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Finlandization is fine

By Bruce Walker
web posted May 12, 2003

Last week I wrote again about Balkanization, the bane of every diplomatic dilettante. The week I address Finlandization, the bane of every national security advisers since 1945. The term refers to the political position of Finland, which adopted a formal policy of not opposing the Soviet Union after the defeat of its military forces in the Second World War.

Austria, which had also fought the Soviet Union as part of the Greater Reich during the Second World War, adopted the same general policy, albeit not as formal, as Finland. Austria was a neutral democracy, but it did not support American positions against the Soviet Union.

Without NATO, we were constantly warned during the Cold War, the other democracies of Europe - especially West Germany, Italy and France - might become "Finlandized." As a consequence of this threat, Cold War policy was to provide conventional forces and tactical nuclear forces, along with the American close involvement in NATO, to insure that the Soviet Union could not dominate these European democracies.

Like the military doctrine of strategic bombing during the Second World War, the political doctrine of preventing Finlandization "worked" in the sense that the good guys won the Cold War. But even during the critical decades of the 1960s and 1970s, Finlandization had serious flaws.

Begin with the fact that Finland and Austria were perfectly good nations. They had open societies, true democracies, genuine neutrality, prosperous economies and good relations with the United States. The concession these small nations made to not offend Moscow did not mean hostility toward Washington.

Finland and Austria were generally nicer to us than our nominal allies. No American troops were in either nation. We did not make many requests of either democracy, and those we made were handled fairly. If every nation after the Second World War had been like Finland and Austria, the world would be a much safer and happier place.

Another problem with Finlandization was the automatic assumption that big nations separated from the Soviet Union would act the same as small, neutral nations adjacent to the Soviet Union (like Finland) or landlocked and almost surrounded by communist nations (like Austria).

Yugoslavia, a communist nation outside the Warsaw Pact, was quite independent of Moscow in many ways. Tiny communist Albania, which was safely nestled between Yugoslavia and Greece, also defied Moscow. Access to the sea, along with some buffering nations between the Evil Empire, did wonders to inspire independence.

Even more telling was how the two neutral democracies west of Finland and Austria behaved. Sweden was defiantly neutral and socialist in outlook, but it had a very capable military which had been one of the principal reasons that Hitler left the Swedes alone. Switzerland, fastidiously neutral, had a National Guard whose expert marksmen were prepared to make a fierce defense of Swiss territory, again something that stayed the hand of Hitler.

These two neutrals were peaceful, democratic, prosperous and unthreatening to America. Sweden, of course, was a major thorn in our side during the Cold War - constantly digging and poking at us - but always in diplomatic or political ways, never in military or economic ways. Our NATO allies were much more likely to be "Swedenized" than "Finlandized" if we had left them to their own devices after 1960.

This would have meant that Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, Dutch, Danes and Belgians would not defend America, but it would have meant that these nations would have been responsible for defending themselves. The reality, of course, is that these "allies" were allies only in the sense that they tolerated our attempts to defend them.

These nations, along with Canada and Japan, simply did not carry any of the burden of resisting communism or other forms of anti-Americanism elsewhere in the world. Moreover, these nations spent very little money defending themselves in Europe. West Germany spent more of its GNP on national defense than any of our other allies in NATO "allies." Yet West Germany, which was immediately threatened by the Warsaw Pact, spent much less of its GNP on defense than America, which was invulnerable to any threat short of global, thermonuclear war.

During this period the notion of "winning" a nuclear war was anathema to the Left, but reality was somewhat different. If the Soviet Union had begun a strategic nuclear war against the United States with the aim of military victory, the military victory would certainly have been achieved by America, not Russia.

Why? Only one major military force was certain to survive as an effective force: the United States Navy, which could travel in any direction thirty miles an hour in the middle of the world's oceans. This navy, as several wars have shown, can also strike enemy forces without bases in Europe and can achieve command of the sea.

There was no military reason to keep Europe and Japan safe from war, and there was no military reason to protect these nations with conventional forces. Germany, Japan and France had already demonstrated prowess at military science. Each had a industrial base comparable to that of the Soviet Union, with technology at least as advanced. Each could have configured a military policy like Sweden or Switzerland: we will never attack you under any circumstance, but if you attack us, we will fight fiercely with well equipped, well trained and large national guards.

The Swedenization or Switzerlandization of Germany would have created a military hornet's nest which Moscow would probably never have challenged, particularly if Germany strived to have friendly relations with the Kremlin. If the other democracies, like France and the Lowlands had supported this neutral Germany, then the economic muscle of this combination was greater than that of the whole Soviet Empire.

