Friday, December 01, 2006

The Not-So-Special Relationship

Earlier this week, as President Bush arrived in neighbouring Estonia on an unprecedented full official visit, an article in Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat considered Finland-U.S. relations, noting:

The most powerful man in the world is so close, but then again, so hopelessly far. Bush is not especially popular around the world, but Finland’s leadership would have welcomed him with open arms.

Such a visit would have corrected an awkward blemish in relations between Finland and the United States: George W. Bush and Tarja Halonen have met too infrequently.

Halonen and Bush will both soon have been in office at the same time for six years, but they have had only one meeting, at which time less than an hour was reserved for their discussions. Bush received Halonen in the White House on April 16th, 2002. It will soon be five years since that meeting.

Fortunately Halonen and Bush have managed to exchange a few words at meetings. Who can forget the charming photo of Halonen straightening Bush’s tie at a meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Council in Istanbul in the summer of 2004.

Bush has never visited Finland. Ten years will soon have passed from the most recent visit of a US president to Finland. Bill Clinton came to Helsinki in March 1997, and after that no US presidents or vice presidents have been here.

The article concluded:

It is clear that Halonen’s programme of visits to the United States and Russia is not in balance. There is no reason to worry about this. Russia is a more important country for Finland than the United States - even though the United States is the most powerful country in the world.

However, the matter can also be seen from a different angle. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union it appeared for a moment that the Kremlin did not care about Finland. Putin has shown that Finland is again an important country for Russia.

At the end of the Cold War and a few years after it, it also appeared that Finland would have been a valuable partner for the United States. The Bush Presidency has shown that this is no longer the case. 

Meanwhile, Edward Lucas has a report on how this week’s NATO Summit in Riga was nearly gatecrashed by Vladimir Putin.

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