Finnish cell phone conglomerate Nokia has threatened to leave its home country, taking with it some 16,000 jobs and denying the government 1,3 billion euros in taxes, unless Parliament passes legislation allowing companies to snoop on employee email, my hometown newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reports.*
The problem with having a rubberstamp parliament is not only that there’s no resistance to big-business lobbying. It also means that when lives are lost on overseas military missions, no one is accountable.
Afghanistan is a case in point. Three successive governments have slowly expanded Finland’s euphemistically named “crisis management mission”, taking the country to war without so much as a peep from Parliament. Boys and girls have been sent out to fight for their lives while our elected representatives have looked on, clueless and impotent.
One can always argue that the problem is built into the Finnish constitution, which grants the president and the government the sole power to conduct foreign policy and defend the realm. It’s also true that the Peacekeeping Law — recently amended to reflect new challenges and retitled, in true Orwellian fashion, ‘Crisis Management Law’ — is extremely vague about how Parliament is supposed to provide oversight, given that a majority government can send Finnish troops anywhere it pleases without really having to consult anyone. Supposedly a fundamental change in the character of a mission would require parliamentary approval; however, what constitutes such a change remains ill-defined. For example, doubling the Finnish contingent in Afghanistan and expanding its AO from Kabul to the north, while broadening the mission from supply and CIMIC to force protection and reconnaisance, apparently did not qualify as fundamental enough to warrant more than a perfunctory discussion in the Foreign Affairs Committee.
These are weak excuses. Parliament can only blame itself for meekly accepting its role as a bystander. No one forced it to pass legislation that stripped it of the power to oversee military missions. No one has tried to stop the Foreign Affairs Committee from obtaining pertinent information — a prerogative guaranteed in the constitution — or from refusing to accept the badly written and poorly researched reports the government has submitted for rubber stamping. Nor has anyone prevented Parliament from exercising its budgetary power to force the government to explain what Finland means to accomplish in Afghanistan, or, failing that, to scuttle the mission.
The consequences of this fiasco are all too evident. Mission creep is just one of them. Lack of legislative oversight means the government has little incentive to come up with a coherent plan for Finland’s involvement in Afghanistan. And frustrated legislators, kept out of the loop for seven years, have no interest in trying to explain to their constituents why Finland should sacrifice its finest in a foreign land.
I have nothing against fighting for a worthy cause; if anything, I think Finland should commit more troops, contribute more aid, and engage in bolder diplomacy to help save the day in Afghanistan. But a nation can’t just stumble its way into a war. You need to have a mission plan and an exit strategy, and you need to at least try to harness popular support, even if you’re going to dive in regardless. The Finnish government has done none of this, and consequently the country remains lost in the Hindu Kush.
The lesson? Next time you wonder why significant majorities of people in Europe don’t want their governments to send more troops to Afghanistan, remember Finland.
* Both Nokia and Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen have denied the allegations.