Ladies and gentlemen,
I just flew in from the west coast, where I had the privilege of attending the Reagan National Defense Forum. I must say that the discussions – in panels and during breaks – were really useful.
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to say a few remarks concerning the security situation in Northern Europe and the Future of Finnish Defense. My staff has organized quite a busy schedule during my stay here. I am grateful that we were able to attend this event here at CSIS – and it is an honor to be part of the Global Leaders Forum.
And now to the topic at hand.
There has been a lot of discussion about the changes in the security landscape of Europe recently. Of course, not only Europe has witnessed these changes, but I will focus on Europe in my remarks – as it is at the epicenter of our security and defense policy analysis in Finland.
The European security architecture is witnessing some new challenges. To be more precise, the challenges in Europe that we face today are ones that we have not encountered in a few decades. During the post-Cold War era, much of the Western – also European – security and defense focus has been on the so-called new security threats. Also, defense was redefined during the post-Cold War era. Starting in the 1990s – and followed by some 15 years of this millennium, European defense focus has centered more and more on multinational expeditionary military operations somewhere “out there”. In many parts of Europe, defense of territory – or deterrence – has been out of vogue.
Not for us. From the Finnish perspective, the main reason to maintain national defense capabilities throughout the post-Cold War era has been deterrence – the prevention of military threats from emerging towards our territory, population and the sovereignty of the state.
So, ladies and gentlemen, there has been a change in the security situation in Europe – and more broadly – during the last five years. The transformative moments of the present time have been Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the ongoing war in Ukraine. Ever since 2014, we have witnessed raised tensions between Russia and the West. This is the most significant fact influencing the European security environment. At the same time, this kind of more competitive security situation is just the kind of condition in world affairs for which our defense is maintained and developed. With all the globalization and expeditionary operations during the last decades, our military is trained and equipped to prevent military attacks from arising against us. And, if that fails, to be able to use high-quality and high-quantity forces to repel the attack.
A considerable amount of continuity characterizes the Finnish security and defense policy. This should not be a surprise to anyone. After all, defense planning and military capability development necessitate a long-term perspective. In the realm of defense, nothing significant happens in a year or two. There are no quick fixes. You can only do one thing quickly – and that is getting rid of existing military capabilities. I want to highlight that this continuity does not equal stagnation. Openness, and the ability to innovate remain the central tenets of Finnish defense policy.
In the near future, we will continue on the path that I just outlined. During the next decade, we will procure a new Navy Squadron and replace the current fleet of more than sixty F-18 Hornet fighters with new ones. These two projects will be funded with additional defense outlays. This will increase our defense budget by 30% throughout the 2020s – starting 2021. This will take us above the 2% GDP-marker that everybody is talking about these days.
Ladies and gentlemen,
A month ago, Secretary Esper noted that “Artificial Intelligence won't change the nature of war, but it'll change the character of war”. I think this is well put and it helps us understand what we are dealing with. When we look at the defense agenda of the 2020s and 2030s we must think more about digitalization and new technologies like 5G, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, space and cyber.
Concerning digitalization and new technologies, we in Europe are behind the United States today. We could learn from the US. I also think we must cooperate more. I would like to give an example: the Pentagon is working closer with the Silicon Valley and there is a new Defense Innovation Unit, which aims to accelerate the use of commercial technology for national security.
As part of the Finnish EU Presidency, I hosted European Defense Ministers in Helsinki two months ago. We invited start-up leaders from the private sector to challenge us on Artificial Intelligence. Digitalization has been one priority of the Finnish EU Presidency. We have also worked hard to boost transatlantic cooperation and looked for a compromise to ensure third state participation within PESCO. While new technologies will not replace traditional military threats, we must be ready for advances in military technology.
So, to conclude on the Finnish perspective to defense, we focus on real large-scale military capabilities for deterrence – and if deterrence fails – warfighting. From our perspective, the requirements of the security environment and the character of future warfare necessitate the development of high-quality and high-quantity military capabilities. However, this in itself will not suffice. We need also to develop the will of the population to defend the nation. Without this, we cannot succeed. Even the best of military systems or defense doctrines will not get us very far without the support of the people. Similarly, we need to strengthen our national defense capabilities with international defense cooperation.
In today’s world, new technologies, the rising costs of military systems and advanced training opportunities push likeminded states to cooperate. We in Finland are benefitting from this. Active defense cooperation is one key aspect of our defense policy.
From our perspective, transatlantic cooperation is an important aspect of European security. In addition, bilateral defense cooperation between Finland and the United States is important. It has been broadened during the last years.
Also Sweden is an important cooperation partner for us. We have widened and deepened our defense cooperation over the past few years. Together, we are also cooperating with the United States – in the form of trilateral defense cooperation. As a matter of fact, tomorrow I am going to meet Secretary of Defense Esper together with my Swedish counterpart Peter Hultqvist.
So, ladies and gentlemen,
For us in Finland, having good military capabilities, the support of the population and active defense cooperation in tandem form a solid foundation for meeting the future defense requirements.
To conclude, I would like to emphasize that when we are dealing with defense issues, we need to integrate both continuity and change into our perspective. The main task of the Finnish Defence Forces in the 2020s and 2030s will be the military defence of Finland. Still, we too must adapt to the changing security environment and changes in the character of war.
During the last 100 years, there has always been a transatlantic response to any significant security threat. We – Europeans and the United States – must continue to cooperate. The emerging great power competitions and the changing character of war demand it.