’s knowledge of national security issues not alone in Ireland but also back home in Finland.

The Finnish diplomat said that the previous debates around the Lisbon and Nice treaty in Ireland involved false assumptions.  

“I think it’s a totally wrong notion that has also been discussed here during some of the referendums. And in Finland, people [refer to] the EU army – I mean, there is no EU army, there’s not even a NATO army, every country has their own armies.

“So there’s lots of false assumptions, what it means to be a member of a club, so to speak.

“Also in Finland, [some] people don’t want us to be very active within the EU, [because of this] false assumption that there’s an EU army, and that’s where the money goes,” she said. 

Lahnalampi said that she did not believe that Ireland would pivot towards NATO membership but would participate in a more direct involvement in European Union security. 

“I think, in the Irish context, where I see the discussion going is that the EU will, of course, increase its defence and security capabilities… because Ireland is so EU positive, and you’re part of the EU. For that kind of cooperation, there will be an impact in the way you [are active] – you have been active but you will need to be more active in the EU level,” she said.

The ambassador said that Ireland is not in isolation from the threat of Russian aggression. 

She particularly noted the problem of cyber security and said that the threat of hybrid warfare, complete with attacks on major infrastructure, has come true for Ireland with the HSE ransomware incident.

Lahnalampi believes that a key area where Finland and Ireland have liaised in the past is in cyber security. She believes that both countries are in the “same boat”, having suffered and then improved cyber defences following Russian attacks.

Lahnalampi believes that Ireland will have no option but to join with other nations in a trans-European security apparatus. “I think, as we see it in Finland, it is that the whole security environment, security structure for Europe, if not globally, has changed,” she said.

“Russia is breaking international law, humanitarian law, human rights law. And in that sense, the big picture is exactly the same for Ireland and Finland, in particular, that none of us is militarily non-aligned [so] I would say that we are not alone – we don’t belong to a military alliance,” she explained.

But Finland, she said, diverges on the NATO membership debate and she feels that it is almost inevitable that her country will join the alliance. 

“We always said for many years in our white papers [Government defence planning documents] that we must decide if we want to join NATO or not.

“So that has been our mantra for the Russians for a long time and in a way it has been part of our security policy tools. So this is not so much a new thing – what is new is that the public opinion has changed quite a bit. So now we have over 60%, if not 68%, of people saying that they would like us to join NATO,” she said. 

Lahnalampi said she noted the beginning of a wider defence funding debate in Ireland following the publication of the Commission on the Defence Forces.  

The Commission membership included a Finnish representative, Esa Pulkkinen, who has served as director general of defence policy in the Finnish ministry of defence in 2011-2016 and again from 2020 to date.

leningrad-region-russia-26th-aug-2020-servicemen-take-part-in-a-seaborne-landing-exercise-on-gogland-island-in-the-gulf-of-finland-credit-peter-kovalevtassalamy-live-news Russian soldiers take part in a seaborne landing exercise on Gogland Island in the Gulf of Finland last year. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Ireland spends 0.2% of GDP on Defence while Finland spends five times that figure and also has a conscript army with a large reserve. 

The Ambassador believes that like Ireland, Finland has a history of fighting to achieve independence and sovereignty but that the Finns have always sought to fund that defence of sovereignty.  

Lahnalampi said the corner stone of this defence of the State rests in a “credible national defence”.

“We have, all the time, thought that if you are a non-military allied country, you have to be able to defend your sovereignty, your independence, to protect your citizens, and we have got our defence forces in a very fit condition to do this,” she explained. 

It remains to be seen when and if Finland does join NATO, but NATO officials have said that discussions between Finland and neighbour Sweden and NATO have gotten extremely serious since the invasion of Ukraine.