How Russia Decides to Go Nuclear
Deciphering the Way Moscow Handles Its Ultimate Weapon
IN fundamentals, the foreign policies of the four northernmost European nations have not changed since they made their respective choices in 1949. Norway and Denmark (together with Iceland) are members of NATO and the Atlantic Community. Sweden, warily neutral and comparatively well-armed, and Finland, geographically exposed and until recently completely self-effacing, maintain an allegedly interdependent isolation. In the last year or so it has been apparent, however, that Soviet Russia is putting pressure on all four countries, in ways appropriate to each, with the aim of reviving the project of a neutral Scandinavian defense bloc, in which Finland would be included. The restatement of Finland's foreign policy by her Premier, Urho Kaleva Kekkonen, on January 23, 1952, therefore aroused immediate interest. The Finnish Premier's main thesis-- that Finland desired good relations with the Soviet Union and wished to stand apart from Great Power conflicts--was nothing new. But his plea that the Swedish policy of neutrality be adopted by Sweden's neighbors reopened the broader question of a regional defense bloc.
"A thorough and secure neutrality for the Scandinavian countries, such as Sweden has observed for nearly a century and a half, is thus in accord with Finland's interests, since it should remove even the theoretical risk of an attack on the Soviet Union through the territory of Finland," Mr. Kekkonen declared. "The goal of Finland's policy is to secure the country's peace in all circumstances, and peace in the northern countries is an essential prerequisite for the achievement of this aim." For several reasons this statement has been thought to have been inspired, or at least connived at, by Russia. It envisaged a more active rôle for Finland in foreign affairs than she has played since the war, and one which she could not support against Soviet wishes. Since Mr. Kekkonen insisted on issuing his comments for publication in his party's paper, just before undergoing an operation which necessitated the postponement of the scheduled speech, they seemed to have an unwonted sense of urgency. That there was any prompting by the Soviets was denied by the Finnish authorities; and, indeed, there may have been none. The Russian desire for a neutral north accords with Finland's deepest interests; and an astute politician like Mr. Kekkonen can take a cue without prompting. His action, nevertheless, shows the way the wind of Soviet diplomacy is blowing.
Broadly speaking, the policies of Norway and Denmark, both firmly within the Atlantic community, represent only local variants of what might be called the larger Atlantic policy. There are, however, two particular aspects which are worth noting. The first is that both countries still have a strong feeling of northern solidarity; for example, when the question of restricting the freedom of movement of Russian diplomats was taken up at the Copenhagen meeting of Scandinavian Foreign Ministers in March of this year, all stood together in rejecting the idea. The second is that Norway is subjected to special pressure from Russia. The Soviets are much annoyed by the way Norway maintains the "Atlantic" against the "Scandinavian" view in major matters and gives staunch allegiance to NATO. And the Russians are sensitive about their common frontier with Norway; until Turkey joined the organization, Norway was the only NATO Power with which the Russians shared a frontier. References to this frontier, and to Norway's Spitsbergen and Bear Islands, have padded out a whole series of Russian notes.
The main theme of these notes, from the first one of January 29, 1949, which protested against Norway's apparent intention of joining the Atlantic Pact, has been that Russia considers the cession of bases to NATO a threat to her security, for which she will hold Norway responsible. The Norwegians have consistently said that they will not permit their allies to occupy Norwegian bases unless Norway is attacked or threatened by attack. The Russians think they know better. Their notes employ the familiar "as is well known" technique, backed up by suitably distorted "evidence" from Moscow Radio, Pravda or similar propaganda organs. But the style and content of these notes cannot compare with what the London Times once called "a vintage Molotov of the best period;" and in their eagerness to make their points they have sometimes committed such absurdities as implying that the Russian Northern Fleet is coal-burning.[i]
The Russian offer of a nonaggression pact to Norway in February 1949 may to some extent be used to gauge the validity of the Swedish claim that Swedish neutrality is largely responsible for the continued independence of Finland. Sometimes it is claimed that Sweden remains neutral in order to protect Finland. There is no doubt that the Swedes genuinely believe that their present policy helps Finland, and it probably does. But this is a justification of Swedish neutrality, not the reason for it; and the absence of any Russian reprisals against Finland for Norway's defiance suggests that when formulated this way, Sweden's claim is excessive. It may also mean that the boot is on the other leg-- that the Russians treat Finland remarkably well in order to avoid frightening Sweden into joining the West. For it is a cardinal weakness of the Swedish position that, as her Foreign Minister, Mr. Östen Undén, has put it, "neutrality is a juridical not a moral concept." The struggle of ideologies that now torments the world is moral and not juridical. From the standpoint of Communist ideology Sweden is a Western state and must therefore be presumed to be a potential ally of the West. This in itself vitiates the Swedish position and emphasizes the fact that neutrality depends on outside factors for its success. No state can be neutral today unless all the Powers whose antagonisms have made a choice of sides necessary have sufficient reasons of their own for permitting it to enjoy that status.
