UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Finland - Introduction

In the strategically vital region of northern Europe, during the Cold War Finland and Sweden together formed a large expanse of neutral territory between the two military blocs of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact. Finnish defense policy in the late 1980s was based on the principle that, while not directly threatened from any source, Finland was in danger of becoming involved in the event of a larger conflict between the great powers. In such an eventuality, Finnish territory might be violated in military operations targeting objectives beyond Finland's borders. If, as seemed most likely, the potential invader was primarily engaged elsewhere, determined Finnish defensive action should have a realistic chance to succeed, or at least to inflict severe damage sufficient to discourage potential incursions.

Finland's standing forces at the end of the Cold War were modest in number (about 35,000), both as a requirement of the 1947 Treaty of Paris and as a result of the economic constraints on a nation of fewer than 5 million inhabitants. The treaty also prohibited Finland from acquiring arms of an offensive nature. Nevertheless, a conscription system provided military training for nearly all young men, and, in an emergency, a reserve force of former conscripts could put up to 700,000 men, nearly 15 percent of the country's population, in the field. When mobilized, this sizable fighting force, aided by natural defenses of deep forests, marshes and lakes, and a bitter winter climate, could present a formidable challenge to any invading army.

Finland was simply an eastern province of Sweden (ca 11501809), and Finland became an autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire (in 18091917). It was in 1809 that Finland graduated from the status of a minor duchy within the Kingdom of Sweden to that of a substantially autonomous region within the Russian Empire.

Historically, Finland has been a source of strategic concern to the Soviet Union because of its proximity to the densely populated, industrialized zone centered on the Soviet Union's second largest city, Leningrad. Although Leningrad was still important militarily, by the 1970s the strategic focus had shifted northward, where sparsely inhabited Finnish Lapland lies close to the concentration of Soviet bases and ports on the Kola Peninsula. Upon the outbreak of war, these northernmost regions of Europe would, in all likelihood, become a key area of conflict. Finland's northern defenses, both ground and air, had been reinforced during the 1970s and the 1980s to emphasize its determination to prevent Lapland from becoming a corridor for attack by one of the military alliances.

The Finnish military relationship vis-a-vis the Soviet Union was governed by the 1948 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, which committed Finland to use all of its available forces to repel an attack from the West, if necessary with the assistance of the Soviet Union. Soviet involvement would, however, require Finland's assent. To preclude the possibility of the Soviet Union's insisting on introducing its forces onto Finnish soil under the pretext of a developing threat, Finland deemed it essential that the Finnish Defense Forces be perceived as having the capability to deny the hostile transit of Finnish territory. The Finnish defense posture thus gave considerable emphasis to effective surveillance and alertness in order to detect violations of Finnish air space and land and sea intrusions in any part of the country.

Officially, Finnish defense strategy assumed that attack could come from any direction; hence, its standing forces were distributed throughout the territory. Finland's sensitive relations with Moscow precluded a deployment suggesting that the most likely threat was along its extended eastern border with the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, a possible scenario was a Soviet crossing of the northern territories of Finland and Sweden to attack North Atlantic Treaty Organization bases in northern Norway that threatened the movement of Soviet fleet units into the Atlantic.

Finnish strategic doctrine had emerged from the lessons learned during the two phases of its conflict with the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1944--the Winter War and the Continuation War. The Finns' experience of fighting against vastly superior manpower had taught them that set battles with concentrations of forces should be avoided. Defense in depth and mobility of forces were necessary in order to minimize attrition. The emphasis was on smaller fighting elements that could, by guerrilla tactics, employ terrain and weather to pin down and to divide larger enemy forces, then swiftly concentrate their own units for punishing attacks. The ultimate objective was not to win a clear-cut military victory against a more powerful opponent but, as in Finland's World War II campaigns, to inflict sufficient losses on the attacker to persuade him that a negotiated settlement was preferable to a continued drain on resources.

Although Finnish first-line units were undergoing modernization in the late 1980s, the Defense Forces as a whole were only moderately well equipped for the mission of resisting armed attack against or across Finland's territory. Military outlays continued to be among the lowest, in relation to national income, of all of the developed countries. Nonetheless, the nation was firm in its resolve to defend Finnish territory and independence. It was confident that its military preparedness, combined with the qualities of its individual soldiers and its forbidding geography, presented a strong deterrent to intervention from any quarter.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 30-09-2019 13:56:20 ZULU