Finland's Armed Forces: Continuity and Change

Article excerpt

The Finns continue to emphasize a tradition of strong national defense and participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Finland is systematically developing an array of security relationships and is committed to multinational peace operations around the world.

IN THE 1990S, FINNISH SECURITY POLICY FOCUSED ON developing stability in northern Europe. At that time, the winds of change were sweeping through the Baltic states, Poland, and Russia. Today, the world is confronted by religious conflict, terrorism, and economic and social crises in the developing nations. Although stability in northern Europe remains a primary concern of Finland, Finnish security policy is expanding to take into account a global context. As the government report, Finnish security and Defence Policy 2004, aptly puts it: "Global security problems are shaping the objectives and opportunities of the action of the European Union and also Finland. They are thus no longer distant issues for Finland. . ."

Finland is deeply committed to crisis management and peacekeeping on a global scale. A very strong supporter of the United Nations, Finland has actively participated in U.N. peace missions since 1956. To sanction Finnish participation in peace operations, the Parliamentary Act on Peace Support Operations requires a mandate from the U.N. or the Organization for security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and consultation with Parliament. Finland is a member of the European Union and involved in many European Union missions. Fortunately, overlapping U.N. and OSCE mandates validate Finnish participation. The Act is now under review by Finnish authorities. However, Parliament will continue to play an integral role in Finnish decisions on peace operations.

Since the end of the Cold War, Finland no longer pursues a neutral path. But, it does follow a policy of military non-alliance, which enjoys very strong popular support. NATO membership has been discussed and debated in Finland. The Finnish security and Defence Policy 2004 report states that "applying for membership of the alliance will remain a possibility in Finland's security and defence policy." So the option of NATO membership remains open. Meanwhile, Finland participates in a wide array of exercises sponsored by NATO's Partnership for Peace Program and encourages cooperation between the EU and NATO through the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.

EVERY YEAR, 27,000 FINNISH MEN AND WOMEN ENTER MILITARY training. Service is compulsory for men and voluntary for women. Military service is undertaken by more than 80 percent of each male age group. Military obligation for able-bodied men runs from age 18 to age 60. Each year, some 35,000 reserves undergo refresher training. The conscript system furnishes the troops needed for national defense. At wartime strength, the Finnish Army currently numbers about 350,000 soldiers organized in 22 brigades and supporting units. Finnish armed forces are a substantial element in the peace and stability of northern Europe. Money saved through conscription is used to secure modern weapons and equipment.

Finland has purchased 124 used Leopard 2 A4 main battle tanks from Germany. The Leopard 2 features a powerful 120mm. gun and a 1,500horsepower turbocharged diesel engine. Finland joins her Scandinavian neighbors and Poland in securing Leopard 2. Such standardization facilitates common ammunition, spare parts, and maintenance in the region.

Finland is also securing the excellent Swedish tracked infantry fighting vehicle, the BAE Hâgglunds CV 9030. The Finnish version features a more powerful 680-horsepower engine and a turret-mounted 30/40mm. machine cannon. Peacetime training employs the less expensive 30mm. shot, but in wartime the more powerful 40mm. ammunition can be used. Currently, 57 CV 903Os are on order by Finland.

Finland has become well-known for the manufacture of six-wheeled armored personnel carriers, rugged and mobile over difficult terrain. …