The fallout from the collapse of the Soviet Union continues. After decades of safeguarding its security interests by accommodating Moscow, Finland has rejected further acquisitions of Russian MiG fighters. Instead, it has contracted to buy 64 American McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 jets.
Finland's unprecedented arms purchase from the United States has created quite a ruckus among rival suppliers in Europe. Serge Dassault, the genius behind France's Mirage fighters, claims Finland caved in to American pressure. Sweden has expressed fears that its prototype JAS 39 Gripen fighters now may never reach production stage. And Switzerland, which is buying a number of jets also from McDonnell Douglas, says it is being overcharged.
This squabble is a measure of hard times, particularly among arms suppliers. With the Soviet Union and the Cold War gone, most countries are scaling down their acquisitions. Faced with unpredictable future prospects, manufacturers are fighting over orders which in the past would have been regarded as relatively modest.
In Finland's case, the U.S. fighter plane purchase signals a deliberate reorientation. Now that the formerly lucrative Soviet and Eastern European export markets are gone, that Nordic country is in search of new trade opportunities in the West. Having traditionally purchased many of its passenger aircraft from McDonnell Douglas, Finland decided to intensify that trade relationship further. In return, McDonnell Douglas agreed to purchase considerable amounts of parts and materials from Finland over the next decade.
The 1970s and 1980s were a period of headspinning growth and economic excesses in Finland. The fall came two years ago, when that country plummeted to the deepest recession since the Great Depression. The same phenomena that have so direly tested the U.S. economy -- from massive banking troubles to large-scale bankruptcies and high unemployment -- have been felt in Finland.
Having applied for a membership in the European Community, Finland is at the threshold of painful structural changes as well as readjustments in its economic and social policies. Many of its traditional markets are in Europe, where Germany, Sweden and Great Britain are its major trading partners. But freed from previous political constraints, Finland now is also increasingly looking forward to cooperation with the United States. That was made clear recently, when Prime Minister Esko Aho visited Washington. Finland, he said, selected the U.S. fighters for "technology and economic reasons" and hopes to "improve economic cooperation on the basis of this purchase."