February 2001

Defence: Impossible equation

In spite of the fact that no military threat to Finnish territory seems imminent, the debate about the country's defence strategy is remarkably lively. Columnist Erkki Pennanen (Helsingin Sanomat, 20 February 2001) observes that hardly anyone sees a Russian attack against Finland probable within the next 10-15 years. Yet, one of the main threats is considered to be a strategic strike against vital Finnish targets. This is surprising in view of the fact that the emphasis lately has been on preparing for international crisis management.

However, there is not enough money to cover all forms of military preparedness, Pennanen writes. In spite of this, the military top brass refuses to make choices and re-target the existing resources.

"They try to solve an impossible equation in which the same amount of money is supposed to be enough for both massive land forces, and for everything new from rapid reaction forces to helicopters and crisis management."

Pennanen writes that in a war situation the Finnish army is supposed to defend the country against a massive military attack. For this purpose, the number of soldiers is planned to be about 430,000.

"By European standards this is a huge amount. Finland seems to be seriously preparing for a different kind of war than other countries in Europe."

Pennanen points out that unlike Finland, both Sweden and Norway have decided that because of the non-existent threat of military attack they can drastically reduce the strength of their ground forces and move resources to other uses.

In his column, Pennanen writes that if Finland's defence burden becomes unreasonable, this may turn out to be an important argument when the advantages and disadvantages of NATO membership are argued.

The regional daily, Turun Sanomat (15 February 2001), agrees with Vice Admiral Juhani Kaskeala — who will take up the job of the Commander of Defence Forces in the autumn — that Finland should not rely on any security guarantees from the European Union. In a leading article, the paper dismisses a conclusion that Finland's security position has essentially changed with all the talk about crisis management, military co-operation, common defence and co-operation with NATO.

"Kaskeala thinks that the concept of common defence — which the EU is aiming for — has created wrong impressions among Finns. For geopolitical and linguistic reasons we tend to connect the word 'defence' with defending our own territory against an enemy attack. In many EU countries, however, common defence means common military operations abroad."

Turun Sanomat points out that even among EU countries there are differing opinions about what direction the Union's security and defence policy should take. After the Nice summit, it seems that the closer military co-operation recommended by France is not gaining wide support.

"In view of this, the Finns have even more reason to rely on themselves", the paper writes.

"Right now it may be difficult in Finland to argue for maintaining strong defence because all the military threats seem to have disappeared. There are strong pressures to reduce defence spending. However, we don't know what the future holds. Creating credible defence takes time. For this reason it must not be allowed to grow weaker."

Turun Sanomat reminds readers that Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen has come to the same conclusion. He recently stated bluntly that an independent defence needs appropriate recources. The standard of defence will not be allowed to deteriorate, Lipponen said.

In his column, Pennanen puts more emphasis on international deterrence. He writes that if Russia should attack Finland, it is hardly conceivable that the EU and NATO would stand by, watching how the Finnish reserve army manages to counter the attack.

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