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Winter Skies, Frozen Seas and Northern Shores IV: Finland

The Viking Saga II: In the Land of Ice and Snow…

Green pines and a soft carpet of snow covers the ground where the wanderer walks. As he looks towards the heavens and sees the Northern Lights shining in the dark night sky, a shooting star flies past. On the horizon, far to the north, there is a fire. The wandered might not reach the Frozen Seas but the fire lies within reach. There is warmth there, the warmth of a future, although a future not without its risks. Still, the wanderer cuts a path to that northern horizon, heading towards the fire’s glow. This is his land, the land of Ice and Snow. This is Lapland.

Although Finland is not a littoral State in the Arctic, the Arctic region does include the northern part of Scandinavia, and the country has territory within the Polar Arctic Circle. For these reasons Finland is a member of the Arctic Council and is involved in arctic matters, especially in regards to its most northern region of Lapland; every event occurring in the Arctic might affect Finland and its Arctic/Northern Region. Furthermore, in the event of high tensions or an open conflict, Finland will arguably be one of the most affected States and will share the greatest burden of such a situation; it will be on the front line in a war against Russia, a position that might be worsened by the recent NATO enlargement in the country and the wider Scandinavian and Baltic region. And it must be remembered that Russia has had interests in Scandinavia over the last 400 years, waging wars with the Swedish Empire and seizing and attacking Finland in turn during the Winter War (Winter 1939 – 1940).

Finland sees itself as an active actor in the Arctic region, and one that will address the limitations and the opportunities given by the Arctic in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way, and through cooperation (Prime Minister’s Office, 2013). As such, Finland’s Arctic strategy rests on the fact that Finland is an Arctic country and that it will address policies and actions as such, which it states as the first pillar of its strategy. Arctic expertise is stated as the second, while sustainable development and environment is the third, and International Cooperation is the fourth. The Finnish aim is the promotion of growth and enhancement of competitiveness.

The country, of course, recognizes the changing environment in the Arctic and its future activities thus aim at the protection of the environment and the promotion of stability in the region. Finland also plan to take advantage of the new opportunities given by the Arctic, via the region of Lapland, which is within the geographical area of the Arctic. One of the current benefits Finland enjoys is the fact that – as mentioned in previous articles – it is a leader in Arctic maritime technology and shipping. In other words, Finland is a leading country in designing and building ships able to sail through iced-waters[i], and it aims to further enhance this area through cooperation with other Arctic countries. Mining, transport and logistics, and energy resource development (oil and gas) are sectors that the Finnish Arctic Strategy also aims to develop and reinforce, as an example of how Finland is following through with  the second pillar of its strategy and how it aims to take advantage of the expertise it has in the previously mentioned areas [ii].

The last pillar has a lot to do with the security of the Finnish Northern Region and the Arctic as well, keeping in mind that every escalation of tension will be highly sensed in Finland. Finland accurately labels that the development of the Arctic economy and people’s welfare needs a stable and secure region. Preparedness is the core element in this area along with cooperation between the authorities, industry, NGOs and citizens. The Finnish defence forces are primarily tasked with supporting civilian safety and rescue services in SAR operations as well as in the event of a natural catastrophe or environmental damage, as the possibility of an armed conflict in the Arctic was assessed as improbable given the declaration of cooperation and observation of international laws signed by the Arctic states (Prime Minister’s Office, 2013).

However and as Colonel Aikio (2009) pointed out, a traditional threat against Finland is much more likely than an unconventional one such as terrorism. Although the cooperation between the EU and NATO has improved, a war is still possible just as what took place in Georgia in 2008 (Aikio 2009). Still, the tasks of the Finnish military forces are concentrated on Crisis Management and the seeking of alliances, along with a decrease in capabilities. A threat then, might come in a Regional crisis, or a political, economic and military pressure format, as well as any strategic attack that aims to seize territory. The regional crisis pointed out by Aikio (2009) might be an Arctic or Scandinavian one, especially when he recognizes that the increased accessibility of the Arctic will trigger the military presence of other nations and disputes for the resources in the region.

Following this, it is easy to deduce that Finland is somehow forced to increase the quality and quantity of its military forces, moreover if tensions between Russia and Norway, Denmark or all of NATO increase, forcing Finland to face a similar situation as the Winter War or at best, the Cold War[iii].  The Finnish Strategy fortunately takes note of the possible outcomes of these events and points out the need of having forces with preparedness and cooperation that are fully prepared to execute operations in the Arctic/Lapland area thanks to investing in equipment and training for specific Arctic operations. As cooperation is an important aspect for Finland, there is a prioritization of the Nordic Defence Cooperation, and the air forces of the Scandinavian Nations, with the exception of Denmark, have held some joint exercises aimed at the enhancement of Arctic capabilities. Sea surveillance has seen also some cooperation with other Arctic area Nations and some EU nations as well. According to the Finnish Security and Defence Policy (2012), the monitoring of the development of issues at the Arctic is also important along with using different initiatives and institutions to address any situation that might arise [iv].

According to Rudd (2010), NATO is proving to be a key element for Finland’s co-operation and defence strategy; the Finnish Armed Forces are making themselves meet NATO standards for capabilities and are taking part in NATOs Partnership for Peace as well as with Sweden in a strategic airlift program. Similarly, the EU is viewed as important for combating terrorism and organized crime, along with the promotion of a defence industries co-operation. Finland aligns itself with the EU approach of civil-military deployments when managing crises abroad and places a strong emphasis on the EUs frameworks for the Arctic (security) policy. Yet both commitments are perceived as essential for the nation’s security taking into account the Russian actions in Georgia and the political development as well. Even a full membership at NATO is being considered (Rudd 2010).

