What does a small militarily non-aligned country do for its defence if it is located in a region where the operational environment has radically changed, military activity and military tensions have quickly increased, the early-warning for military action has become drastically shorter, and the threshold for the use of military force, or a threat thereof, has dramatically lowered.
This past week, on 16 February 2017, Finland gave her answer in the Government’s Defence Report 2017:
First, Finland’s military defence continues to be based on using the country’s vast trained reserves. About one million male citizens have over the years been given military training through general conscription. In the 1970s, the country was prepared to mobilise a field army of 700 000 soldiers. In the more lenient military environment of the early 2000s, that figure was brought down to 230 000. Now again, the total wartime strength will be increased to 280 000 soldiers. It is a potent figure for a nation of just 5,5 million citizens.
Second, the Defence Forces will be paying special attention to creating a sharp edge to its land component. The Air Force and Navy are already in a continuous state of readiness, and a similar level of availability and mobility will be built into the newly created rapid reaction land force units, consisting of young reservists, conscripts and professional military. The Army’s ability to repel a large-scale attack will be retained.
Third, the Government Report outlines the resources needed for boosting Finnish defence capabilities. For building up the land forces rapid reaction units, an extra money of 55 million euros is needed each year from 2018 onwards, and an annual amount of 150 million will be earmarked to keep up the needs of materiel investments. These resources are additional to the annual defence budget of about 2,9 billion euros, of which about 20 percent will be allotted to materiel purchases.
Fourth, there are two major procurement projects that will need a considerable amount of extra funding, starting from the early 2020s. One of the projects is a new set of four missile frigates and some other naval ship replacements, and the other is the replacement of the fleet of 64 F/A-18 Hornet the Finnish Air Force has been flying since they were purchased in 1992. The price tag for the naval vessels is 1,2 billion euros, and the Hornet replacement is estimated to cost anywhere between 8 and 10 billion euros. In the Defence Report, there is clear political backing for these procurement projects. With these major projects on-going in the 2020s, Finland will be spending more than enough on its defence to make the NATO target of 2 percent of GNP for the entire decade.
Fifth, the Report underlines the necessity for a country like Finland to promote close international defence cooperation. Bilateral cooperation with Sweden is particularly important, and so is Nordic-Baltic cooperation through NORDEFCO. The special relationships with the United States and the UK are duly emphasised as is the importance of the European Union and its defence and security policy. In the words of the Report, “By means of a wide network of partners Finland develops such arrangements that can be utilized to receive all possible assistance already at the onset of a potential crisis.”
Finally, what about NATO? Is NATO membership for Finland in the offing soon? Not if one takes the Defence Report at its word: “While carefully monitoring the developments in its security environment, Finland maintains the option to seek NATO membership.” However, as Finland keeps developing its defence capability, “it continues to take into account the prospects for defence cooperation and interoperability, and ensures the elimination of any practical impediments to a possible membership in a military alliance.”
The Government’s Defence Report will be debated in Finnish Parliament starting on 8 March. While the funding levels will be probably contested by the parties on the left, it is safe to assume that the Report will be approved by a huge majority, especially since the Ministry of Defense –led working group producing the Report was all the while in close contact with a parliamentary group overseeing its work.