Europe’s Problems, Europe’s Choices
Whatever the future state of a Europe which sees itself abandoned by the United States and intimidated to the point of helplessness by the Russians, it will not be "Finlandization."
No one who has followed with even casual attention the recent trend of discussion in Western circles of the future course of East-West relations and the defense of Western Europe can have failed to miss the many invocations of the spectre of a "Finlandization" of Western Europe, as something sure to follow on anyone of a number of developments, real or imagined, to which the invokers are opposed. Sometimes it is the continued pursuit of Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik which is seen as leading to the dread condition; on other occasions it is the withdrawal of American forces from Germany, as proposed by Senator Mansfield; occasionally it is the predicted betrayal of Western Europe by the United States and the Brandt government at a European security conference. It is, in short, a spectre which may be invoked, and is, to suggest the consequences of any major departure from the Adenauer-Dulles policies of an earlier epoch — of any effort, in other words, to mitigate the greatest dangers and asperities of the cold war.
This is obviously an image that holds great attraction for many people. Not only is it sufficiently vague to leave much to the imagination (always a great advantage when it comes to arousing fears), but it makes it possible to concede at long last what experience has now amply demonstrated: that the Russian leaders are not necessarily planning to attack, seize, and occupy the remainder of Western Europe, and yet, to argue that Western Europe is no less threatened in its vital interests than if the Soviet Union were so planning. From this last it can then be argued that the need for a rigid cold war policy, based on the assumption of total and unchangeable Russian hostility, is no smaller than if the Russians were likely to attack.
Who originated this metaphor, I have been unable to determine, but of its wide currency there can be no doubt, I have heard it, in recent months, from the lips of senior British statesmen; I have seen it in the writings of prominent French and German commentators; I have watched such eminent figures as Hans Morgenthau and William Buckley agree, on television, that this and no other was the fate that awaited Europe if the United States did not at once rouse itself from its lethargy and devote to national defense something more than the obviously inadequate pittance of $80 billion it is now devoting to this purpose. In view of this wide currency of the term, it might be well to have a closer look at its possible meaning.
When the expression "Finlandization" is used, it is of course Finland’s international position and. above all, her relationship to the Soviet Union, to which reference is taken. That this last — the relationship to the Soviet Union — should be viewed as a model or parallel for a possible similar relationship on the part of anyone else at all seems, even at first glance, surprising; for if there is any one quality that stands out in Finland’s relationship to the Soviet Union, it is its uniqueness. It is a relationship that cannot be understood, and indeed has little meaning, unless viewed in the historical dimension; and here, as in other respects, it has resembled no other. Let us recall its most significant features.
Finland, as everyone knows, is a small nation of some 4,600,000 people, facing the Soviet Union across a land frontier of several hundred miles and having, in fact, no other immediate neighbor but neutral Sweden, to the west. Long connected by personal union with the Russia of the Tsars. Finland found her relationship to the revolutionary Russia of Lenin and his successors more complicated. She fought, in effect, three wars with the Soviet power, in the origins and effects of which Finnish mistakes, as well as Russian mistakes, played a part. The last two of these wars, despite immense gallantry on the Finnish side, ended unsuccessfully from her standpoint. Nevertheless, her independence since 1920 has not been questioned; the country has never been occupied by the Russians; and certain of the military facilities on Finnish soil which the Russian government insisted on obtaining, at the time of the post-World War II peace settlement, have since been amicably restored to Finland. While the history of this relationship has thus known a number of highly tragic and difficult moments, it cannot be said to have ended in any total tragedy.
