Follow-up: Finland’s campaign for the UN Security Council

Following-up on a previous mail about Finland’s ill-fated campaign to win one of the non-permanent seats in the Security Council, I would like to emphasize the study  (link to the .pdf after the news brief) the Finnish Foreign Ministry ordered from a think-tank to reflect on the campaign and the reasons why Finland did not get the seat.

The UN works in mysterious ways, but the result of the vote came as a relative surprise. Finland had had a strong campaign, started early; its record, both in the UN and generally in multilateral international cooperation, made it a worthy candidate.  The report provides more educated guesses than firm answers to the reasons why Finland was not chosen, but I would like to highlight a few things.

The report emphasizes a few possible reasons  to the campaign’s result linked with the technical aspects of the UN multilateral politics. It appears that the proximity between Luxemburg and Finland, as both small states with good reputation and solid UN records, did push them to compete in order to get the vote of certain constituencies, for example small states. Inside the EU, the report hints at divisions between Finland, which was mostly supported by the Nordic states (in and out of the EU), and Luxemburg, with its support closer to the “traditional heart” of Community Europe. The Finnish campaign, very active for most of the last ten years, “peaked early”, loosing steam in the the last years. Australia, on the other hand, dedicated more resources than its competitors, and also used them better, insisting on bilateral relations with potential voters and providing something to each partners, while Finland focused mostly on its record in the UN. Finnish diplomacy suffered from its blind spots in Francophone Africa or the Arab countries, which are important zones in UN politics, and despite a Finnish diplomatic instrument that is consistent for a country this size. The report finally points at communication problems, especially when it came to communicate on the extent of Finland’s contribution to the UN.

Problems of images, however, are the gist of the report, and something that has been especially noted by journalists. The report, and its main architect Terje Rød-Larsen‘s interview in Helsinki yesterday, read in fact like an indictment of Finland’s and Nordic image: while the Nordic Countries have a good image, they can also appear distant and paternalistic, and generally out of touch with the opinions of countries and populations outside a rough Western-Asian axis. Inside the EU, the report hints at a residual resent towards the Nordic countries following their less than collaborative attitude during the ongoing euro-crisis, which might have raised questions amongst outsiders as to why Finland did not get full EU backing. Finally, as EU members, Sweden and Finland especially suffer from a form of backlash against the EU members’ over-sized representation in UN instances.

Two quotes around that as a matter of conclusion, both going in the same direction: while the Nordic countries’ image is still good, they should take care of it, and they should humbly reach out to non-European constituencies in their multilateral efforts:

Nordic states could reflect together on how a renewed commitment to the work of the UN and a more effective communication strategy could help them remain true to their values and at the same time engage more effectively with the other countries.

This second quote also has a lovely part on the way small states, and especially Nordic small states, can appear as “good international players”, with no evil agenda of their own, and get an easier satisfecit than  bigger countries in their image diplomacy. This is one difference between small states’ and great powers’ public diplomacy: the perception that small states are more earnest than great powers.

“The Nordics have an excellent image and are well respected. They are among the largest donors to the UN. These are countries which have no hidden agenda and want to help.” Another delegate noted: “The Nordic card remains a good card at the UN, probably better than the EU card which is seen as a second tier of the most powerful states. But the Nordics need to do more bilaterally and they need to advertise it better. The Nordics used to be seen as countries of social democracy, closer to the developing world than the United States or the Soviet Union or other European countries. But the world has changed. Their image is not so strong anymore. Developing countries have their own models.”

This has all the elements to trigger one of the regular displays of soul-searching about identity and image Finland is familiar with, this time maybe at the Nordic level. If the discussion gathers steam, it will be fascinating to watch for any observers of Nordic politics.

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