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Potential Finnish Nato bid steers discussion to nuclear weapons

Finland may need to grapple with its stance on nuclear weapons as Nato discussions unfold.

Princetonin yliopiston simulaatio ydinsodasta
Princeton University has developed a simulation of a possible nuclear war between the United States and Russia. Image: Princetonin yliopisto
Yle News

Finland's ongoing political discussion around Nato accession has turned to the question of nuclear weapons and warfare.

On Saturday Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) said any potential Finnish bid to join Nato would have to be made before summer.

A key component of Nato's collective defence is nuclear weapons, which is intended to raise the stakes for any would-be aggressor.

Finland included in Nato's missile defence

As a member of the alliance, Finland would join Nato's missile defence.

Professor Tommi Koivula from the National Defence University told Yle that threatening Finland with nuclear weapons and other missiles would be a much more difficult prospect if Finland were a member of Nato.

"No physical structures would be built on Finnish territory, but Finnish airspace surveillance and management networks would be integrated into Nato's air operations management system. In that case, anti-aircraft missiles from allies could, if necessary, operate in Finnish airspace," Koivula said.

Russia has already said it would take Finnish Nato membership into its military planning. According to Koivula, this may list Finland as a target in Russian missile systems.

He said Nato membership would not alter Finland's existing defence system, particularly conscription. Instead of being an alternative to conscription, nuclear deterrence would be another layer within Finland's defence apparatus, according to Koivula.

While Nato does not have any nuclear weapons of its own, its member states France, the United Kingdom, and the United States possess their own nuclear arsenals.

These three powers' independent arsenals serve as the foundation for Nato's collective nuclear deterrence according to Matti Pesu, a senior researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA).

"When acting against Nato, Russia always has to take into account the risk that a conflict will escalate into a situation where nuclear weapons are used. Even if the opportunity is small, the risk of nuclear weapons always exists," Pesu stated.

The US stationed nuclear weapons in Europe during the 1950s and there are an estimated 100 weapons still placed in Europe, although their exact locations are not officially reported.

Additionally, all 30 Nato members cooperate in nuclear policy through the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG).

The nuclear deterrent of Nato membership brings Finland both security and risks, Koivula added.

Finland's choices?

In possible Nato membership negotiations, Finland would be asked about its attitude towards nuclear weapons.

Pesu considers it certain that the question of whether or not Finland will host nuclear weapons on its own soil will not be addressed during membership negotiations. Through its own legislation, Finland could rule out the possibility of hosting nuclear weapons within its territory.

Member countries share information and cooperate to formulate Nato's nuclear weapon doctrine, according to Koivula.

"Membership in Nato would bring responsibilities through the nature of being involved in these efforts. Finland should certainly participate in these efforts," explained Koivula.

Koivula mentioned that there is a wide variety of ways in which Finland could participate in Nato's nuclear deterrence. Finland would also have no military obligation to support peacetime nuclear weapons operations.

"For example, an individual member state may offer its aircraft to escort Nato aircraft carrying nuclear weapons or use its own aircraft for transport," Koivula clarified.

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