Finland is bound to the Soviet Union by a defense treaty, concluded on April 6, 1948; and it is presumably from this pact, in particular, that the analogy to the supposed future of Western Europe is drawn. The treaty is not really one of mutual assistance; it is, rather, one fixing and defining a policy of neutrality for Finland in the face of great-power rivalries and conflicts-a policy to which the Finns would probably have chosen to adhere, in any case, in this present epoch. It binds Finland to fight "to repel aggression" in the event that either the Soviet Union or Finland should become the object of aggression on the part of Germany or any power allied with Germany; but her forces are to be used only within her own borders. Russian assistance may be extended to Finland "as necessary," but only "as mutually agreed between the two parties." There is a provision for consultation in the face of a threat of aggression; but it has been the Finnish interpretation that both parties have to be in agreement that the threat exists, and that it is a threat against Finnish territory, before such consultations can be held. This interpretation has not been challenged. There is also a clause binding both parties not to enter into any alliance or participate in any coalition directed against the other; but so far as Finland is concerned, this was merely the reaffirmation of an obligation already resting upon her by virtue of the Treaty of Peace following World War II. Since this was a treaty which certain of the Western powers, including Britain, joined in imposing on Finland, the obligation in question is not one which we in the West can gracefully view as particularly onerous or humiliating.
The Treaty of 1948 could not really be said to have been imposed upon the Finns. Many of them–most of them, in fact–might have preferred, at the time, not to sign any such treaty at all; but the final wording of the document corresponds very closely to the original Finnish draft and reflects in large measure Finnish desiderata.
In addition to these obligations, Finland rests under certain restrictions on the size and nature of her armed forces; but these, like the ban on alliances with other parties, flow from the Treaty of Peace, and cannot be said to have been imposed upon her by the Soviet Union alone. They are ones that arise from her participation, in loose association with the Germans, in a war against one of the founding members of the United Nations.
Finally, Finland’s position has implied certain restraints and precautions with respect to her participation in international economic arrangements in which the Soviet Union is not a participant. These, however, have been in large part voluntary — a matter of policy on Finland’s part — and they have not been unduly onerous. They did not prevent her from entering into an association with the European Free Trade Association that was almost indistinguishable from regular membership in that body. Nor did they prevent her from signing, just recently, a free trade agreement with the EEC which gives her, once again, a major portion of the advantages that would be derived from actual membership in that body.
Taken together, these arrangements reflect little, if anything, more than the considerations of prudence and restraint that would normally mark the policies of any very small nation situated on the borders of a very large and strong one, and desirous of avoiding conflict with it — particularly of any small nation that has learned from bitter experience, as Finland has, that no outside power, however sympathetic to its ideals or admiring of the moderation and consistency of its past policies, can be expected to come to its aid in the event such conflict should develop. They contain, in fact, very little beyond that measure of restraint and circumspection which the United States would expect from its own immediate neighbors to the north and south on this continent, even in the absence of any written agreements.
Let us now compare the situation — or even the possible situation — of Western Europe with the one we have just had occasion to note. In what respects does Western Europe’s position resemble — or could it resemble — that of Finland?
Finland is a very small country confronting a very large one. This, obviously, is not true of Western Europe. Taking only the central core of NATO countries and leaving aside the North American allies, as well as Greece, Turkey, Portugal, and Iceland, the NATO population already exceeds, by most recent count, that of the Soviet Union. Reliable indices of relative industrial power are hard to come by and to interpret, but it is also quite clear that in all important respects, with the exception of mineral materials and fuels, the NATO core represents, in its entirety, an industrial concentration of greater magnitude and power than that of the Soviet Union.
It is difficult, then, to picture Western Europe as corresponding to the David-Goliath pattern that prevails in the case of Finland.
Whereas the larger portion of Finland’s land border faces the Soviet Union, these core countries of NATO border on Russia only at the extreme north of Norway; and only in Germany does their territory even touch that of satellite territory garrisoned by Soviet forces.
Finland, furthermore, as we have already noted, was unsuccessful in two wars with the Soviet Union within the last 40 years. There is normally a price to be paid for this, and Finland is now paying it in terms of a punctilious fulfillment of the terms of the Treaty of Peace and of the implicit political requirements. The situation of the Western European peoples, obviously, bears little relationship to this one. Only a portion of them were in a state of hostility with the Soviet Union during World War II: and even with these, there is no serious prospect of the Russians claiming the same sort of relationship that they have asked the Finns to accept.