Whether or not Sweden would be allowed to remain neutral in any future war is an open question. But there is no doubt that, if attacked, Sweden would fight, with or without last-minute allies. I say "last-minute" because in the present state of Swedish opinion there is absolutely no possibility of any commitment prior to attack. The extreme sensitivity of Sweden to anything that may conceivably develop into a military commitment inconsistent with neutrality is shown whenever occasion arises. Mr. Eden's proposals in March that the Council of Europe should assume responsibility for European schemes such as the Schuman Plan or the Pleven Plan, or Mr. Acheson's proposals for effective armed forces for the U.N., immediately prompted the Swedes to question whether Sweden would be able to coöperate fully with organizations which became tainted with military or "unneutral" functions. The episodes once again disclose the two strands in the line of Swedish foreign policy--the genuine idealism, which finds its expression in certain forms of international collaboration, of which Hjalmar Branting was the chief exponent; and the caution and pursuit of economic advantages which characterize the stronger and more normal mood.
Because the opponents of neutrality in Sweden are extremely articulate, it is probably not generally realized how unimportant is their influence on Swedish policy. Of 380 members of the Swedish Parliament, only two or three, apart from the 12 Communists, could possibly be conceived of as voting in favor of an unneutral policy, unless the country were attacked. At every debate on foreign affairs the Opposition, after a great display of windmill-tilting, reaffirms its support of "alliance-free, armed neutrality" as the only possible course.
The fact that such discussion of Sweden's position is continuous and well-informed often gives foreigners an impression that the bases of a new policy are being investigated. This feeling is sometimes fostered by the replies of important Swedes to foreigners who ask whether any change in the present policy is contemplated. When the answer is "Not at present," as it often is, Americans or Englishmen go away confirmed in their belief that such an obviously Western and successfully bourgeois people as the Swedes are merely waiting for the right time to join the West. But such an impression is wrong, if by "right time" is meant any time before attack. The Swedes feel for neutrality as the English feel for the sea; and their attitude will be as difficult to change, even if they themselves want to change it. Increased danger merely makes them look to neutrality as the English "look to their moat"--or used to.
The maintenance of neutrality requires very quick reactions to the moods of the Great Powers; positions held too long can become compromising, as the Great Powers develop new aspects of their policies. If neutrality is to succeed, it must exhibit qualities of inconsistency similar to those for which, in rather different circumstances, "Perfidious Albion" has been criticized since the time of Cardinal Wolsey. However, for the observer of the international scene in northern Europe it is precisely this sensitivity to changing situations which makes Sweden such a valuable political barometer.
It is a reasonable assumption that the Russians consider Sweden's neutrality of benefit to them, and they have given various indications of the importance they attach to it. Most significant, perhaps, were the comments made by Mr. Molotov, then Soviet Foreign Minister, on the conclusion of the Russo-Finnish Treaty of Mutual Assistance in Moscow in April 1948. The gist of his remarks was that he hoped Finland's neighbors would note that Soviet Russia had the interests of the small northern states at heart. More recent, and in different vein, was the somewhat hysterical reaction in April 1950 to alleged Swedish indifference to the "violations" of her aerial sovereignty by United States aircraft searching for the crew of the Privateer which the Russians had shot down off the Latvian coast. But apart from such manifestations there is the overriding consideration that, as long as Sweden is neutral, the limits of NATO are kept many miles further away from Russia than they would otherwise be.
