Forcing their hand
On the long-avoided decisions that friendly countries may imminently be driven to make
Finland's foreign policy standing doesn't loom especially large on the American consciousness, but it certainly does appear to have the persistent attention of the powers in Moscow. Modestly more than a century after declaring its independence from Russia, Finland is once again finding its voice as its president unreservedly reasserted the right to join NATO, whenever and for whatever reason it might like.
■ Nobody with a shred of sanity is interested in wasting resources on pointless armed conflicts. As Dwight Eisenhower once remarked, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children." Yet, as long as there are national boundaries to define and sovereign interests to preserve, there will always be a risk that countries will come into armed conflict with one another.
■ In the present moment, even those European countries that have long adhered to neutrality as a tool of self-preservation are finding that the recklessness of the Russian government -- amassing some 100,000 troops near Ukraine -- is creating an urgency to reconsider.
■ The prospective change of heart, not only in Finland, but also possibly in Sweden and maybe in Ireland, too, isn't really being driven by a significant change in where interests have been aligned. The NATO Partnership for Peace isn't a new invention, and economically those countries are integrated more closely with European countries already. Even Finland, despite its long Russian border, still trades more with Germany than with any other country.
■ But what does seem urgent now is that the situation in which Ukraine has been lodged has served to remind other countries that people, often more than anything else, simply want to believe that things are possible of their own choosing. The very deep attraction to self-determination is natural and very real -- from the individual to the family to the community, right on up through the level of the sovereign state. People don't always expect to choose the right path or to get the best outcome -- but any sense of respect for human beings as sentient, decision-making animals carries with it the burden (and reward) of having options.
■ If it so appears that an aggressor is inclined to interfere with that intrinsic ability to make choices and to grasp at possibilities, then there should be no surprise whatsoever if the aggression prompts a diametrically opposed reaction. This belief in the possible -- in having options among which we can choose, whether by accident, by consensus, or at the relentless urging of bold leaders -- is so vital that it can end up compelling decisions even when avoiding a choice itself was long seen as a strategic necessity.