The Hon. Dr. Erkki Tuomioja (Former Foreign Minister of Finland)

09.11.2009 - Interview conducted by Florence Collins

Dr. Erkki Tuomioja, born July 1946, is regarded as one of the most well-read politicians in current political circles in Finland. He was Finnish Foreign Minister while Finland held the EU Presidency in 2006, during which he played a prominent role in EU foreign policy. Dedicated to maintaining peace in foreign policy, Tuomioja was one of the first to demand the cease–fire in the Israel–Lebanon conflict in 2006. Often making appearances at political conferences, he discloses that understanding globalisation is critical to understanding today’s world and maintaining peace in foreign policy.

During the World Without Walls Congress Tuomioja chaired a discussion entitled “Balancing Global Public Goods and National Priorities: Establishing Foreign Policy in an Interdependent World.” Afterwards, CD News had the chance to discuss with him his opinions on the US, the EU and the roles and responsibilities both should assume in conflict and post-conflict zones around the world.

 Dr. Tuomioja, you've been a strong promoter of peace in the Middle East, and have been critical of the US position on Israel, claiming that the US must be seen as something more than the unreserved supporter of Israel. Do you think that this perception has changed under the Obama administration, and in your opinion what steps could the US take to improve its position?

The Middle East is a problem, which may be a key to solving many others, and it certainly is a stepping stone for much wider relations with the third world in general, in particular the Muslim world. The EU has tried to act as an honest broker in the Middle East. I mean, we have no other interest than to have peace and stability in our close-by neighbourhood. We have wanted to work closely together with the US and others - that is why the quartet with the US, EU, Russia and the UN was formed - but it has not really made any progress at all. This was perhaps to be expected during the previous administration, but so far during the new US administration no progress has been made either. It is understandable that Obama has more pressing items on his agenda, such as Afghanistan, but I think he also recognises that the US has to reactivate this peace process. All eyes are on Obama. The expectations of him are very great and very positive. But, I think that there is a growing sense of frustration with the lack of progress that has been seen so far. The recent decision of President Abbas not to seek re-election is evidence of this. He was frustrated by the fact that the peace process was going nowhere and by the lack of American engagement. This suggests that the US needs to reevaluate its position.

Do you think that the Middle East is more trusting of the European Union than it is of the United States?

Well, Israel is really dependent on the US, both economically and for its defensive needs, so the Americans are the number one players in that sense. But the EU has a wider role now than its old role of just signing cheques and I think this came to the forefront with the Lebanon war when, for various reasons, others were not able to take the lead. The EU has a much greater role than previously, and the EU's role is also recognized, not only by Palestinians and by the Arab states, but also by Israel. However the EU still does not have the power to move Israel that America has.

Yesterday, H.E. Yasar Yakis quoted Chirac, who said that, if the EU were to act just as a free trade union it could do so without Turkey, but if it were to assume global responsibility it would be better to have Turkey. What do you think about Turkey's accession?

Well, in my mind Turkey is a European country. It has been a member of the Council of Europe longer than Finland has and it has always participated in all European championships, the Eurovision Song Contest etc. So, in that sense, Turkey elected to be part of Europe a long time ago and we have already welcomed Turkey into the EU. Accession really depends on Turkey doing its homework and we all know that could take 10 years or more. But it is surely in everyone’s strategic interest to have a European Turkey than to keep Turkey outside. A Turkey outside of the EU would inevitably turn in other directions. So, if you ask if it is better for European security and stability to have Turkey either inside Europe or outside, I think the answer is that a European Turkey is better.

Around the time of the US invasion of Iraq, you expressed your doubts about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. Did you later feel vindicated when the truth came out?

Nobody ever apologised for using that as an excuse for regime change. Now, whether or not those involved were deliberately misleading is a question I leave open to historians. But, I think it would have been beneficial for everyone had those involved come clean afterwards and said that they were wrong. The US was also wrong when it was indicating that Iraq had become a centre for global terrorism, which was not the case. Now, saying this I am in no respect apologising for Sadam Hussein, but you have to be honest regarding his role. He was bad for the Iraqi people but he did not have the same kind of international terrorist connection that the Taliban had and that the US continually suggested.

Do you think any lessons can be learnt from Iraq and applied now, in for instance Afghanistan?

It's too early to say really. Afghanistan is not really moving anywhere and the recent presidential elections and massive fraud have taken away all credibility from the government which we have been supporting and relying on. In Iraq, after a disastrous period, I think there may be some good news but it's more local or regional. So, there are examples where real progress is being made, but that does not mean that Iraq is a stable democracy by any means as of yet.

And what sort of action needs to be taken by the international community in a post conflict zone?

You need to look at the post conflict situation before you start a conflict. That is lesson number one, which was surely overlooked in Iraq and to some extent in Afghanistan. Against a week opponent the military part is usually the easier part. The reconstruction, nation building and other work has to be well prepared in advance, and there we have been lacking both in ideas and in experience.

Do you think we had a clear objective in mind when we set out, for instance in the Iraq war?

Well, who is ‘we’? The majority of the European countries didn't because they thought it was a wrong war, at the wrong time for the wrong reasons, but having started it we all have to take some responsibility for trying to sort out the mess.

Yesterday it was said that the international community intervene and disengage as and when they feel, sometimes leaving countries in ruins. How should we work to change this situation?

Well the idea is that the UN would have a real international responsibility. But the UN plays a very subordinate role even in Afghanistan. The UN gave the original mandate for the military intervention in Afghanistan and is present there but, despite this, it bears no responsibility and has no means really to take responsibility either.

We also talked about accountability, and how it often happens that nobody is held accountable for the failings...

Well, perhaps some people pay a political price, but Bush couldn't stand for re-election anyway. The Republicans have paid the price however, at least in the last elections.

Indeed. Thank you very much Dr. Tuomioja.