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Finland - Military Personnel - Conscription

The defense ministry planned in 2014 to reduce the number of mobilized troops from 350,000 to 230,000 and save on training costs by conducting joint activities with the Nordic partners. With the government aiming to reduce its troop size by 100,000 over the five years 2015-2019, the country would be able to control revenue expenditures efficiently while procuring advanced weapons. Regular military service ranges between 165 and 347 days.

During the Cold War Finland's standing forces 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.

As a small power, Finland has adopted a doctrine of total defence which harnesses all the resources of society for defense whenever required. By 1995 Finland could for example, mobilize at short notice a reasonably well equipped force of more than half a million men, which was a rather exceptional military capability in today's Europe. By 2015 the number was down to 300,000, still a respectable number. Conscription provides Finland with a cheap but highly motivated force whose budget allocations can be concentrated on materiel procurement.

In Finland, about 90 per cent of all males of service age are given military training. During the Second World War, 15 per cent of the Finnish population was mobilized for military service. Forces this large are needed because of the requirement to defend the whole of the country's vast territory.

The President of the Republic on June 29, 2016 ratified a law amending the Conscription Act and decreed that the law will come into force on July 1, 2016. The Military Service Act provided that the purpose of the refresher training is to flexibly increase military preparedness. Previously, the inductees would be decreed by law to the exercise at least three months before the exercise began. Bu the crises that have involved the use of armed force in recent years have typically been surprising and quickly emerging, usually within a few days or weeks. The amendment of the law allows making a deviation from the three-month deadline for appointment to repeat the exercise, if the exercise is the issue of flexible increasing military readiness and necessary needs arising in Finland's security environment required. The exercises to be held under an accelerated procedure is designed as a highly exceptional procedure, and are not intended to replace regular refresher training.

Finland is one of the last countries in Europe to still hold on to a large defence force made out of conscripts. Every Finnish man is liable for military service (conscription). Military service includes conscript service, refresher training, extra service and service during mobilisation as well as participation in call-ups and the examination of fitness for service. Call-ups form the first concrete step into military service. The most significant changes in the size of the annual conscript intake of 20 year old males have already taken place. The size of the 20 year old male age group will remain at its volume of about 33,000 until 2012, whereafter it will decrease by approximately 10% by 2030. Competition over skilled labour will increase and this will affect the Defence Forces, too, as they have to operate as a good employer in the labour market.

The overwhelming majority of Finnish citizens as well as the state leadership continue to support general conscription. In a poll conducted in 2002, a clear majority of Finns (80%) thought that Finland must preserve the defence system based on male general conscription. Less than the per cent would selectively reduce the amount of military training and eight per cent would give up general conscription and go over to a professional army. The figures were just about the same as in the 2001 survey. Of the 2002 respondents more than 90 per cent supported the present system, of the Coalition party voters 90 per cent, of the Social Democratic Party supporters 83 per cent, of the Green League voters 63 per cent and the Left Alliance supporters 56 per cent.

Since 1964, the Finns have been asked of their attitude to armed defence. When asked whether the Finns should take up arms in defence in all circumstances if attacked, even if the outcome seemed uncertain, almost two thirds answered in the affirmative. In 2002 the result continued on the same lines as the previous results: 78 per cent think they should defend themselves and 16 per cent that they should not. The greatest support is given by those 50-70 years of age, of whom 80 per cent answered in the affirmative. On the other hand, of those 15-24 years of age, 69 per cent vote for and 26 per cent against. Of women, 72 per cent give a positive answer and 82 per cent of men do the same. In the long time series, the will to defend one's country has remained on a high level. In 2004 Four fifths (80%) of Finns thought that if Finland were attacked, Finns should take up arms to defend themselves in all circumstances, even if the outcome seemed uncertain (73% in 2003).