To foster, or at least not to discourage, a neutral bloc that would serve as a buffer for Russia's frontiers has been a major aim of Soviet policy in northern Europe since shortly after the war. The development of NATO has now precluded Norwegian and Danish participation. But there is strong backing for the idea in Germany, whose acceptance of such a scheme would more than offset the absence of Denmark and Norway from the group. Finland would, of course, belong to it; and it might reach far enough into central Europe to include the Russian satellites Poland and Czechoslovakia. A glance at the map shows how strategically important such a combination would be. A few moment's reflection shows how little prospect it has of materializing; but, equally, it shows that in all the northern countries except Norway there is sufficient support for such an attractive illusion to make the idea of a "Third Force" grouping in Scandinavia and certain neighboring countries of continuing value to Russian propaganda.
Thus in the last year or so the meretricious attractions of a neutral bloc have been displayed around the northern capitals. For a while, an apparent increase in the friendliness of Soviet diplomats and a definite increase in the number of parties they gave led to the belief that something new was afoot. These manifestations roughly coincided with the Ottawa meeting of the Atlantic Foreign Ministers, and the beginning of the financial difficulties in NATO which were eventually dealt with by the special three-man committee consisting of Mr. Harriman, M. Monnet and Sir Edwin Plowden. They were obviously intended to undermine the resolution of some of the smaller NATO Powers by suggesting that their considerable efforts at rearmament were not really necessary.
As the economic prospect deteriorated, as the truce negotiations in Korea dragged on, and as the struggle for Germany continued, various other moves were made. Last autumn Norway received several Soviet notes in the space of a few weeks protesting strongly against various actions she was alleged to be taking as part of an aggressive plan against Russia. Against the background of the increased camaraderie noted above, and of contemporaneous rumors in Copenhagen that the Russians were now ready to reach a settlement on Germany, these protests were probably intended as a warning to other small countries. All this time, of course, the "peace campaign" proceeded apace, and preparations were in train for the Moscow Economic Conference.
A surprising intervention by Sweden in the U.N. discussions on all-German elections, at Paris last December, revived speculations about this neutral bloc. Seeing a rare opportunity of combining both the idealistic and the egotistic strands of foreign policy, the Swedish Foreign Minister, Mr. Undén, put forward proposals which were described by Herr Ackermann, the East German Foreign Minister, as "near to the East German ideal." Mr. Undén proposed that the four occupying Powers should be responsible for arranging all-German elections as a preparatory step to the reunification of Germany, and should report within a month on the feasibility of such elections. The plan would have provided just those opportunities for introducing irrelevant matters which would have enabled the Communists to damage the Western case, while postponing any decision on elections.
The Swedes did not intend to help the Communists, of that we may be sure. We may equally believe that they did intend to benefit Sweden even at the incidental expense of vital Western interests. The United States delegation lobbied so strongly against the Swedish proposal that it was dropped, and the State Department indicated its disapproval of the move to the Swedish Government. The reason given officially for the Swedish initiative was that, since the investigation of the possibility of elections in Germany had little chance of success, it was better to let the four Control Powers negotiate unsuccessfully among themselves than waste the time and damage the prestige of the United Nations by yet another disagreement there between East and West. The Germans were to be brought in because they were the people whose future was being decided.
This narrow view disregarded the realities of the situation in Germany so completely that the West Germans themselves expressed annoyance at such a gratuitous weakening of their position. Taxed with the broader implications of their action, government circles in Stockholm took refuge in wounded idealism. Behind Mr. Undén's move lies one of Sweden's greatest preoccupations--the revival of a strong Germany, preferably reunified at the price of "neutrality" and enjoying a good trade with the East. Such a development, it is thought, would greatly strengthen Swedish neutrality by reviving the triangular pattern of power which favors it. Furthermore, it is highly probable that a Germany united after really free elections would have a Social Democratic government--a prospect which the Swedish Socialists welcome and have an interest in bringing about. Of course there is also a considerable body of opinion in Sweden which is highly suspicious of Germany, whether Christian Democrat or Socialist, and disapproves of such objectives.
