"Altering European borders by force of arms, in the twenty-first century, is a surprising turn of events"

General conscription and Armed Forces capable of defending all of the nation's territory. That remains Finland's defence doctrine, even in the future."But increasing costs mean that we have to collaborate more, for example within the Nordic region,"Colonel Erik Errol argues. He also puts forward the view that the Georgia crisis does not, on any major point, change Finland's strategic perspective.

Erik Erroll emphasises that the Finnish Defence Forces' primary task is to guard and defend Finland and her territory.

Colonel Erik Erroll is a recent appointment to the position of head of the Department of Strategic and Defence Studies at the Finnish National Defence University in Helsinki. He came from a post as Defence Attaché in Stockholm, a position he held between 2005 and 2008.
"I have also been Chief of Staff at the Uusimaa (Nyland) Brigade, in addition to having worked at the Ministry of Defence," he tells us as we meet up at his office in the Kronohagen district of Helsinki.
Did the events in Georgia come as a surprise to the Finnish Defence Forces?
"Altering European borders by force of arms, in the twenty-first century, is a surprising turn of events"
Did you predict that it could happen...?
"Our defence policy is the answer to that question. We have held on to a national defence doctrine."
Erik Erroll emphasises that the Finnish Defence Forces' primary task is to guard and defend Finland and her territory.
 "The equipment and competencies that we posses within the Defence Forces also have to be made available to other public authorities, the police and so on."
 "Our international obligations come are priority number three. The Government has the ambition of keeping a thousand Finnish soldiers on international duty."

"History has taught us"

Previous experience, and geopolitical realities, naturally play a critical role in forming the Finnish way of thinking.
 "History has taught us that the unexpected can occur, and in such times the Armed Forces are the tool we need to meet any existential threats. The Finnish Defence Force is well known to posses a sophisticated ability to asses developments concerning the mighty neighbour to the East.”
 Errol points out that note was made of security concerns regarding the Caucasus region and the Far East as early as the review, undertaken by the then government, of security and defence policy of 1997. He argues that Russian operations in Georgia confirm the validity of the Finnish defence policy.
 "We have a vast area requiring defence and it is as a result of our history that we have a strong artillery offering ballistic support to our troops."

80% of a year

General conscription will also continue as before.
"It's most cost effective and has served us well. We train 25,000 soldiers a year and that's around 80% of any particular year performing National Service."
 In this way, nearly all Finnish citizens come into contact personally with the Armed Forces. "What's your perspective on the Swedish decision to discontinue military exchanges and cooperation with Russia? Could Finland consider taking the same step?
 "We wouldn't have any problems taking part in a common EU initiative along those lines. But, otherwise, no, I don't think so."
 "We have a carefully calibrated programme of co-operation with Russia, for example we do not engage in any joint exercises, and I think it's worth keeping to that. Whatever occurs, we have to be able to keep open lines of communication with our neighbour."

Increase last year

Colonel Erik Errol notes that Finland, as regards materiel, is largely NATO compliant. Last year the Finnish Defence Forces received a budgetary increase of around eight percent to a level of circa 2,400 million euro, and the budget was pegged at the same total this year.
 "The issue of resources had been raised long before the events in Georgia. We have many weapon systems that are to be phased out over the next decade or so. Nordic initiatives, like the one presented in the summer by the defence chiefs of Finland, Sweden and Norway, are excellent." Errol argues.
 "Collaboration on international on operations can be further developed. The Nordic rapid reaction force was certainly one of the EU's best, but it had a motley selection of equipment which could have a caused a logistic nightmare in a 'live' situation."

"… a positive factor for security"

What can the Nordic countries do at home?
 "One could, for example, extend co-operation regarding specialist training, like naval mine disposal. Swedish and Finnish officers use the same system, so training together is possible."
 "There's a lot of empty flying space up in the north. We fly different aircraft and employ somewhat different tactics, so some extremely valuable exercises could be arranged. Together we form a large fighting force and certainly do not need to be modest on that point. Norway, Sweden and Finland have together around 300 combat aircraft. A jointly trained resource like that is definitely to be counted as a positive factor as regards our security."
After spending three years in Sweden, Erik Errol sees more similarities than differences between the two countries.
 "Sweden has enjoyed a high international profile. But in the Defence Commission's report from 2007 there was a unmistakeable focus on the areas nearest to Sweden and the Baltic Sea region."

"NATO … in the long term"

Erroll does not believe that the Georgian crisis has had a serious effect on the climate of debate in Finland. He does, however, predict that Finland will one day come knocking on the door of NATO.
 "Developments since the end of the Cold War have, step by step, led to an ever deeper integration with the West. We are members of the EU, in the monetary union and even contribute to the development of the EU's military capabilities."
 "The EU, however, is only concerned with crisis management and, in the long term, I think it would be odd if we didn't participate in the basic security collaboration that NATO offers."

By Sören Viktorsson
Photography by Kjell Fredriksson


"Finland is not defended by anyone other than Finland herself ..."

"The war in Georgia shows that the security situation in our region changes at a faster pace than the government writes policy reports," or so states Jyki Katainen, Finland's Finance Minister and leader of the conservative National Coalition Party. According to Hufvudstadsbladet, one of Finland's leading Swedish language newspapers, he wants to see shorter policy papers replacing the massive reports that come out once in every four years. The report that is due soon must be based upon a realistic analysis of the situation, he argues.
"Previous Government Reports on Security and Defence Policy have been marred by an overt politicisation, which has meant that attempts have been made to draw conclusions before the task of analysis has even begun."
Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, head of Finland's Centre Party, also points out that events in Georgia will have an influence on the new review of foreign and security policy.
"In preparing the report we have to carefully analyse these events: which forces have been used and how and when they have been put into action. That gives us our own perspective on the way military strength is used in conflicts," he remarks.
Juha Korkeaoja, of the Centre Party, chairs the Defence committee of the Finnish parliament, as well as the parliamentary group on security policy oversight. Ruotoväki, journal of the Finnish Defence Forces, reports him expressing the view that the Finnish military's primary task will continue to be the defence of Finland.
 "In essence, no-one is going to defend Finland other than Finland herself, irrespective of future arrangements." Korkeaoja emphasises that successfully keeping threats at bay requires close international co-operation, and does not want to close the door on the NATO option. Former President, and current top international diplomat, Martti Ahtisaari is also a proponent of Finnish membership of NATO.
"It is difficult to believe that Russia would have anything against it. And in this way we would be rid of all international discussion of "finlandisation", he confides to the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.