Finland joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace in 1994 and has been an active member of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council since it was established 1997.
Addressing military personnel, defence officials and security experts at the Autumn Assembly of Finnish National Defence Courses, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen praised Finland as a “model partner” because of its strong commitment to cooperative security. “NATO and Finland have a lot in common. We share the same principles and values. The same commitment to individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The same desire for a strong bond between Europe and North America. The same aspirations for a Europe that is free, whole, and at peace. And the same dedication to building a safer and more secure world,” he added.
The Secretary General pointed to three main areas where he saw the potential for further strengthening NATO’s partnership with Finland: “First, helping Afghanistan to stand on its own feet; second, improving the ability of our forces to operate alongside each other; and third, working together to develop military capabilities.”
Contributions to NATO-led operations
Finnish soldiers have been working alongside Allied forces as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan since 2002. Currently, around 135 Finnish personnel are deployed in the country, primarily with a Provincial Reconstruction Team in the north of the country – this is a reduction from the some 195 troops that were deployed in September, marking the start of a drawdown in forces as the lead for security is being transitioned from ISAF to Afghan forces. The focus of the Finnish contribution is shifting towards training and capacity-building of Afghan security forces.
Finland has indicated its willingness to participate in the NATO-led mission to train, assist and advice Afghan forces, which will be deployed at the end of 2014, once the transition to Afghan security lead has been completed and ISAF’s operation is terminated. Finnish representatives are currently participating in consultations on the shape and scope of the new mission.
Finnish forces have also played significant roles in securing peace in the former Yugoslavia. Some 22 soldiers are now operating with the NATO-led KFOR in Kosovo. In the past, Finland contributed a battalion to the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In the context of Nordic defence cooperation, the Finnish government recently expressed its readiness to contribute to air surveillance over Iceland, along with Sweden, as part of a Norwegian deployment in early 2014. This is a peacetime mission, which is primarily aimed at promoting training and preparedness. The North Atlantic Council, NATO’s highest decision-making body has yet to take a formal decision in this regard.
Developing interoperable forces
To ensure that its forces will easily plug into NATO-led operations, working alongside counterparts from NATO and partner countries, Finland regularly participates in exercises organized by NATO.
Most recently, Finnish personnel took part in Exercise Steadfast Juncture 2012, which took place from 1 to 8 November 2012 at the Amari Air Base, Estonia. This was a command post exercise, which focused on the command and control of a fictitious NATO-led crisis response operation involving the NATO Response Force (NRF). Finland makes valuable contributions to the NRF’s pool of forces and the NRF is expected to play a greater role in exercising Allied and partner forces in future.
Finland itself also makes an important contribution to training the forces of partner countries, particularly in peacekeeping, through the Finnish Defence Forces International Centre in Ninisalo, which NATO formally recognized as a Partnership for Peace Training Centre in July 2001.
Developing military capabilities
In these times of economic austerity, multinational approaches to generating military capabilities through pooling and sharing, prioritisation and specialization are essential. NATO is taking steps to address this need through projects launched under the Smart Defence initiative, and is hoping to explore opportunities with partners in this area.
Finland is already working with Nordic NATO Allies and partners on a number of projects in this area. These include the establishment of a joint multinational headquarters in Germany, a harbor protection system and a deployable system for the surveillance of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents.
Strategic airlift is another area in which Finland is making a valuable contribution to capabilities, participating along with Sweden and ten NATO Allies in the operation of three C-17 transport aircraft based in Hungary.
Demonstrating the country’s strong commitment to promoting security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area and beyond, Finland supports a wide range of security projects aimed at assisting other partner countries. These include a NATO-Russia Council initiative aimed at training counternarcotics personnel from Afghanistan and other Central Asian partners; support for security-sector reform, and retraining and resettlement programmes for former military personnel; and projects focused on the safe disposal of dangerous unexploded munitions and chemicals.