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How the Small Survive... and Prosper
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T.H. Jukka Valtasarri

      ... Ambassador of Finland to the United States. A career diplomat, T.H. Mr. Valtasaari entered Finland’s Foreign Service in 1966 and has twice been Finland’s Ambassador to the U.S., once in the 1980s and again beginning 2001. He has served in Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs with an impressive range of responsibilities, from economics to nuclear arms control. He holds a Master’s and Licentiate of Political Science from the University of Helsinki and was a Fellow at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs.

Excerpts1:49 secs

Ultimately, one’s values count, Finland’s Ambassador to the U.S. says. Finland never forgets that it is a small nation with large neighbors and a well defined, if narrow niche of influence on the world’s stage. From rugged experience, Finland has earned its place of influence in the international stage because it understands that a nation must be committed to the respect it earns on the basis of something other than raw force.

Ambassador Valtasaari makes the point in his story of no less formidable a foe than Joseph Stalin. (Finland fell to Russia the “winter war” and continued resisting throughout World War Two.) “Finns are nuts,” said Stalin, meaning hard to crack. Clearly proud of that assessment, the Ambassador asks rhetorically, What else could the Finns do in those days but try to earn respect?

Historically, Mr. Valtasaari says, choices most Northern people have made were about survival. Not any more, he says. Now nations in this region, (called by many the Circumpolar North,) make strategic choices.  In the mid-1980’s, he says, Finland chose to base its future on innovation. “Why” seems straight forward -- Finns are practical people and they like to solve problems. But “how” is harder, until one considers Finland’s number One, Two and Three Priorities: Education, Education, and Education, Ambassador Valtasaari says, convinced that innovation is ALWAYS based on education. Twenty-seven percent of Finland’s Masters degrees each year are in engineering, math and science, compared to 8% in the U.S. And when one adjusts for size, Finland and the United States contribute the same amount of innovation to the world. Look no further than Nokia and Finland’s other thriving multi-nationals.

In the world of globalism, the Ambassador says, smaller nations will have to adjust faster than bigger ones. And big challenges require cooperation between nations, he says, aware that it is a simple statement but firm in his assertion that it is an important, fundamental one. Hence, the European Union, he explain, and cites one powerful example: After having a very difficult time, simply following the criteria of euro (maximum 3% deficit, limits on inflation and so on) forced Finland to behave in a way that has resulted in them doing very well economically since the early part of the ‘90s.

Yes, diplomacy is always important. Yes, it is always communications between nations.  And no, diplomacy is never static. Look no further than the enormous changes in the ‘90s, when military confrontation gave way to entirely new policy issues. Its big challenge today is that diplomacy no longer is only between nations. Now you also have non-state actors.

So you can be quite sure -- whether talking about the spread of HIV and tuberculosis, the safety to old nuclear reactors just 2 hours of wind away or the health risks posed by aging sewage systems in cities across a border -- diplomacy is here to stay.  But however small or large, sheer power is not enough. Having influence requires respect. And respect starts with life-affirming values.

[This Program was recorded March 4, 2005, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

T.H. Jukka Valtasaari tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell why he has always appreciated maps. Diplomacy, Ambassador. Valtasaari says, is important in all phases of history because it is simply communication between nations. Today, he says, diplomacy is particularly challenged because it must include non-state actors, which he sees as generally good because going beyond just governments brings everything closer to people’s real lives. He explains why he believes smaller nations will have to adjust faster than bigger ones in the face of globalism.

Conversation 1 RealAudio6:16 secs

Conversation 2

The Circumpolar North is of interest on many levels, Ambassador Valtasaari says, starting with climate change. He puts the regional interest in the larger East-West context, sees Northern issues including the environment, energy security, Europe and the Circumpolar area itself. He describes the results of Finland’s choice in the 1980s to base its future on innovation. Finland’s first, second and third priorities are Education, Education and Education he says, and explains why. Wary of “small country arrogance,” his gives examples of how Finland has exerted important leadership in what he calls a very real, albeit very narrow niche. Fundamentally, big challenges require cooperation between nations, he says, and elaborates.

Conversation 1 RealAudio14:06 secs

Conversation 3

The Ambassador recounts how big changes in the 1990s required significantly different policies, with military confrontation giving way to policy concerns about HIV/AIDS, the spread of tuberculosis, the safety of nuclear reactors, and health risks created by neighbors. He gives a classic solution to setting priorities among a large panoply of issues and actors, and talks about global warming. He describes the profound effects of being between 2 large countries. In the end, one is reduced to one thing, he believes -- the power of argument and reason.

Conversation 1 RealAudio8:41 secs

Conversation 4

Ultimately, Ambassador Valtasaari says, one’s values count. He tells the story of Stalin’s assessment of Finns as “nuts” -- that is, hard to crack -- an affirmation, Ambassador Valtasaari believes, of the respect Finland earned when there was little else they could do but resist. He talks about Finland’s indigenous peoples and their important role nationally and regionally. Technologies are considered, with examples from Finland.  He compares the significant changes in his role as Ambassador to Washington, D.C. in the 1980s and when he was again assigned there in 2001. He ends with a story of how opportunities can fail for reasons entirely unrelated to the challenges being addressed.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:32 secs


Ambassador Valtasaari was warmly willing to join us in this Conversation, despite a host of scheduling challenges.  He then provided us with an unusual audio introduction to the beauties of Finland’s remarkable Embassy in Washington, D.C., which we continue to savor. We thank Ambassador Valtasaari on all counts.

We thank Dr. Lassi Heininen, Docent/Senior Scientist, University of Lapland, and Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Northern Research Forum, for making it possible for us to produce this program with Ambassador Valtasaari. Dr. Heininen and his colleagues did a splendid job designing and executing the Open Meeting, “Canada and the Circumpolar North:  A Northern Dimension” in March, 2005.

Dr. Heather Nicol, Director of the Center for Canadian Studies at the University of West Georgia, in Carrollton, Georgia, US, introduced us to the idea of the “Circumpolar North” and alerting us to the Conference at which we got acquainted with Ambassador Valtasaari.  We are most appreciative.

We gratefully acknowledge the important role of the Canadian government, which, through their Embassy in Washington, D.C., funded the Open Meeting. And we enjoyed the hospitality of Georgia Institute of Technology where the event took place.

Finally, we thank T.H. Malcolm McKechnie, Canada’s Consul General posted in Atlanta, GA, who ignited a wonderful chain of events when he introduced us to Dr.  Heather Nicol and her husband.

Related Links:
Finland’s beautiful official website offers everything from tourist information and local lore to news on how the Helsinki Process on Globalisation and Democracy is proceeding from dialogue to action.
The Embassy of Finland in Washington, D.C. has a wealth of information at its website.
You can learn more about the the Circumpolar North at the website of the Northern Research Forum.
Find more about the Open Meeting on the Circumpolar North where we met Ambassador Valtasaari at the website devoted to “The Challenges for a Northern Dimension Foreign Policy in International Relations”
To learn more about the Arctic Council’s Arctic Human Development Report, visit the Stofnun Vilhjálms Stefánssonar website.

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