The belief in Finland's capability to defend itself has remained on the same level as in recent years. 58 per cent thought that Finland has good chances of defending itself in a war fought with conventional arms, while 36 per cent regarded the chances poor. The strongest belief in the capability to defend the country is among men 25-34 years of age, who have lower or post-secondary-level education and who give their vote to the Coalition Party. By 2004 almost one fifth of Finns (18%) would try to leave the country if Finland were attacked (13% in 1997). Almost four fifths (77%) respond negatively (80% in 1997).

On Sunday 21 September 2003, Defence Minister Seppo Kääriäinen gave a speech at a national defence function in Paltamo, Kainuu. "Finland's security and defence policy continues to be a combination of policy-making decisions, which have supported and complemented each other. The policy is based on a credible national defence, it follows the policy of military non-alliance and means a highly active contribution to and co-operation in international crisis management. Originality manifests in the tenets of national defence, too: while elsewhere the system of general conscription seems to be weakening or disappearing, Finland builds on that and, also, relies on the territorial defence system. It is justified to regard this combination as a characteristically Finnish solution. For us the system is worth preserving because the fact that the defence of the country is a shared responsibility is a factor that maintains the will to defend the country."

By 2004 the majority of Finns, 77 per cent, would retain the present general conscription based military in Finland, in which the largest possible share from each annual intake receives training with weapons (79% in 2003). Of men, 76 per cent (78%) are of this opinion and of women, 79 per cent (81%). Fifteen per cent of citizens view that the number of those receiving armed training could selectively be reduced (11% in 2003). Seven per cent of citizens support abolishing the general conscription based military and transferring to fully professional armed forces (8% in 2003). The question has been posed since 2001 and no fundamental changes have occurred between the alternatives. Support for the present model increases with age in such a way that of the 50-plus year old more than four fifths support it (85% in 2003) whereas of those below the age of 25, 71 per cent (69%) do and in the 25-34 age bracket 70% (76%) support it.

On 06 September 2007 Minister of Defence Jyri Häkämies held a speech in Washington DC of issues regarding Finland's security policy. "Most countries are also discarding the great Napoleonic idea of raising mass armies by conscription and, instead, they are creating small all-professional armed forces. Not Finland. ... those who might wish to see radical changes in Finland's defence orientation will most likely be disappointed. There will be certain continuities. Perhaps the most important continuity will be the emphasis on maintaining the ability to defend national territory. For that, we will need a high number of trained reserves. The feature that will stay as a way to train the reserves will be general conscription. That will guarantee both the quantity and quality of national reserves. If we mobilize fully today, we now have an armed force of about 350 000 soldiers. It is also important to note that neither of the concepts I have mentioned, neither the defence of territory nor the system of general conscription will be seriously contested by the Finnish citizens. To the contrary, in the public mind they are the cornerstones of Finnish national defence, and as such they are fully supported by the huge majority, more than 80 per cent, of the population."

Sweden has decided to do away with general conscription. From 2014, the country will be served by a professional army. In June 2010 the Swedish Riksdag voted 153-150 to abolish compulsory military service. From 2014 the army will comprise 50,000 soldiers. There are no such official moves in Finland. According to a government white paper on security and defence policy, general conscription is the fundamental pillar of Finnish territorial defence. Finnish Minister of Defence Jyrki Häkämies stated "Finland’s standpoint is fundamentally different from that of Sweden ... For us the starting point is universal male conscription as part of our defence strategy for the entire country. Crisis management and international engagements are supplementary activities, unlike in Sweden, where such operations are in a more pivotal role... Giving up the national service may be Sweden’s model. It isn’t ours."

Minister of Defence Jyri Häkämies spoke at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis on 27 April 2010. "To defend the Finnish territory we need strong and reliable national defence. And since we are not a member of any military alliance, we have to build up our defence independently. In the Defence decision 2009, the White Book, all these fundaments remained as they have been. Finland is still holding on to the concepts of territorial defence, general conscription, and staying outside of the military alliances."

