Foreign Policy in the World’s Happiest Country: An Insight

Finland’s Foreign Minister shares the Nordic country’s unique strategic engagement

Pekka Haavisto at the Manama Dialogue. (Image Courtesy: IISS/Flickr)

Over the weekend of 19th to 20th of November, Talking Foreign Affairs covered the 2022 Manama Dialogue held in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Being held annually since 2004, the forum brings together leading government ministers, policy makers as well as members from civil groups and business communities to discuss the major security and foreign policy challenges in the Middle East. The event is considered the premier security summit of the region.

On the sidelines of the event, Talking Foreign Affairs’ Founder Adil Cader was able to meet various Senior Government Officials for interviews, one of the most notable guests being Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. TFA had a quick interview with Minister Haavisto, where he shared his valuable reflections on the unique features of Finnish Foreign Policy- guided by a regard for human rights, peace mediation and disarmament. Click here to listen to the full interview and read the transcript.

During the course of the interview, Mr. Haavisto also opened up on Finland’s accession to NATO, clean energy diplomacy, the idea of Nordic cooperation, and the outreach and engagement with the Gulf. This was bound to be an interesting insight into a country that has consistently ranked 1st in the annual World Happiness Report.

Minister Haavisto has been Finland’s Foreign Minister since 2019 and a member of the Finnish Parliament as a representative of the Green League. He has been well known for his creative inclusion of environmental action in Foreign Policy, something he gained with his previous work, having led UN Environment Programme research groups.


Gulf Relations             

The Minister opens up about his experience from the Dialogue, highlighting the various interventions and public debates. He adds that the composition of attendees makes the security summit more inclusive and richer in discourse, with contribution from not just respected leaders, but also other stakeholders who bring in an academic as well as practical viewpoint. The Minister described his experience as “extremely interesting” and “very useful”.

The Dialogue’s nativity adds to its strategic importance. The Minister remarks that Helsinki shares good bilateral relations with all the Gulf countries. He adds that Finland recently opened a new embassy in Doha and has also reopened its embassy in Baghdad. The Nordic country also shares a good level of economic cooperation with countries like Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain, and others. Mr. Haavisto draws from these developments to reinstate the fact that the Finnish involvement in the region is proactive.


Environmental Action in Foreign Policy and the Link to Peace

On the subject of the environment, specifically the connection between climate action and peace, the Minister responds that he has been working for years at the United Nations and the UNEP, particularly exploring and working towards how the environment relates to peace. He draws from the initiatives in the Balkans that further continued to other countries such as Afghanistan, Liberia, Sudan, to list a few. Given the urgency of the climate crisis and the necessity for collective global action, the environment can be a facilitator of peace, as stressed upon in the recently concluded COP27. Thus, it could also function as a tool that prevents conflict.

Minister Haavisto also talks about energy sources, green transition and investments, which are significant, especially in the wake of the climate crisis. The Gulf region is seen to be at an important standpoint when it comes to energy resources. Thus, naturally, it has a major role to play with regards to the policy discourse around energy. Even from a security point of view, be it Iran or from the perspective of Ukraine, engagement with the Gulf region is one of utmost significance. This part of the world faces the most immediate threat from Iran, and at the same time, is expected to put up to the pressure of the energy demand.


Values of Peace and Dialogue/Helsinki Policy Forum

Finland’s Foreign Policy goals are based on a human rights approach, peace mediation and disarmament. As is common among Nordic countries, Finland prioritises peace mediation and positions itself as a mediator. This includes the government launching a Centre for Mediation to help solve international conflicts, playing into the notion that civilian crises management is a good example of a Finnish ‘best-selling product’. Finland (along with Norway) at the conference, demonstrated that in order for states to be influential, they do not necessarily have to be large or with economic might.

One example the Minister highlighted was Helsinki Policy Forum, a space for frank discussions on challenges in the Gulf, Middle East and European regions. One topic being the threat of Iranian regime. Notably, there were no Iranian delegates present at the Manama Dialogue. However, there will be Iranian delegates at the Munich Security Conference. The Minister highlighted the need to bring conflicting actors together (such as Iran and Gulf Countries), but also planning peace agreements in advance.

The Forum is based on the foundation of the Chatham rules. As a display of diplomatic rigour, the Forum provides a platform for all the parties to discuss common concerns and look towards a collective resolution. The platform is also seen as the Nordic region’s outreach programme to its strategic partners. Besides the collective discussions, representatives also find the Helsinki Forum to be a space for bilateral negotiations.

Such platforms remain a major, and many a times, one of the last remaining spaces to avoid the escalation of a conflict. ‘Trust’ is often the key ingredient in such negotiations, while diplomacy becomes the medium. As many modern scholars assert, security dilemma for one immediately becomes security dilemma for the rest. Hence, unless there is peace for all, there is, effectively, peace for none. Inter-state negotiations, aimed at de-escalation, must have a special regard for collective peace, while platforms like the Helsinki Forum provide just the right atmosphere.


The conversation moves to the subject of Finland’s membership to the NATO, particularly in the context of its role in the Partnership for Peace. Given that Finland’s Foreign Policy is guided by human rights, peace, mediation and disarmament, its engagement with the NATO holds multiple layers to it. For instance, the treaty organization’s role as one of the biggest defence alliances and its power-position as a geopolitical entity could symbolize multiple equations with the Finnish status as a mediator. Furthermore, Helsinki’s ‘ideational’ advocacy for disarmament could have its own share of implications on NATO’s ‘material’ defence priorities.

The potential accession has had some in the community concerned if it is even compatible with Finland’s Foreign Policy Goals. While acknowledging the security aspect of NATO, the Minister stressed that Finland will remain a country that is “for peace building and finding peaceful solutions”.

Nordic Cooperation

Nordic cooperation was another unique aspect of Finnish Foreign Policy discussed with the Minister. Something that has existed since the 1960s between Finland and the four other Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland) and initially started as a security arrangement. However, it has evolved into an extensive form, looking at various aspects of development and diplomacy. The benefits of such an agreement have improved the links between the heads of state. Rather than waiting for an official state-meeting, the Nordic ministers have such a close connection that they can always reach out at a personal and informal level. The bloc also has an external engagement programme with other regional groups. The Minister reminisced about a recently concluded meeting they had with 20 African countries.

Be it their absolute regard for social spending, or the welfare approach, the countries were once ‘perceived’ to have a socialist ‘inclination’. However, the Nordic states adopted a progressive Soc-Dem arrangement, and continue to stand as a fine example till date. This consistency in the domestic arrangement has successfully managed to evolve into a regional cooperation framework.