No. 4 - Sep 1995
Vol. 43 - pp. 19-21


General Gustav Hägglund
Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Defence Forces

While Finland maintains its policy of military non-alignment, backed up by a credible national defence, at the same time it enjoys the implicit collective security provided by its EU membership. The weapons and equipment of its defence forces may be modest compared to larger powers but Finland can mobilize at short notice a force of more than half a million men. Finland takes an active part in international peacekeeping operations, and its participation in PfP and its observer status in the WEU will help it to improve the interoperability of its forces with those of other nations.

Finland is located between East and West but somewhat further to the North. This sentence describes in a nutshell Finland's geopolitical position throughout the ages.

This position at the crossroads of Eastern and Western interests has thrown Finland into numerous wars and conflicts in the past. All these have been between Slavic and Germanic peoples, ever since the Swedes conducted the first crusade to Finland in 1157. The country's location in the far North, on the other hand, has spared it from numerous conflicts in which more southern borderlands have been involved.

Two very different worlds have always faced each other on the eastern Finnish border: Nordic democracy and Eastern authoritarianism, Western constitutionalism and Eastern despotism, Lutheran rationalism and Byzantine mysticism, market economy and socialism, Germanic cultural heritage and Slavic tradition. Conflict between these opposite powers explains much of Finnish history.

Historic perspective has to be taken into consideration also in the present security situation of Europe. For Finland, it was only natural to join the European Union since we share the values, legal system, religion, democracy and culture of the other member nations. Finland gave up her former policy of neutrality by making a commitment to the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the Union. This should not, however, cause any future conflict with Russia, Finland's eastern neighbour, as happened numerous times in the past when Finland acted as a Western buffer against the East.

Finland has, nevertheless, decided to maintain its policy of military non-alignment and credible national defence. This policy is the best way to preserve the stability in northern Europe under the present circumstances. As the situation changes, Finnish policy can always be redefined. Any assessment leading to an alteration of course would now be premature because of uncertain factors such as the very unpredictable course of Russia and the still evolving European security structure. For the time being, Finland's own defence and the implicit collective security provided by membership of the Union should give Finland sufficient protection against any outside pressure.

Defence of a small country

In the use of military force there are fundamental differences between major powers and small countries. The means available to major powers have an influence on the defence posture of their alliances as well.

  • A major power may rely on deterrence but a small non-aligned state can only achieve denial: to deny the attacker the objectives of aggression (e.g., to deny the use of Finnish territory or an easy invasion);

  • A major power strives to conduct operations outside its own area whereas a small power fights inside its own borders;

  • A major power gathers whatever resources are needed for the execution of a mission (as in the Gulf War); a small country does its best with the resources available, regardless of their adequacy;

  • A major power aims at surgical operations - fast in, fast out - while a small power tries to deter these operations by preparations for engagement of the attacker in an endless conflict (e.g., Vietnam and Afghanistan).

As a small power, Finland has adopted a doctrine of total defence which harnesses all the resources of our society for defence whenever required.

Finland can, for example, mobilize at short notice a reasonably well equipped force of more than half a million men which is a rather exceptional military capability in today's Europe. Conscription provides Finland with a cheap but highly motivated force whose budget allocations can be concentrated on materiel procurement. In Finland, about 90 per cent of all males of service age are given military training. During the Second World War, 15 per cent of the Finnish population was mobilized for military service. Forces this large are needed because of the requirement to defend the whole of the country's vast territory.

The weapons and equipment of the Finnish Defence Forces are, on average, more modest than those of the standing forces in the armies of the great powers. This is of course due to economic factors that do not allow the Defence Forces to modernize such a large force continuously. And until recently, the 1947 Peace Treaty of Paris imposed restrictions which compelled Finland to focus on armaments for the Army although this was not a great disadvantage since under no circumstances could the defence of non-aligned Finland be based primarily on the Air Force and the Navy.

These services do, however, play a central role in detecting and repelling any attempts to violate Finnish territorial sovereignty. Finland has to be able to safeguard the integrity of its airspace and territorial waters in order to prevent their use against itself or any third party.

The defence doctrine of Finland has been developed with regard to the scarcity of the available resources. There simply is not enough "hardware" to stop an attacker at the border or at any other line that may be drawn. Finland has therefore created a system of territorial defence which aims at so wearing down and delaying an invader in a deep area that the enemy can be repelled by concentrating the defending forces in areas of Finland's choosing, thereby ensuring that they have local superiority.

Finnish defence expenditure has been fairly modest compared to some other countries, amounting to only about 1.5 to 1.7 per cent of its gross national product. This percentage would be somewhat higher if the costs of the frontier and coast guard as well as certain social expenses were included in the defence costs, as is the case in many other countries. During the 15-year period ending in 1992, the annual increase in defence spending was, in real terms, more than 3.5 per cent. This was clearly more than the NATO recommendation, to say nothing about the real rate of growth in many NATO countries. The favourable trend was due to the steady growth of our gross national product which guaranteed a sensible, long term development of the Defence Forces.

Since 1992, however, the Finnish national economy has been hit by a deep economic recession, and attempts have been made to control it by cutting state expenditure. The Defence Forces have been obliged to contribute to the savings programme and this year's defence budget was cut by 8 per cent. It seems likely that the outlook for 1996 is not going to be much better, thus the Defence Forces will be compelled to postpone some of the procurement programmes for the Army. To a certain extent, this has been compensated by purchases of large quantities of surplus materiel from Germany during the past two years.

The only major acquisition of new materiel in the next few years will be the renewal of the fighter squadrons. This year the Air Force will receive their first planes resulting from the order of 64 F/A 18 Hornet fighters with AMRAAM radar-guided missiles. This purchase, which certainly imposes a major financial burden on a small country like Finland, should be interpreted as a strong sign of Finland's commitment to its defence.

Amidst all the changes in Europe, Finland is determined to maintain its defence system as operational as ever. The Navy is small but modern. The average age of the ships is only nine years, and thus there is no need for a major renewal of the fleet. The air defence is in rather good condition except for the present inventory of outdated fighters. In the Army, the Defence Forces have to concentrate on the modernization of the two armoured and the ten motorized brigades.Further decisions can only be made when the economic situation improves but a glimmer of light can already be seen at the end of the tunnel. The growth in GNP was 4.5 per cent last year and the forecast for this year is as high as 6.5 per cent - higher than in any other EU country.

Improving interoperability

Although national defence will always take the absolute priority over any other military tasks, Finland intends to continue to support international crisis prevention and management. At the moment, we are conducting a study on the best ways and means to enhance capabilities for peace operations.As far as peace enforcement is concerned, Finland has neither the political will nor appropriate forces, but apart from this, Finland will continue to contribute to the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations and the OSCE.

Participation in the Partnership for Peace activities and our observer status in the WEU will gradually help to improve the interoperability of Finnish forces with other European and American troops. Finland needs to plan and exercise with countries likely to make up the "coalitions of the willing" in crisis management whenever European interests are at stake.

Finland has a new opportunity, as an observer in the WEU, to promote the collective security of the European Union, and it will receive relevant information about preparations for the Intergovernmental Conference of 1996. Its approach to the development of a common European defence policy will be open and constructive and Finland is confident that its views will be given due consideration when commonly acceptable goals for this policy are formulated.

© Copyright by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1995.