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  • The Northern Front in the Technological Cold WarFinland and East-West Trade in the 1970s and 1980s
  • Niklas Jensen-Eriksen (bio)


"Modern armies march on electronics," The Economist noted in April 1984, arguing that weapons were becoming less important than the computers, communications equipment, and signaling devices that controlled actual armaments.1 U.S. authorities, especially at the Department of Defense, saw the situation similarly and tried to build barriers to stop high technology from flowing from Western countries to the Soviet bloc. Finland, a small Nordic country, was one of the Soviet Union's most important non-Communist trading partners. Therefore, U.S. authorities tried to integrate it into the Western embargo. This article explores how the superpowers waged a technological Cold War in Northern Europe in the 1970s and 1980s and analyzes how the Finnish government and Finnish companies reacted to these outside pressures. How could the Finns maintain extensive technological links with the West while selling high-technology goods to the Soviet Union?

U.S. officials were successful in their efforts. That Finland, a country vulnerable to Soviet pressure and sharing a long border with its powerful neighbor, was successfully incorporated into the Western embargo underlines the ability of the United States to control international trade during the Cold War. The Finnish case also shows that determined small countries were not necessarily helpless actors in the world but could protect their political and economic interests. The Finns managed to get the best of both worlds: expansion of Finnish-Soviet trade made the small country an "East-West [End Page 150] trading giant," but it was also able to strengthen its trading links with the West.2

There is little published research on Finland's role in the Western Cold War technology embargo. Hendrik Roodbeen, in his detailed 1992 work on the role of small countries in the Western Cold War embargo, writes that

[a]lthough none of the neutral countries have given much publicity to their problems regarding the transfer of technology, they have been generous as compared with Finland. The great sensitivity of the problem has been the result of the special relationship with the USSR.3

Michael Mastanduno offers a similar view in his well-known book (also from 1992) on East-West Trade: "Given its geographical proximity to and political relationship with the Soviet Union, Finnish cooperation with the technology embargo is a delicate matter that has rarely been publicly discussed."4

Since the early 1990s, the situation has improved considerably. A scholar can now gain access to many previously closed archival collections and other sources that reveal important information on Finnish policy toward the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (CoCom), the Western export control system during the Cold War decades. Although many important collections are still closed to researchers, it is possible to construct a reasonably coherent picture of Finnish activities based on available archival material, interviews, press reports, and published research. From this picture one can conclude that, despite the Finnish-Soviet "special relationship"—a polite way of saying that Finland was suspected to be under Soviet influence or at least forced to refrain from any actions that might annoy the Communist superpower—the Finns formed close relationships with Western export control authorities.

As a small non-Communist, capitalist country located next to the vast Soviet state, Finland had to tread carefully in the Cold War. Although the Finns had managed to avoid Soviet occupation during the Second World [End Page 151] War, Finnish political leaders—in particular, President J. K. Paasikivi (1946–1956)—recognized that the country would survive only if it established and maintained cordial relations with the Communist superpower. Overtly anti-Soviet actions could provoke Soviet leaders to try to occupy the country, as indeed they had tried to do twice during the Second World War. Furthermore, Finland had little hope that Western countries would guarantee the security of a country deemed by Moscow to be within the Soviet sphere of influence—a country adjoining Leningrad, the USSR's second largest city.5

During the Cold War, Finnish authorities stressed in all available public forums their determination to remain neutral in the global East-West confrontation...


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pp. 150-174
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