The National Defence Course commencing today will be the 227th of its kind. Over the coming weeks you will become part of this important tradition.
The National Defence Course gives you, its participants, a thorough understanding of how Finland takes care of its security. These courses, by their very design, reflect the cornerstones of our security. The speakers and instructors of this course will furnish you with plenty of new knowledge and skills, and I have no doubt you will discover that you have much to learn from each other too.
This is the source of our strength – the sort of strength that is very much needed in our day and age. When people coming from different backgrounds realise how much they have to give to each other, and to receive from each other, a genuine sense of community grows. When we feel a shared sense of responsibility for our community, we are more willing and better placed to defend it together. And when this willingness to stand up for your community rests upon high-quality education and the skills and know-how that it brings, we will all be less susceptible to disinformation and malicious attempts to influence our thinking. As I have said before, every Finn is a defender of our country, at least between the ears.
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In international relations we clearly find ourselves in an era of growing instability and uncertainty. Many elements of stability that we mistakenly thought of as permanent are shaking. Many factors creating instability that we thought we had left behind are coming back. At the same time, new dangers are on the rise. Many of the old truths no longer hold, but the visibility towards the future is limited. In these circumstances, protecting Finland’s security requires particular vigilance.
We must be able to actively grasp new positive opportunities as they present themselves. We must be prepared to rapidly react to changes in our environment, even when those changes are undesired.
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That is what Finland’s active stability policy is about. The policy applies to all of the four pillars that our security rests on: our national defence, our Western integration and partnerships, our relations with Russia, and the international rules-based order – we must attend to all of these pillars equally.
Each pillar would of course be worthy of a speech in its own right. Our defence capability, based on general conscription, continues to evolve all the time. Our defence forces are already in good readiness and Finns rank number one in Europe for their willingness to defend their country. The major procurements that lie ahead will further bolster our defence capacity. This has a twofold effect on our national security: on the one hand, it maintains a high threshold against potential aggressors and on the other, it makes us a more significant partner.
With regard to our relations with Russia, we stand firm in our support of the EU sanctions. They are measures that we jointly decided to put in place. However, at the same time a clear and working dialogue with Russia is needed, both on bilateral issues with our neighbour and on matters of international security. This dialogue has functioned.
We continue our efforts to safeguard the international rules-based order, across the established international fora as well as by offering our good offices and creative solutions to promote dialogue. The most important questions facing humankind call for truly global answers. Without them, our security is weakened. Climate change serves as an example. By defending our planet, we are also defending our country.
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Of the four pillars that underpin our security, I would like today to focus on our international defence cooperation. In recent years, we have been consistently strengthening this cooperation. However, it appears that the extent and pace of these developments have led to some lack of clarity over the nature of it.
I would like to take this opportunity to set out, as comprehensively as possible, what our international partnerships are, and are not, about. It is perhaps easiest to approach the issue along the various frameworks: our European Union membership, our NATO partnership, our participation in smaller groups and our bilateral arrangements.
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I have long been worried about the state of the European security policy. In recent years, significant progress has finally been made in the defence cooperation of the EU, in terms of both funding and the so-called permanent structured cooperation. References to a European army can easily lead to misunderstandings. The real point is that 28 national armies already exist within the European Union and there is scope for enhanced cooperation between them.
However, the true core of European defence lies in the basic treaty of the European Union. Article 42(7) of the Lisbon Treaty states that if a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power. The language is very strong. Yet so far there is no certainty over what its implementation might mean in the event of a crisis.
That is why I am delighted that France’s President Emmanuel Macron has been willing to discuss the content of that article. It does not mean bringing about a treaty renegotiation, the question is merely about the implementation of an existing obligation. Let me take this opportunity to add that while this article is a part of an EU treaty, its possible implementation is not EU policy. It is clearly part of the national foreign and security policy of each member state.
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Our interest in developing European defence and the mutual assistance clause does not mean questioning the significance of NATO. NATO’s role as the guarantor of European security, as well as its presence in the Baltic Sea region, is an important source of stability. Given their largely overlapping memberships, strengthening the EU’s defence will as a by-product also strengthen NATO. Indeed, the United States has for many decades called on Europe to assume greater responsibility. This is by no means a zero-sum game.
