May 2001

Defence debate hots up

Adapting Finland’s traditional defence policy to modern times is creating bitter recriminations inside the government. In the coalition government, the Left Alliance is extremely unhappy about the way the upcoming report on defence policy is being prepared.

In an interview in the left-wing newspaper Kansan Uutiset (27 April 2001), the leader of the Left Alliance, Suvi-Anne Siimes, complains that there has never been any intention to have an open debate on defence.

Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen has been clearly irritated by the Left Alliance’s criticism. Recently he accused the party of “Brezhnevism”. “Communists”, according to Lipponen, are trying to encourage a belief that there is something wrong about raising defence expenditure.

Siimes retorts that other parties have become irritable exactly because the old practice of not having an open debate in defence questions has gone wrong.

The Left Alliance is demanding an analysis of what has happened in the European security environment. Siimes refers to what other European countries are doing.

“How can it be that in many other European countries, the trend after the end of the Cold War has been towards lower defence expenses and making training and conscription lighter and reserves smaller. For some reason we have a completely different attitude. How could we be threatened by something different compared to other countries to the extent that we have to increase military preparedness in a situation where others are reducing it?”

According to Siimes, the Left Alliance bases its analysis on the fact that the threat of a major war has become substantially smaller than in the past. She says that this can be seen also by reading military periodicals.

Siimes also asks why the tight budget principles, with which she has agreed, don’t apply to defence.

“It has been said that it is ridiculous to compare social security to military expenses. This is not ridiculous, however, when the money is taken from the same tax payer’s wallet and through the same budget.”

An article in the regional daily Aamulehti (29 April 2001) points out that behind all the arguing about money is the question: What are the threats which need to be addressed? What all this really means, the article says, is how the potential threat from Russia is seen.

One of the choices facing Finland is between a more technical defence approach as compared to a more traditional defence thinking based on manpower. A defence expert, quoted in Aamulehti, says that opting for the high-tech model increases Finland’s dependence on NATO.

The article also points out that Finnish ministers put more emphasis on protection coming from the EU rather than NATO. The paper quotes Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, who has reminded Finns of a statement by Henry Kissinger: “Who cares about Northern Norway when there are only reindeers there?”

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