Finland’s obligations include a promise not to enter into any coalition directed against the Soviet Union. By stretching the imagination, one can conceive of a Western Europe promising not to participate in any sort of alliance with the United States. Considering that the United States now has relations with the Soviet Union fully as cordial as those of most of the European NATO members, and is frequently reproached by its Western European friends for cultivating them, this hypothesis seems a bit far-fetched. But conceding, for the sake of argument, that it is a possibility, it is one that obviously demands the abandonment of NATO.
I cannot claim to be fully conversant with all the nightmares dreamed by our friends in Europe in connection with the future of NATO. I have, it seems to me, noted considerable discussion here and there in individual European NATO countries as to the possibility of their leaving the alliance. I cannot recall a single instance in which any American of prominence or influence has made similar suggestions with respect to American policy. As things now stand, if anyone is going to break up the NATO arrangement, it is going to be (indeed, has in part already been) the Europeans who will do it, not the Americans. This, then, will be a question not of something forced upon Western Europe, but of Western Europe’s own volition.
One last point. We have noted that the Finns have been obliged to recognize, by the lessons of bitter experience, that in the event of difficulties between them and the Soviet Union, they could expect no aid from any outside party. This is something Western Europe can scarcely claim. On two occasions in living memory, the United States, having no alliance with anyone in Europe, nevertheless did take part in European wars on the side of Prance and England. There are, perhaps, those who would be inclined to question whether, given the intricacies of the relationships of nuclear power and considering the prevailing anti-Americanism in Europe, the United States would respond similarly in a future war. However that may be, the Western Europeans cannot argue the case for their abandoned, isolated, and precarious condition on the basis of recent historical experience.
In all of this, then, the analogy implied by the term "Finlandization" turns out to be absurdly overdrawn and unsuitable. The implications of this analogy do justice neither to Finland’s actual position nor to Western Europe’s potential one. Whatever the future state of a Europe which sees itself abandoned by the United States and intimidated to the point of helplessness by the Russians, it will not be "Finlandization."
Western European Anxieties
To this, some of my European friends will no doubt reply: "Well yes, perhaps ‘Finlandization’ is a misplaced symbol. The fact remains: Russian military superiority is crushing, whereas the United States is undependable and is showing increasing tendencies not only towards unilateralism or isolationism, but also towards independent dealings with the Russians over our heads and at our expense. Besides, the United States is not going to invite a second-strike retaliation upon its own territory for the sake of the beautiful eyes of the European allies. We, therefore, will soon have no choice but to save ourselves by dropping to our knees, inquiring Russia’s pleasure, and accepting the position of military isolation and political subordination which the Kremlin will then force upon us."
I shall not attempt to argue here against the premises of this thesis, although they strike me as being almost hysterically overdrawn. (The accusation of independent American dealings with the Russians comes, in particular, with curious implications from Europeans who have not hesitated in recent years to pursue their own relations with Moscow very independently indeed.) Let us accept, for the sake of argument, the reality of all these dire possibilities. The prediction of Europe’s behavior that flows from them rests on two premises — one openly claimed, the other implied. The first is the thesis of the Soviet Union’s overwhelming strength and Western Europe’s helplessness in the face of it. The second is the assumption that superior military strength is automatically translatable into political domination. Both of these premises can well stand critical examination.
About Russian military superiority, several things are to be noted.
Leaving aside the nuclear balance-the intricacies of which far surpass any layman’s facilities for judgment and over which there hangs, anyway, a pervasive aura of unreality -and considering only what passes as "conventional strength," I personally find it very difficult to arrive at any very sure judgment as to just how great this Russian superiority is. We all know the tendency of Western intelligence agencies and defense ministries to ascribe to the imagined adversary every conceivable military virtue and to deplore the alleged worthlessness of one’s own forces. I can recall no instance in which any chief of a general staff ever confessed that he had enough to cope successfully with any imaginary military task. I have seen the figures of Russian ground-force strength, as bandied about by the NATO strategists and commentators, decline in the course of recent years from 160 divisions to something more like 85, without this having the faintest effect on Western thinking about NATO problems and policies–a circumstance which leads me to suspect. Incidentally, that in the pattern of professed Western anxieties it is not really Russian military superiority but something much deeper, for which that superiority serves as convenient symbol, that is really feared.