The close partnership of Finland and Sweden with NATO is an important part of our international cooperation. The partnership contains both political dialogue and participation in joint exercises. As far as the exercises are concerned, the most widespread public attention here in Finland tends to focus on visible physical exercises, such as Trident Juncture, currently underway in Norway. Taking part in these exercises is a valuable opportunity for our troops to develop their skills and to enhance their interoperability. It also allows us to practice providing and receiving international assistance, in line with our newly enacted legislation. Let me stress, however, that these exercises are field training of military capabilities, nothing less, nothing more. They should not be used to draw conclusions on security policy.
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Of an entirely different nature are NATO’s decision-making exercises, in which Finland and Sweden also participate as partners. These so-called CMX exercises receive much less publicity. It is in the context of these map exercises that the political boundaries of our cooperation with NATO are clearly expressed. This is also the reason why the responsibility for preparing these exercises rests with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, while the field exercises are the responsibility of the defence sector.
And despite our close partnership with NATO, political boundaries remain, on both sides. We are not a NATO member. In the exercise, ”on the map”, we behave exactly as we would in real situations. This means that Finland does not participate either in Article 5 decision making or in its implementation. In line with the position adopted by the Finnish parliament, we take care of our own territory and will not allow it to be used for hostile purposes against third parties. Finland can be entered by invitation only.
The joint exercises are a way of ensuring that none of the parties – NATO members, Sweden or Finland – is under any illusions of how each would behave in the event of a crisis. This increase in predictability serves to enhance the stability in our region.
There is nothing automatic about Finland’s participation in exercises. Decisions are taken based on a comprehensive foreign and security policy assessment. We have already proceeded in our joint and planned exercises with NATO in such a way, that there is hardly need for qualitatively new openings. As we go forward, it will mainly be about updating our existing skills and understanding.
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Alongside our EU membership and NATO partnership, we also work on defence cooperation as part of smaller groups of nations. In addition to our Nordic defence cooperation NORDEFCO, we have consistently sought to join the cooperation fora set up by three large European countries – Germany, the United Kingdom and France. These groups complement each other, and they in no way undermine the cooperation underway within the EU structures.
We have also taken steps to further strengthen our network of bilateral relationships. We have recently signed bilateral cooperation documents with almost ten countries. With Sweden and the United States we even have a trilateral cooperation paper. These memoranda of understanding and letters of intent do not provide us with treaty obligations any more than security guarantees, but they facilitate practical cooperation in the event of a crisis.
Indeed, this is the very purpose of our entire international defence cooperation. We don’t put all our eggs in one basket. We maintain a broad range of partners.
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To conclude, I would like to raise the current disarmament situation, which relates to the international treaty system, the fourth pillar of our security.
The Cold War pulled the superpowers, the then-Soviet Union and the United States, far apart. However, out of their mutual fear, the two sides also agreed on a shared set of rules. As a result, the INF and START treaties sought to limit the numbers of ballistic and intermediate-range nuclear missiles – and were ultimately successful in doing so.
The current situation between Russia and the United States is different. The New START, which replaced the original START treaty, is due to expire soon and, so far, there is no agreement on its extension. The United States recently declared its intention of withdrawing from the INF. Both parties to the INF have accused the other of breaching the terms of the treaty.
The Cold War bequeathed us with a working treaty system limiting nuclear weapons. That system is now in danger of being lost. Without any treaties in place, the ensuing risks would be enormous. The Cold War of the past would be succeeded by an ice-cold war.
The world today is different in other ways, too. The world has become more multipolar, and it takes more than two to negotiate arms control treaties. This means that there is room for the entire international community to at least seek to promote disarmament.
The verbal exchanges on missiles between Russia and the United States has focused attention on Europe, but as an object rather than as a subject. Medium-range nuclear missiles in Russia or in Europe open a source of danger. Avoiding this danger is of vital importance for Europe.
Here in Finland, we have provided our diplomatic ”good services”, and in recent years they have been in demand. In my next meetings with the leaders of the great powers I will raise disarmament issues and Finland’s readiness to facilitate the commencement of a new round of negotiations. The Paris Peace Forum at the end of this week and the discussions taking place around it are an excellent opportunity for defending the international rules-based system. Europe would do well to highlight the importance of this spirit, and it is also something Finland can focus on during our upcoming EU Presidency.
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Dear National Defence Course participants,
I know from my own personal experience the scale of the challenge that awaits you here. I hope the course proves to be thought-provoking and that it offers you plenty of opportunities for learning. Thank you.