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Russia, Russia, Russia

Bruce Jones, one of the world’s foremost foreign policy experts, gives his thoughts on little Finland’s role in the big world.


David J. Cord



Finland isn’t in the global news much. Small, quiet and stable doesn’t translate into many headlines. Yet in the summer of 2018 this changed, when Helsinki hosted a summit meeting between the presidents of the United States and Russia, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

“Think geographically,” says Bruce Jones. “Finland is located beside a great power and is in the Baltic area, a strategically important area of the globe. Finland’s history, knowledge and experience with Russia is a huge value to the rest of the world.”

Academic, author and policy analyst Bruce Jones is one of the world’s preeminent foreign policy experts. He is Vice President and Director of the Foreign Policy programme at the Brookings Institution and senior fellow at the Institution’s Project on International Order and Strategy. He brings his expertise to Sitra’s International Advisory Panel, where he helps Sitra understand its role in Finland and the wider world.

Challenges: Russia, environment, anti-globalisation and technology

“A major challenge to Finland’s future is Russia,” Jones says. “Think of Russia’s misinformation campaigns, how the Baltic is Russia’s playground and how Finland and Sweden are stuck between NATO and Russia. US-Russia relations will get worse and Finland will go back to being a frontline state. This is something you can’t avoid.

There will be intense geopolitical tension and competition.

“There will be intense geopolitical tension and competition. This includes the US and Russia, certainly, but also other countries like China and Germany have their own agendas. Small countries will find it difficult to stay out of the fray and will be forced to make tough choices.”

Sitra is a Finnish future-oriented organisation, and Jones sees several major challenges for Finland in the coming years besides Russia. Climate and energy issues are major trends where Sitra is already investing many resources. A third trend Jones cites is an anti-globalisation backlash, including issues such as populism, migration and trade.

“Technology is the fourth major trend which affects Finland,” he continues. “Many new technologies like AI (artificial intelligence), biotechnology and nanotechnology are going to have major impacts on our lives. Finland has had a seat at the global technology table in the past, but maybe less so now.”

A Finnish centre of excellence regarding Russia?

From a global perspective Jones sees three main areas where he believes Finland and Sitra can have a positive impact.

“Sitra needs to continue their current projects, such as the circular economy programme,” he says. “That is extremely valuable and important work.”

He also believes multilateral co-operation is another important topic for Sitra, particularly with the major anti-globalisation trend the world is currently experiencing.

Jones’ expertise is in international security, and recently his research has focused on US strategy, international order and great power relations. This leads directly to a global need Jones sees which Finland could fill: a centre of excellence regarding Russia.

“Finland has enormous competitive advantages when it comes to Russia. An entity should be created to be a platform for dialogue between Russia and other countries. It would be a way for others to understand Russia, its economy, its energy industry, its policies,” Jones says. “It would be a huge missed opportunity not to make Finland’s Russian expertise widely available. Perhaps even Sitra and Brookings could co-operate on this. Maybe this should be in Sitra’s remit, or maybe not, but it should be considered. Sitra could push the boundaries a bit.”

Finland’s “unique concept of resilience”

Jones also wishes Sitra would tell the world more about itself, what it does, how it is structured and why it exists.

“Sitra is unique due to its relationship to Parliament,” he says. “Maybe not every country could have something with such a large endowment, but you should explain Sitra’s model. People call it a think tank or a foundation, but these are not accurate terms. Sitra has a special role in democracy and parliamentary decision-making.”

He says Finland should be proud of their Russian expertise and also for what he calls Finland’s “unique concept of resilience”. Strengthening resilience is, in fact, one of Sitra’s key goals to achieve a sustainable well-being.

Sitra has a special role in democracy and parliamentary decision-making.

“Singapore is a bit similar to Finland, but it is harder for big countries to do what Finland does,” says Jones. “The whole society – the government, companies, labour, civil sector – work together to achieve resiliency. This allows Finland to withstand shocks, be they from the economy, climate or even Russia.”

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