Russia, for more than a century, has traditionally maintained ground forces facing Europe far larger than the situation would seem to justify, and this overreaction has never failed to be a source of concern to people in Western Europe. This was as true of the 1840’s as it was of the 1880·s. and as true after the Revolution as it was before. As early as 1928, the Soviet Union, notwithstanding the devastations of military collapse, revolution, and civil war, was maintaining the largest ground forces, by far, of any major power. The reasons for this habit are no doubt various, ranging from the great extent of the country and its boundaries. through the various internal implications of the maintenance of a large standing army, to a consciousness on the part of Russian policymakers of weaknesses assiduously concealed from the foreign observer. This preponderance of force is therefore nothing new; and in previous decades Western Europe did not show itself unduly alarmed by it, or picture itself, for this reason, as helpless in the face of Russia’s political will.
What is new, and what is really threatening from the standpoint of Western Europe, is the possession by the Soviet Union, for the first time in history, of an area of deployment in the very heart of Europe for these inordinately great land forces. Were they to be withdrawn behind the borders of Russia proper, the position of the remainder of Europe would be no worse than in the final decades of Tsardom.
It was this reality that led the present writer to urge, some 15 years ago, a course of Western policy aimed primarily at getting the Russian forces out of Eastern Europe, even if this were to mean extensive concessions in the form of a reduced American military presence in Europe. These suggestions, however, were rejected not only firmly but indignantly by a Western Europe which feared the retirement of American forces (I still think. wrongly) more than it desired the retirement of the Russian ones. Warnings, at that time, that if one failed to use the possibility of American withdrawal as a bargaining counter for a Russian one, the American forces would some day be withdrawn anyway, unilaterally, and without any compensation at all, fell on deaf ears. To this extent, the situation Western Europeans are facing today may be said to be the situation they asked for.
However this may be, the fact remains that the area of deployment in the heart of Europe does today exist; the Soviet Union is maintaining in that area forces considerably larger than any conceivable defensive considerations would appear to justify; and these forces are of a strength exceeding, by a highly undesirable and dangerous margin, those ranged against them on the Western side of the line. I yield to no one in my conviction that this situation is not a normal or a healthy one. It should, in my opinion, have been much more extensively discussed with the Russian leaders on the political level than it appears to have been, and should have entered more prominently into the political relations between East and West. Particularly was this true when the Soviet Union introduced into Czechoslovakia in 1968–to control a mild phase of political recalcitrance in which not a shot was fired–forces very considerably greater than those used in Hungary in 1956–where there was a case of a real shooting rebellion, and when the Soviet Union then proceeded to leave a large part of those forces in position even after every semblance of internal danger had passed. This called for explanations. I am not aware that any were ever given.
A Question of Will
But it must not be forgotten that this general disparity in conventional strength is, again, Western Europe’s choice. We have already noted that there is nothing in the basic requirements for military strength-population, industrial power, etc.–in which Western Europe is particularly inferior to the Soviet Union. If the Western European peoples fail to maintain military forces commensurate with those that confront them to the east, this is because they are unwilling to make the attendant sacrifices, not because they couldn’t make them. Part of this is, of course, the fact of the inability of Western European governments to control the raging inflation, with the result that they, like ourselves, have almost priced themselves out of any successful military competition. But what we are talking about, when we mention this factor, is simply the debility of a highly materialized Western civilization-the inability to pull itself together and to impose, in peacetime, any serious discipline upon, or exact any serious sacrifices from, its populations. If Western Europe, in the wake of some sort of American withdrawal or detachment, should prove unable to compete with the Soviet Union in conventional military strength, the causes of this military inferiority would have to be sought in its own weaknesses-in the pampered state of its peoples, in the prevailing selfishness and the flaccidity of the collective will-not in the lack of American support.
