Interview with Pekka Haavisto, Foreign Minister of Finland

PLAY: Interview with Pekka Haavisto

Talking Foreign Affairs founder Adil Cader interviewed Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto during the 2022 Manama Dialogue. The Manama Dialogue is the premier security summit of the Middle East and was held in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The interview was recorded on November 19th 2022.

Minister Haavisto speaks about the unique aspects of Finnish Foreign Policy, their planned accession to NATO, clean energy diplomacy, Nordic cooperation as well as their engagement with the Arabian Gulf.




Adil Cader: This interview is part of a special segment brought to you live from Manama, the capital of the Kingdom of Bahrain, where we are covering 2022 Manama dialogue, the Premier Security Summit of the Middle East. Today, we are honored to be joined by the Finland Foreign Minister, His Excellency, Mr. Pekka Haavisto. Minister Haavisto, thank you so much for joining us.

Minister Haavisto: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.

Adil Cader: Minister, how have you found the conference so far and what are some of your key takeaways?

Minister Haavisto: Well, the Manama dialogue has been extremely interesting, not only for the interventions here, and the public debate that has happened in the hall, but also for the side events and the meetings between the politicians, researchers, military experts and so forth. So, we at least have filled our whole day with these meetings. It has been very, very useful.

Adil Cader: And given that we are in the Gulf, what role do you see Finland playing in the Gulf?

Minister Haavisto: Well, of course, we have good bilateral relations, to all Gulf countries. And we have just opened a new embassy in Doha in Qatar. We have reopened our Baghdad embassy and so forth. So, it’s we are involved in the in the region. And of course, we are looking for more and more economic cooperation with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Bahrain, just name it. All of these countries, extremely good relations. And we can see that particularly the green investments and the new renewable energy sources, recycling, circular economy, all these green transitions. These are very important and interesting topics for us now, given the climate change and given the challenges that we all face. And of course, we can see that from the security point of view when we speak, for example, about the risks related to Iran, we are looking at from the perspective of Ukraine where the Iranian drones are used. And here of course in the region, many countries are facing the immediate threat from Iran.

Adil Cader: Something a country is very well known for is its environmental awareness. I know, personally (for you) given your party’s stance on environmental affairs, just explain to us the connection between environmental action and peace.

Minister Haavisto: Well, I’ve been working for years in the United Nations and the United Nations Environment Programme, particularly looking for the connection between peace and environment. And actually we started our work in in the Balkans or Western Balkans, and then continued in Afghanistan and in Palestine and in Liberia and in Sudan and so forth. A very interesting sector, and it’s obvious that first of all, environment can be something that prevents conflict and is peace building too. Already before the conflicts, then during the conflicts, of course, protection of the environment, as we know, is very crucial. We don’t want any pollution, we don’t want any damage to the nature. And after the conflicts again, environment can be used as a diplomatic tool, for example, in a common river based management or taking care of the cross-border pollution issues and so forth. So, the environment can be a confidence building tool.

Adil Cader: Something a lot of people would be interested to know is your accession to NATO application. Now there is a bit of history. Finland was a part of the Partnerships for Peace. They opted for the 2004 option plan. But something I’m very interested in is how you have highlighted the fact that by joining NATO, that this will not compromise the principles of human rights, peace, mediation and disarmament. Just explain more about your vision for joining NATO and keeping the Finland foreign policy principles.

Minister Haavisto: Well since 2004, Finland has expressed that we have this kind of NATO option in our foreign policy, which means that if the security environment in our area and the Baltic Sea area changes, we are ready to consider NATO membership. And of course, after the 24th of February 2022, after the Russian attack against Ukraine, we could agree that the security situation has changed dramatically in our area and a majority of the Finns turned to support NATO membership. But at the same time, we say that NATO is an organisation for common defence among the NATO member states. We all guarantee each other’s security, but at the same time we have a variety of other political principles and foreign policy principles among the NATO countries. And Finland definitely remains to be a country that is for the peace building, finding peaceful solutions to conflicts for the human rights and continues to be an active development partner. Particularly because of these environmental challenges and the climate change challenges and so forth, which many poor countries are now suffering.