The attractions of the picture of a neutral group of nations enjoying greater trade with the East are enhanced by the increasing difficulties which Sweden's exports are beginning to meet in the West. Those difficulties should not be exaggerated, however. Public interest in Sweden has been focused on the "pulp war;" but in the long run the effect of recent wage increases on the competitive position of the engineering industry's exports may be more serious. It is in any case the nature of these neutralist tendencies rather than their present strength that makes them so interesting. They spring from deep inside the Swedish national consciousness, and for that reason may blossom with surprising vigor in the conditions that would be provided by a real threat to Sweden's prosperity. The Russians probably had an eye to these proclivities when they proved so accommodating in the negotiations for the Russo-Swedish trade agreement last December. As it happened, the famous Russian Trade and Credit Agreement of 1946 ran out, with only about half its provisions fulfilled, just at the time when world economic tendencies were more in line with the general temper which had produced it then at any moment since it was concluded. Of course there is at present no likelihood of the great American slump which the agreement with an "insulated" Russia was to guard against; but the level of trade in the West is diminishing and Sweden will suffer in consequence. This naturally predisposes the Swedes to look for compensatory trade in the East, or in previously neglected markets such as Indonesia. There is little evidence that the necessary volume of trade is there--except in goods which can be sold to the West as well, iron ore, for example--but the mood exists. The unusual Russian purchase of such consumer goods as razor blades and butter under the new agreement was probably designed to encourage this state of mind as well as to keep making propaganda for the Moscow Economic Conference.
If increased and more varied trade with the Soviet empire is useful for Sweden--all questions of control through strategic blacklists and the allocation of raw materials apart--it is coming to be a matter of vital importance for Finland. By September 18 next--and probably before--the last reparations deliveries will have been made. Finland will then have to decide what to do with the industries she has built up to produce reparations goods. The prices of the products of these industries--primarily engineering and metal-working--are far too high to compete on the world market. There is thus the prospect that they will either have to sell their goods to the East, or reduce their capacity, with all the consequent economic and political repercussions. For a time the home demand for some things will mask the severity of the problem. But the long-term prospect is one of increasing economic dependence on Russia and her satellites. There is no intrinsic harm in this. After all, this is what was already happening in the early years of reparation deliveries: in 1945, for example, reparations accounted for 62 percent of all exports, and in 1946, 34 percent. It all depends on how Russia chooses to use her strength. The Finns prepare for the worst, but in the light of Russian behavior in recent years remain fairly optimistic.
Their own Communists probably cause them more anxiety. Politically weaker than their 16 percent voting strength in the general election of July 1951 would imply, they have nonetheless tended in recent years to get a firm grip on certain sectors of economic activity. This they have done in two ways. Firstly, they manage the former German companies which were handed over to Russia as reparations. These include important sectors of the forest industry--the largest is the group of firms run by the Waldhof Concern--and a variety of businesses ranging from engineering, fuel distribution, and shipping to cinemas and dress shops. Secondly, several trading companies founded with Communist funds obtain preferential treatment from the state-trading agencies of the satellite countries, and are building up monopolies in various commodities--Polish coal, for example. The most important of these is the Suomen Export-Import Agency ("Seximo"). Thus the Finnish Communists are strengthened by their capitalist interests; it would be a bold man who prophesied that they would never be tempted to use this strength for their own purposes.
The difficulty then would be that, although the Soviet Government has behaved well toward Finland, as the Finns would be the first to admit, it is inconceivable that it would refuse to support more effectively the revived claims of a Communist Party strong enough to afford prospects of a successful seizure of power. It is possible that some such reasoning contributed to Mr. Kekkonen's announcement on foreign policy. Among other things, he might have been trying to suggest to the Russians that in his Administration they had a broad-based non-Communist Finnish Government which nevertheless considered that in matters of major policy Finland's interests were identical with Russia's Scandinavian interests--that therefore it was not necessary to replace this Government by a Communist régime. To adapt the private expression of one of Finland's leading politicians, the Finns realize they are in a cage but are trying to avoid being chained up as well.
Various other explanations of the significant portion of Mr. Kekkonen's speech have been advanced, and it is unlikely that any single motive accounted for it. The apparent sense of urgency which impelled him to publish his draft speech on the eve of a surgical operation has been taken as evidence of Russian pressure to get the renewed appeal for a neutral bloc in the north on the record, before the Lisbon meeting of NATO, so that, by "disregarding" it, the NATO countries would provide a spurious justification for any future Russian action. It is also said that the timing of the statement can be explained by the circumstances of internal politics which made Mr. Kekkonen anxious to make known his views before the Diet met the following week. However that may be, his effort to give a lead to the Scandinavian states in the direction of neutrality focuses attention on significant Russian moves in the area.
[i] In the Russian note of October 15, 1951, the following occurs: "The Soviet Union owns parts of the coalfields on Spitsbergen . . . thereby supplying the northern regions of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Northern Fleet."