Suppose, however, that all this is true. Western Europe remains addicted to its creature comforts, its impossibly high industrial wages, its high industrial profits. It fails, therefore, to develop its own military potential to a degree even nearly commensurate with the evident requirements. The Russians, on the other hand, continue to sit in the heart of Europe with forces far superior to those that confront them on the Western side. The final component of the "Finlandization" thesis is that Europe would then have no choice but to accept political subordination to the Soviet Union, which in turn would require a degrading, emasculated neutralism, involving the forfeiture of Europe’s independence of policy as a factor in world affairs. How real is this assumption?
The image here evoked is one that is drawn, no doubt, by analogy from the fashionable concept of "nuclear blackmail." This is not the place for discussion of that concept in detail. Of all the empty cliches that go to make up the rhetoric of NATO discourse, there is none that corresponds less to reality than this one. It conjures up the picture of the non-nuclear nation automatically submitting itself to the will of the nuclear one, under threat of nuclear attack. The experience of the past quarter of a century amply demonstrates that this is not the way that nonnuclear nations need behave, or even the way they do behave.
The same unsoundness applies to uses of the possibilities for political exploitation of superior military force in the non-nuclear field. Most small or militarily-inferior nations are sensible enough to recognize that there is nothing to be gained by yielding to blackmail of any sort from stronger ones, because the demand acceded to today will merely be followed by another one tomorrow; and if one is going to enter on this path, one must expect it to end with the total loss of national independence. In this case, it is obviously preferable to make one’s stand on the first demand, when you still have a chance, than on the last one. So obvious is this that a study of the behavior of governments in the face of a large disparity in military power would probably reveal that as a general rule the smaller and weaker the country, the more sensitive its government to any hint of military pressure being applied against it, and the more ready its resistance to anything that smacks of pressure or blackmail from the stronger power.
The entire image of a Soviet Union making specific demands upon the Western European NATO allies, threatening to use force if they were not met. and then actually using it, at the very high risk of unleashing a new European war, is a wildly unreal one. There is no reason to believe that the Russian leaders desire an increase in their effective occupational responsibilities in Europe, which would be the likely consequence of any successful operation of this nature. Nor is there any reason to believe that the Russians want any military complications in Europe at all in an epoch when they are very seriously preoccupied with China. They could probably not occupy all of Western Europe even if they wished to. Yet short of actual occupation, no nation can fully enforce its will upon another.
Whether Europe, ill; these circumstances, would see itself confronted with intolerable pressure and feel itself obliged to attempt to placate Moscow by trying to anticipate the latter’s wishes or deferring to those that have been expressed, is something that depends primarily on Western Europe itself, not on the Soviet Union or the United States. It takes two to make a successful act of intimidation in international life, just as it takes two to make a successful act of snobbery or blackmail among individuals. The nuclear weapon, Stalin is reputed to have once said is something with which one frightens people of weak nerves. How true! And the crucial factor here is the nerves of the self-declared victim, not the possession of superior force on the other side.
To summarize: The term "Finlandization." as a characterization of anything Western Europe is likely to experience in the foreseeable future, makes no sense at all. The present preponderance of Russian conventional force in Europe is indeed a dangerous anomaly which certainly deserves attention and correction. Meanwhile, there is very little likelihood that America is going to betray its NATO obligations or withdraw from them or even lose the consciousness of its stake in the security of the Western European NATO powers. Europe, at the same time, is not as weak as it claims, and there is no reason why it could not be very considerably stronger if it cared to make the effort. The Soviet Union, even given the present disparity, is most unlikely to make specific demands on Europe under threat of force, and even if it did, it is improbable that it would wish to back them up against a firm Western European resistance.
All this being the case, one is driven to the conclusion that if the present chatter about "Finlandization" reflects genuine fears, they are fears addressed not really to external power and pressure, but to internal weakness — to the lack of vigor in one’s own civilization, the flabbiness of one’s own will. They reflect a lack of confidence in what lies within, rather than fear of what lies without. No one, of course, can stop the Western Europeans, if they insist, from committing suicide for fear of death — from seeing themselves as the helpless playthings of superior force and then governing themselves by the image they have themselves evoked. But if they do, they should learn to recognize this as the product of their own choice, not as something forced upon them by the Russians and the Americans.