Adil Cader: So, one thing you highlight is your country’s commitment to dialogue and peace. And something very pertinent is the Helsinki Forum. So, could you share more about that?

Minister Haavisto: Well, already for years we have been running this process called Helsinki Policy Forum, and representatives from Gulf Region have been actively participating. Actually, not only the Gulf region, but countries like Turkey, the Middle East countries have been involved. It’s a process with the Chatham rules, where we sit down usually in Helsinki among these country representatives and share the common concerns and looking also to the future. Countries, like Iran has also been participating. Now, the next meeting, for example is in Finland still this autumn, where the women parliamentarians from the region are coming together and sharing their views. We think that these kinds of initiatives are needed to keep up the common dialogue. And of course, we have appreciated very much what Iraq has done in the Baghdad meetings. I know that in Amman some plans are now to beginning of next year to have similar meetings, but all these processes need also some background work. And the Helsinki Policy Forum is one of those forums where you can share your ideas and meet your counterparts in a confidential way.

Adil Cader: So, on the note of bringing people together, different parties and mediating something that Finland is well known for. With the Helsinki Forum, when you’ve got different actors like Iran with vastly different foreign policy goals. How do you bring a lot of parties to the table with conflicting interests, but still bring them together and find a common solution?

Minister Haavisto: Well, that’s an interesting challenge, and I have been many times now asked regarding the Russian attack against Ukraine, that how you can have peace if there is no trust? And actually, many people in the Middle East area are saying that, well, there are many peace agreements when there was a zero trust in the beginning and luckily, we could go on with those peace agreements. When we look at the Finnish’ own history, the deals that we made after the Second World War with Soviet Union, there was a lot of suspicion that Soviet Union will act in a hostile way or even occupy the country after the peace agreement and so forth. Again, we have to plan peace agreements which can be even working without the trust, you know, some kind of step-by-step approach where both parties can have the possibility to show their goodwill. I think we are living in a world that in all situations, communication is needed, and we have seen, even in the recent conflicts, whether it’s issues around Iran or issues around Russia, Ukraine, that some channels have to be kept open.

Adil Cader: And just to finish off something my listeners would be very keen to know is this concept of Nordic cooperation within Finland foreign policy. Just explain to us the way Nordic cooperation works and how you all work together and how you’ve been able to successfully manage security relationships?

Minister Haavisto: Well, we have a Nordic, active Nordic cooperation since beginning of the 1960s and the first actually we agreed that the security policies out of this Nordic cooperation because of Finland and our particular position after the Second World War, but now the Nordic cooperation between the five Nordic countries: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland has been extremely intensive, and particularly, for example, during the COVID time when we had mostly to use the digital ways to communicate, we had very, very frequent meetings of Nordic foreign ministers and other ministers to share their knowledge about the COVID and how the countries are reacting and what their policies and so forth. Now, for example, when Finland and Sweden decided to apply for the NATO membership, that was again a topic that we shared very rapidly with our Nordic partners and discussed what can be done or our military support towards Ukraine. Again, something that we immediately connected to each other. Sometimes it’s very informal, we can just pick the phone and call or send the text message sometimes. But we also had these formal meetings where we sit together so that each and every Nordic country can put to the table any local, country-wide, regional or even global issue that wanted to be touched. For example, this June, we had in Helsinki a Nordic-Africa Meeting. So that the Nordic Ministers met with the likeminded ministers from Africa. There were 20 African Ministers meeting the Nordic Ministers. It was a very successful meeting. 

Adil Cader: Minister, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, and thank you for joining Talking Foreign Affairs.

Minister Haavisto: Thank you, and great that you have this topic and so many listeners, and people who are interested in foreign policy. Thank you.