In the Pacific Region, Japan had shown itself to be exceptionally good at naval warfare. As an archipelago, it was vulnerable to blockade or invasion, both of which could have been stopped by a robust navy. France had nuclear weapons and Italy was a significant industrial power. The affluent, free and scientifically advanced major democracies had the power of self-defense.

And even if these nations would not defend themselves, America could do that without using large, expensive, intrusive conventional forces. America simply needed to announce that as soon as Warsaw Pact forces crossed into Germany, Italy, Greece or Japan, that American theater nuclear forces (operating from aircraft carriers, cruise missiles, or other international areas) would systematically and thoroughly destroy the logistical and support forces for this invasion all of which would have been located in Warsaw Pact nations outside of the Soviet Union.

America could have made guaranteed that, under no circumstances except Soviet nuclear attack on America, would America use nuclear weapons against Soviet territory. This would have meant that the territories Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary - indispensable to any Communist invasion of the NATO nations - would have suffered from nuclear attacks against every Warsaw Pact military target in their nations, if a hot war began. This might have killed many civilians, but not Soviet citizens or cities.

The reasons why America did not choose this foolproof method of protecting America from the dangers to its interests in the Europe should have been clear to Europeans: Americans did not want Germans, Poles, Czechs, Danes, Hungarians, Dutch, Italians, Rumanians, Belgians and, yes, even Frenchmen.

What about the threat of communism gaining power politically in European democracies through the menace of Soviet power? The French Communist Party routinely gained one quarter of the votes in French elections and the Italian Communist Party at times was the second biggest party in Italy, but what exactly would their victory mean to Moscow?

Communism in practice is always vicious and insular nationalism. The value of the Stalinist Communist Party of France was that it compromised French national interests at the expense of Russian national interests. If the communist party gained in France, then it would become less receptive to orders from Moscow and more independent, like Tito in Yugoslavia, whose polyglot nation was never invaded by the Red Army because the Yugoslavian Army would shoot back.

France, in particular, would be a problem because it has long had a separate nuclear deterrence and it has access to the Atlantic Ocean. It is not hard to imagine a Communist France forming common purpose with Communist China to thwart Communist Russia.

But the Kremlin would certainly dread most a communist political victory in the Federal Republic of Germany. That would end any justification for dividing Germany, and the new totalitarian Germany would be soon become a competitor for the allegiance of Yugoslavia, Rumania and Albania - all nations that kept Russian soldiers out - and over time Communist Germany would compete with throughout Europe.

Tension among the nations of the Eurasian land mass has also provided a measure of safety for Anglo-America, and communism triumphant in Europe would have probably been no different. Consider how much trouble Poland caused Russia, and it was surrounded by Warsaw Pact satellites, its intelligentsia and leadership had been exterminated, and it was smaller in population and wealth than Germany, France or Italy.

So who were the beneficiaries of America's decades of treasure and danger invested to protect the rich democracies of Europe? Not, really, America. Britain benefitted, to some extent, but it is difficult to conceive of an actual conventional invasion of Britain, and a bilateral alliance with America would have made this an impossible military task for the Soviets.

Some of the beneficiaries were the captive nations within the Soviet Union - the Turkomen, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and other peoples pulled back into the old Tsarist imperial regime. These people had no say in strategic policy, although their leaders had a bit of control. American interests in not holding these peoples hostage protected them in a way that Soviet or Warsaw Pact policy could not.

Some of the beneficiaries were the peoples of the Soviet Union, not only the Great Russians, who lived within a savage state, but also the Ukrainians and Lithuanians and other captive peoples within the Soviet Union who had even less say in Soviet policy than the Great Russian people.

The greatest beneficiaries, however, were the affluent Europeans, who had so often in prior centuries demonstrated stout martial skills, but who found these somehow droll when used to honorably defend themselves from oppressors (rather than grabbing a snippet of the Jutland peninsula or the Italian-speaking island of Corsica).

To these peoples - perhaps the most ungrateful in history - we should simply say "farewell." Let them learn to defend their freedoms in a Eurasian landmass that will be volatile for generations. America should make limited commitments and only to those worthy: Israel, Britain, Poland, and perhaps Spain and Italy and some sincere well-wishers in the liberated lands of the Warsaw Pact, but these should be old-fashioned bilateral agreements.

Aside from these few friends, we should announce that Finlandization is just fine with us. Americans had simply assumed that when our young men died on the beaches of Normandy or posted duty for decades in West Germany, that this generous sacrifice would be reciprocated. Obviously, we were wrong.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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