On 31 August 2010, the Greens released its position on compulsory military service for public debate in the run-up to the 2011 election. A Green army would operate with far fewer reserves – 75,000-150,000 – than is currently the case. The reduction would result in savings in the form of fewer garrisons, for example. The Greens' model would see the current system of compulsory military service gradually replaced with voluntary service. If too few volunteers came forward, the service could resort to the draft, as was used in the Grand Duchy of Finland in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

In the future the entire segment of the annual intake which is fit for military service will be trained in accordance with wartime troop requirements. This way the average age of operational troops can be kept suitably low and the sufficiency of troops in the reserve can be guaranteed. General conscription lays the groundwork for the Finnish citizens’ strong will to defend the nation and for their commitment to national defence. It also promotes citizens’ social equality and guarantees the transparency of the Defence Forces’ activities in the society.

Finland does not belong to any military alliance, which is why it maintains and develops its national defence and a credible military capability. This supports the current stable military policy situation in northern Europe. Finland strives to stay outside of international conflicts and look for peaceful solutions to such situations. At the same time, however, it is necessary to show that Finland is able to defend itself. Independence and safe conditions for Finnish citizens must be maintained – they are what Finland has fought for in previous wars.

The civic duty of military service is defined in the second chapter of the law on conscription (called Conscription Act). This duty affects all Finnish men and begins when a man turns 18. It continues till he reaches the age of 60. This means a man is liable for military service and that he is either in service, in the reserve or in the auxiliary reserve.

Regional Offices manage conscription issues. The regional office responsible for the area in which your home municipality is located is in charge of matters relating to conscripts, reservists and all people liable for military service. The Regional Office assists you and manages issues relating to you throughout your military service. There is a link to the Regional Offices’ contact information below. Although the Regional Offices belong to the Army, they all also manage military service issues relating to all the services.

Military service matters of those living abroad. The regional office of a person living abroad is determined according to the municipality where that person is registered in the Finnish population register. According to legislation on home municipalities, a Finnish citizen permanently living abroad belongs to the municipality that previously was his last home municipality in Finland. If a person doesn't have a home municipality in Finland, the municipality is determined according to the home municipality or population register municipality of his mother, father or spouse - in that order. If the person's parents or spouse do not have a home municipality or population register municipality in Finland at the time, the population register municipality is Helsinki.

During the Cold War all Finnish males were liable for military service between the ages of seventeen and sixty. The call-up for active duty normally occurred at the age of twenty, although students could postpone service until completion of their education. Over 90 percent of young men reaching military age actually entered the Defense Forces, a rate believed to be the highest of all Western countries. There had traditionally been three conscript contingents during the course of a year, in February, in June, and in October, but in 1989 these were reduced to five call-ups every two years, owing to the decline in the numbers coming of age. For the same reason, the normal age for entering the service was reduced to nineteen. About 38,000 conscripts were trained annually, although the decreased birth rate resulted in as few as about 26,300 inductees by 1993, stabilizing at that level. As a consequence, the number of reservists of all categories, which had been maintained at about 700,000, would taper off to about 600,000 during the 1990s.

Today, in general military service is carried out at the age of 19–20. In special cases, men enter service between the ages of 18 and 29. Military service lasts 180, 270 or 362 days. The training period for an officer, non-commissioned officer and conscripts being trained for especially demanding rank and file duties is 362 days. The service period for conscripts trained for demanding rank and file tasks that require special and professional skills is 270 days. Unarmed service lasts 270 or 362 days. The service period for other rank and file duties is 180 days. The task for which a conscript is trained and the related service period is determined based on selections made in the brigade-level units.

Call-ups are organised every year between August and December. They concern male Finnish citizens that reach the age of 18 during the year in question. In addition such persons also take part in the call-ups, who have been ordered to be re-evaluated in that year’s call-up and under thirty-year-olds who have not reported to previous call-ups and who have not been separately evaluated.

