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Military Command Structure

Authority over national defense rested with the president as the supreme commander of the Defense Forces. The president exercised the highest decision-making responsibility, including the power to declare war and to make peace with the consent of the Eduskunta (parliament), to order mobilization, and to issue orders directly to the commander in chief of the Defense Forces. A decree issued in 1957 established a Defense Council with a dual function as the supreme planning and coordinating organ and as the president's consultative arm in matters affecting the defense of the country.

The prime minister acted as chairman of the Defense Council if the president were not present. Its other members were the ministers of defense, foreign affairs, finance, interior, and trade and industry; the commander in chief of the Defense Forces; and the chief of the General Staff. Other ministers could be called upon to serve temporarily. The Defense Council reviewed basic defense plans for wartime, deliberated on the financing of national defense, and directed preparations for national security in areas other than military readiness.

Parliamentary oversight was exercised through ad hoc parliamentary defense committees, which had been convened in 1971, in 1976, and in 1981 to assess basic issues of strategy, equipment, and missions. Recommendations of the committees had an important bearing on defense policy and on future budget allocations. Unlike the Defense Council, all parties represented in parliament were invited to participate. A parliamentary defense commission, acting within narrower terms of reference than parliamentary defense committees, was convened in 1986.

The parliamentary committees had been useful in helping to develop a national consensus on security policies and on the commitment of resources to defense. The representatives sitting on the committees tended to be among those most sympathetic to the needs of the military. Government leaders felt, however, that the committees often plunged too far into sensitive strategic matters and threat scenarios. Their budgetary recommendations also tended to be generous, leaving the military disgruntled when the proposed resources could not be found. (One notable exception occurred in 1981, when the procurement recommendations of the Third Parliamentary Defense Committee were largely realized, in part because of the special circumstances of a trade imbalance that made possible large arms purchases from the Soviet Union.)

The Ministry of Defense supervised the preparation of legislation affecting national defense, the submission of the annual defense budget, the drafting of defense policies in accordance with principles defined by the national leadership, and the implementation of policies approved by the government and the parliament. The minister of defense had mainly administrative responsibilities, with limited influence over major military policy issues. His deputy, customarily a military officer of three-star rank, exercised an important role within the ministry.

The commander in chief of the Defense Forces was directly subordinate to the president in matters of military command, principally questions of operations and training. He was responsible for issuing military orders for the preparation and maintenance of readiness of the Defense Forces, for ensuring proper command relationships, and for coordinating all branches of the armed forces in personnel matters. He made recommendations to the president on the organization of military commands and on appointments.

The peacetime defense organization was structured around decentralized and autonomous military areas and districts. There were seven military areas and twenty-three military districts as of early 1989, although the government was considering reducing the number of military areas to five and reducing the districts to between fifteen and seventeen. Each military area comprised two to five military districts. The military area commander, a major general or lieutenant general in peacetime, exercised independent control of all military affairs within his region, including the maintenance of readiness, training of conscripts and reservists, maintenance of a functional mobilization system, wartime logistics preparations, cooperation with civilian authorities, and area defense planning. The commander in chief, who retained planning control of the navy and the air force, could order the commanders of these two services to support a given area command, or he could call upon the general forces of one military area to supply reinforcements to another military area.

The authority of the military district commander was limited in peacetime to planning for crisis or wartime contingencies, operating the conscript and reserve organizations (including call-ups and classification for military service), conducting refresher training, and maintaining the mobilization system. Under wartime conditions, the district commander would mobilize reserve brigades and battalions into the general forces in his district and would command local force operations unless command was assumed by a general forces headquarters.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:57:09 ZULU