The German and Finnish defense ministers are meeting in Helsinki on Sept. 10 to discuss European security issues — which, of course, means Russia. Germany and Finland are two countries that remember the Cold War with a particular lack of fondness, but that have a choice about how to respond to Russia's current resurgence. Each is weighing the choice of whether to cooperate with Moscow or confront it — but either way, it is a decision they want to make together.
German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung traveled to the Finnish capital of Helsinki on Sept. 10 at the invitation of his Finnish counterpart, Jyri Hakamies, for a two-day working visit during which the two were expected to discuss European security issues. Jung is also set to meet with Finnish parliament speaker Sauli Niinisto and Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who also chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. At this moment in history, "European security issues" means more or less one thing: what to do about Russia. Following its war in Georgia in August, Moscow's power is visibly on the rise again after nearly two decades in which the West essentially treated Russia as if it were irrelevant. To Germany and Finland, however, Moscow's wishes are quite relevant. During the Cold War, both of them existed right on the interface between the Soviet Union and the West. Most European states have a clear-cut course of action in response to a rising Russia, but Berlin and Helsinki face a more complex choice: Do they make peace with Moscow at the risk of alienating Western allies, or do they choose confrontation with Russia and risk following a familiar and none-too-pleasant path? Both countries have unhappy memories of the Cold War, to say the least: Germany was divided and occupied, while Finland — which shares a long border with Russia proper — was allowed to determine its own economic and political system but was forbidden from exercising a foreign policy independent of Russia (it was, as the saying goes, Finlandized). After the fall of the Soviet Union, Germany was reunited under the aegis of NATO and the European Union, while Finland joined the EU with due dispatch and is in the process of getting approval for internally debating the value of NATO membership. Now, with Russian power on the upswing again, the two countries are unique among European nations in that they face a real choice between Russia and the West. They are well-integrated into Western institutions, and Germany in particular has something of a geographic buffer separating it from Russia, which gives it some room for maneuver if it should choose confrontation — though as history has already shown, it does not take Russian forces long to drive across the North European plain if they should choose to do so. (Most of the countries to Germany's east, meanwhile, will not be able to resist Russia without German help — though the idea of having German troops stationed in Poland might not exactly be a best-seller in Warsaw.) However, for both Germany and Finland, historical, geographical and economic links make cooperation with Moscow a genuine option — and possibly, depending on their assessment of Russia's prospects, a rational one. Should one should choose cooperation and the other choose confrontation, the latter would face the full fury of the Russian bear. This reality makes German-Finnish cooperation on the Russian question likely, whether accommodation or conformation is chosen. The lack of Western action in Georgia, despite weeks of fiery rhetoric, has raised once again the old Cold War question of whether U.S. security guarantees actually have any meaning when push comes to shove. While traumatized by the Cold War, the Finns and Germans have learned better than others how to deal with a resurgent Russia. They will not have a knee-jerk reaction either way, but rather a well-considered approach to dealing with the Kremlin. For the moment, however, Germany and Finland know that neither can confront Russia effectively if the other does not — hence the intense meetings in Helsinki. Whichever choice they make, they will need to make it together.