It is recommended that conscript service should be started as soon as possible after finishing school and before starting a family, long-term studies, moving abroad or starting up one’s own business. Carrying out military service when older is often experienced as burdensome because of e.g. economic or family-related worries. The date of entry into service can be changed upon application if it is seen as particularly important because of graduating to a profession or because of studies, in order to be able to arrange your financial circumstances, or other similar special personal reasons.

During the Cold War, women were not accepted in the Defense Forces, although the tightened manpower situation had provoked discussion of measures to incorporate women into training programs on a voluntary basis to handle nonmilitary tasks in an emergency. About 7,000 women were employed by the Defense Forces, mainly in clerical positions and as nurses. A considerable number were used by the air force as radar monitors in remote areas. Women employees wore uniforms, but they did not receive military training or carry weapons and had little opportunity for career advancement.

Military service on a voluntary basis has been possible for women since 1995. The requirements for women’s voluntary military service are: Finnish citizenship, 18–29 years of age, a good state of health and personal suitability for military training. A woman who has received an order to enter service may, in writing, give notice that she will not enter service. Correspondingly, a woman who has begun her military service may give notice within 45 days of the date of entry into service, that she will not continue her service.

Prior to 1987, conscientious objectors had been permitted to serve in the military in a noncombatant capacity for eleven months, or in civilian social service for twelve months. Legislation enacted in that year, however, required a conscientious objector to serve in alternative civilian service for sixteen months, twice the length of minimum military service. A number of objectors, regarding the new law as a form of punishment, did not accept these conditions, and they were sentenced to prison terms.

Today, those whose religious or ethical convictions prevent completing armed military service and who apply for unarmed service, are relieved from armed service and ordered into unarmed service. The service time for unarmed service is at least 270 days, or 362 days, if required by the task trained for. Those with a serious conviction that prevents completing the service provided for in the Conscription Act will be granted exemption from military service upon application. At the same time they are ordered into non-military service within the Civil Service Centre.

Members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are upon application granted deferment for 3 years, if they present a less than 2 month-old certificate from their congregation to show that they are active members and declare that religious convictions absolutely forbid them from carrying out any military or non-military service. Deferment can be granted at most until the end of the year that the person liable for military service reaches the age of 28. If the deferment has continued without interruption and the prerequisites for deferment still exist, conscripts belonging to the Jehovah’s witnesses are exempted from military service during peacetime upon application.

The government allows conscientious objectors to choose alternative civilian service instead of compulsory military service. In February the Helsinki Court of Appeals overturned a long-standing exemption for Jehovah’s Witnesses from military service. After a conscientious objector who was not a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses challenged the exemption policy, the court ruled in his favor, stating the legal exemption gave preferential treatment to one particular religion and thus violated the nondiscrimination clauses of the constitution. Per current legislation, conscientious objectors who refuse both military and alternative civilian service may be sentenced to prison terms of up to 173 days, one-half of the 347 days of alternative civilian service. Following the court ruling, all conscientious objectors are entitled to the same exemption from duty regardless of their religion.

In July the Ministry of Defense published a report advocating a repeal of the conscription exemption for Jehovah’s Witnesses, citing changes since the government first instituted the exemption in 1987 that allowed men to complete their conscription duties as an employee in the civil service. The representative body for Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country stated the alternative civil service could be an adequate substitute, although the organization did not take an official stand on participation in military service, leaving the decision to the approximately 100 male Jehovah’s witnesses who reached conscription age each year. On 20 September 2018, parliament accepted a bill for debate that would terminate the legal exemption for Jehovah’s Witnesses. The bill was under debate at year’s end.

Personal economy of Finnish conscripts is presently below modern standards. In addition, military service causes problems when applying to institutions of higher education, as the intense military training does not allow enough time-resources to study for entrance examinations.

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Page last modified: 25-09-2019 18:57:35 ZULU