According to Rudd (2010), the assets that Finland has are intended to be deployed only within Finnish territory and in Arctic operations, unless an EU neighbour is under threat such as with the mutual defence assistance between Finland and Sweden. Conscription is to be kept and the high level of those on compulsory service will be taken as an advantage for future training. Hardware is also to be re-capitalized on and is aimed at meeting NATO standards, though there is a presence of both Western and Soviet/Russian equipment within the ranks. Upgrades are to be done with an emphasis on ground-bases, reserve ground units and regular ground units.

The unit present at Lapland, the Jaeger Brigade, is tasked with the development and evaluation of tactics and weapons for Northern use. The navy won’t suffer any transformation and will keep its fast attack crafts, mine warfare and coastal defence ships. The air force has a squadron of F/A – 18 C/D at Lapland and it is receiving an upgrade of its air-to-air and air-to-ground capacities, given the fact that the F/A – 18 are a multirole assets optimized for air-to-air and ground attack operations. Exercises with tankers from partner countries have also taken place (Rudd 2010). Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge (2012) remark that Finland is aiming at acquiring a new aircraft and the F – 35 option has been on the table, and such desire is a mere manifestation of Finland’s growing concerns about the Arctic and what events might take place.

Finally, Finland states that for internal security issues, several similar models can be implemented within the framework of cooperation with other Arctic nations, such as cooperation in air and sea rescue operations. Finland, according to the same strategy, has expertise in that sort of operation and can export such knowledge to other Arctic areas. A project involving a Coast Guard cooperation mechanism is on the Finnish wish-list to enhance the internal security of its own waters and territory along with that of the neighbouring nations’.

What then should Finland do regarding its Arctic/Lapland policy? Indeed, Finland is placed in a undesirable strategic position in which it is almost surrounded by a Russia that can – and recently has – turn to aggressive behaviour, and a NATO and EU that, if anything, desires to expand to the East. Last but not least, all of the Finnish neighbours have aims and potential clashes in Arctic territories and resources. In any situation the security of Finland is tied between those three elements and a problem in one area means problems in the others. Finland might rely on the assumption that a conflict is very unlikely but that does not mean that it is an entirely impossible situation and a Russian re-awakening should be a fact that Finland and its Armed Forces should consider. The cooperation between NATO, the EU and Sweden are great steps in order to guarantee a certain degree of security, but Finland must also think to increase and update more of its assets and the presence of units not only in the North but in the whole territory – especially in the areas bordering Russia.

Enrolment with NATO might provoke a negative attitude from Moscow but it would also increase the deterrence of a Russian invasion like in the Winter War of 1939 – 1940. Also, Finland should work more closely with Sweden for the sake of its hardware if NATO equipment is unavailable, as it would allow both nations to secure themselves and their Northern regions from any geopolitical storm in the Arctic. They should also further their defence cooperation beyond consultancy and assistance in war-time to a closer and joint development of land combat systems, naval assets and even air assets, if those are to be upgraded[v]. This can also help Finland to continue to lead one of the Arctic economic sectors of navigation and ice-breakers. Besides Sweden, Norway, Denmark and other Western nations might be interested in Finnish products or Finnish technical assistance.

Finland has a lot of opportunities in the arctic area despite the fact that it does not have an Arctic Coast. But it must realise that a deeper and further procurement of security is a need not only for the economic development of Lapland and its safeguard, but of the whole country as well. And that may mean that a hard approach should be taken in a future.

[i] Clients of Finland in this area are: Canada, Norway, Russia, the United States, and China. Also, there are several Finnish companies are involved in Arctic development projects.

[ii] The Saami – Lapland native people – and Finnish population are also an important aim whose welfare is to be provided by education, infrastructure and socio-economic opportunities.

[iii] Even Finnish troops took place in a NATO exercise hosted by Sweden in 2009, at the Swedish Lapland territory. See: Huebert, Exner – Pirot, Lajeneusse, & Gulledge (2012), p. 20.

[iv] It is important to point out that the same Defence Strategy mentions the Swedish attitude of supporting and acting in favour of any EU or Nordic country suffering a disaster or being under attack, willing to provide and receive military assistance.  Actually there are some security-related relations between Finland and Sweden which are strong and makes each other consult and express their own points of view when it comes to defence and security policies. See: Finnish Security and Defence Policy (2012), p. 71. One explanation might come from the fact that both nations share a close history, since Finland was part of the Swedish Empire until the Napoleonic Wars and there is a significant amount of Swedish population in Finland and Finnish population in Sweden.

[v] Col. Aikio (2009) points out some potential areas for defence and assets cooperation between Finland and other Scandinavian countries. See: p. 54.


Col. Aikio, H (2009). Finnish Defence Forces in Transformation. Military Power Revue der Schweizer Armee. N 2. 2009, pp. 44 – 55.

Huebert, R., Exner – Pirot, H., Lajeneusse, A., & Gulledge, J. (2012). Climate Change and International Security: the Arctic as a Bellwelther. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Prime Minister’s Office (2013). Finland’s Strategy for the Arctic Region 2013: Government resolution on 23 August 2013. Prime Minister’s Office Publications. Helsinki, Finland.

Prime Minister’s Office (2012). Finnish Security and Defence Policy 2012: Government Report. Prime Minister’s Office Publications. Helsinki, Finland.

Rudd, D (2010). Northern Europe’s Arctic Defence Agenda. Journal of Military and Strategic Studies. Vol. 12, N.13, spring 2010, pp. 45 – 71.

*Cover image ‘Finland Grunge Flag‘ by Nicolas Raymond


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