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Finland - Security Policy

During the Cold War, Finland was "Finlandized" - it remained sovereign, but had a foreign policy that took account of, and did not challenge, the national interests of the Soviet Union. Finlandization was a metaphor for a process that could bring a fundamental shift in the European balance of power in favor of the Soviet Union. According to this process, the Western European states might gradually lose their military capabilities, economic vitality and political will-power and, stripped of allies, would be slowly transformed into isolated, neutralized states, fearful of Soviet might and unable to resist Russian desiderata.

The National Defense Information Planning Committee (MTS) annually conducts a comprehensive survey (you switch to another service), which also measures the defense intentions of all Finns. The will is clarified by asking, "If Finland is attacked, do you think the Finns should defend themselves armed in all situations, even if the outcome seems uncertain?" In the year 2016, a total of 71 percent answered the question positively, while in 2015, the figure was 78 percent. At the same time, as the national defense will weaken, there has been an increase in support for conscription. In the MTS study, four-fifths support the current conscription system. This is the highest figure since 2003.

Finnish strategic doctrine 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 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.

When on 22 June, 1941, the Germans launched their attack on Russia, the Finnish army co-operated with the Germans and took part in the invasion of Russia. The Continuation War was fought by Finland as a cobelligerent with Germany from 1941 to 1944. Finland's basic foreign policy goal from the end of the Continuation War with the U.S.S.R. in 1944 until 1991 was to avoid great-power conflicts and to build mutual confidence with the Soviet Union. Although the country was culturally, socially, and politically Western, Finns realized they must live in peace with the U.S.S.R. and take no action that might be interpreted as a security threat.

The peace treaty of Paris, signed on 10 February, 1947, stipulated that the Finnish land, sea and air armaments and fortifications should be closely restricted to meeting tasks of an internal character and local defense of frontiers. Finland was authorized to have armed forces consisting of not more than :

  • a land Army, including frontier troops and anti-aircraft artillery, with a total strength of 34,400 personnel;
  • a Navy with a personnel strength of 4,500 and a total tonnage of 10,000 tons;
  • an Air Force, including any naval air arm, of 60 aircraft, including reserves, with a total personnel strength of 3,000. Bombers with internal bomb-carrying facilities are expressly forbidden.

After signing the Paris Peace Treaty in 1947, public discussion about the new security arrangements with the Soviet Union were initiated. The main point was taken from the draft document written by former President Mannerheim in 1944. If any nation attempted to use Finnish territory to stage an attack against the Soviet Union, Finland would defend her territory and long as possible, and would ask for Soviet support if required.

Soviet involvement would 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.

The report of the Third Parliamentary Defence Committee (1981) issued recommendations for the long-term development of defense: the focus lay on developing troops and units capable of creating deterrence and repelling an attack in order to meet the performance requirements of the 1990s. The task of these troops was to convincingly demonstrate Finland’s resolve and capability to comprehensively protect its territorial sovereignty and prevent its unauthorised use. The troops were to be relatively well-equipped in order to be ‘convincing’, and limited in numbers. 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 Government declared unilaterally in September 1990 that the military restrictions of the Peace Treaty of Paris from 1947 were no longer regarded as valid. The references to Germany in the agreement from 1947 were obsolete.

Both the Government Security and Defence Policy Report 2012 and the Final Report (‘Long Term Challenges of Defence’) of the Parliamentary Assessment Group state that while Finland faces no military threat at this moment, the situation may change. Change in the operating environment as well as Finland’s geostrategic position, its being on the border of a military alliance and neighboring a great power, must be taken into account as conclusions regarding the Defence Forces overall capacity and development are being made.

The geostrategic importance of the Baltic States and the Baltic Sea region has risen and controlling the approaches to the Gulf of Finland has, yet again, become a key strategic factor. Military activity has increased in the Baltic region, which emphasises the importance of, especially, air and maritime surveillance. In the long term Finland must also take into consideration the growing significance of the Arctic region due to the opening of new sea lanes. This also has some effect on air traffic which is on the rise and the increasing military- strategic importance of the region.

Finland does not belong to any military alliance, which is why it maintains and develops its national defense 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.

Finland’s military defense is implemented according to the principle of regional defense. Territorial defense means that the vital functions of society are secured and targets and functions that are important from the point of view of military activity are protected in cooperation with other authorities. An invader’s entry into areas that are important from the point of view of the functioning of the nation, along with the invader’s possibility to influence the vital functions of society, are prevented. Areas that are important from the point of view of the country’s own activities are held under all circumstances. Attacks are pushed back and if necessary the invader is defeated through a joint ground, sea and air operation.

Defense delays the enemy and uses up his manpower and materiel. The enemy is pushed back and defeated in a decisive place of our own choosing using ground defense. Air defense is used to prevent an attacker from gaining air superiority and to protect the vital functions of society and own troops. The task of maritime defense is to repel attacks by sea and secure the sea lines of communication of the nation. All three services, along with the Border Guard and civilian authorities take part in the realisation of ground, sea and air defense. Conscripts carrying out their service are an important part of this system.

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Page last modified: 24-09-2019 19:12:38 ZULU