The United States has not asked Finland to participate in actual military operations against the Islamic State (ISIS).
President Sauli Niinistö revealed on Wednesday that Finland is looking carefully into how it could respond to the request for assistance in the fight against ISIS it received from the United States on Tuesday.
The contents of the request have yet to be made public, with officials confirming only that Finland is likely to continue training local forces in Iraq. “The request doesn’t deal with actual combat duties,” said Timo Kantola, a deputy director general at the Political Department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Finland could according to Niinistö expand its ongoing training mission in Iraq. “It’s my understanding that the United States’ request for assistance also refers to the kind of civilian operations Finland is already involved in by training Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq,” he revealed.
Finland, he emphasised, is willing to participate in international co-operation against terrorism.
Kantola also sought to clarify reports circulating in the media that Finland has been presented with a letter of assistance from the United States by pointing out that the US Embassy in Finland has submitted documents, but not a formal letter, to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. This, he added, is standard procedure whenever the United States decides to approach Finland in regards to a particular issue.
No deadline has been set for the response of Finland.
“We knew to expect something like this,” Kantola said. “The United States’ decision to present a request for assistance is understandable because of their key role in the anti-ISIS coalition.”
The United States has according to Kantola approached a number of countries involved in the coalition. “The request largely consists of elements the coalition is already involved in. The coalition’s duties range from various administrative support functions to police training, humanitarian aid, and various stabilising and capacity building measures. They’re not exclusively of a military nature.”
Mika Aaltola, a programme director at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, interprets the request for assistance as evidence of a willingness to increase and enhance the operations of the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq and Syria. More than 60 countries have committed to the coalition.
“I think the request will get a positive reception,” he estimated.
“More direct military relations with the United States are an underlying, if not exactly a related, element. Both Finland and Sweden have engaged in a debate over the need to establish direct military ties with the United States outside the framework of NATO. The operation against ISIS isn’t carried out within the framework of NATO. That’s one reason why the response to the request will probably be a conditional yes.”
Aaltola acknowledged that the provision of assistance is a politically sensitive issue in Finland.
“There are people who think we shouldn’t get mixed up in things like this. Those on the opposite side of the argument say we can’t be by-standers under these circumstances. The national policy debate is prone to becoming charged. Words like ‘the United States’, ‘military assistance’ and ‘coalition’ especially blow the minds of many instantly.”
He also acknowledged that increasing assistance can bring about new risks for Finland.
“It’s a risk that ISIS also wraps its tentacles around Finland. The risk may be lower than is thought. It has become clear that ISIS is a problem that must be dealt with before it inevitably spreads to Finland,” said Aaltola.