On fire, pt 6. The Finnish NATO debate (Eld och lågor, del 6 | Liekeissä, osa 6)

In my previous post on the Finnish NATO debate I critically reviewed some key arguments of opponents. As for dissecting proponent arguments, the task is daunting, since NATO advocates actually spend most of their time rebutting opponent claims.

The subject easily lends itself to meta-debate and I shall not resist the temptation to take a cursory glance on this. A little less than ten years ago debating the quality of the NATO debate in Finland was the only way to go about discussing NATO, unless one was set on being labelled an NATO enthusiast and modern day anti-Soviet agitator, bent on destroying good Finno-Russian relations. This is still echoed in contemporary debate, lately much exacerbated by the Ukraine crisis that has Finland pondering its special Russian relations.

Pin with Russian and Finnish flags.
Read more on Wikipedia: Finland–Russia relations. Get your pin from http://www.crossed-flag-pins.com/

That being said, and hoping the current confrontational atmosphere will dissipate, the Finnish NATO debate has improved a lot during the last 4–5 years. Voices advocating a return to Soviet era neutrality and archaic Cold War policy are seldom heard; NATO is discussed as an integral part of European security, both from military and political perspectives; Finland is seen as choosing between on one hand Western values and ideals, and on the other hand good neighbourly relations of mutual respect and a very keen, special understanding of Russia and Russians. Or keeping both, which is a main confrontational issue for opponents and proponents.

Like I said, the task of picking good NATO supporter arguments is challenging, since few are actually presented. In retrospect the ones I chose (see below) seem much like counter-arguments to opponent statements. I’ve settled for four key arguments and have presented them with an extensive commentary.

1. NATO will protect us (i.e. send forces) in case we’re attacked (strength of Article V).

Commentary: In part 5, I presented my opinion that article V is ironclad. Failing to act when a member country is threatened would demolish NATO. Forces would be sent, most likely in a pre-emptive manner as seen today in Poland and the Baltic states. The units deployed in support of Finland would of course depend on availability, but assuming for the sake of the argument, the use of rapid response forces (NRF), the following cautious and moderate estimate of forces to be deployed may be relevant:

  • Parts of an NRF air component could be readily deployed in Finland, notably increasing Finnish air defence capabilities. Air policing and air surveillance now done with radar stations and a fleet of 60 F/A-18 would be significantly strengthened with airborne surveillance systems and additional interceptors. The long range air-to-ground strike capability would increase exponentially, creating a deterring capability threshold against aggression.
  • A maritime component, both naval and amphibious, would triple our amphibious forces and add capability to conduct over-the-horizon amphibious operations. 1-2 combined task groups with surface combatants and submarines would greatly increase the range and scope of surveillance, intelligence, air defence and strike assets.
  • The land component would most likely be very moderate. With a field army strength of several brigades, of which only companies and a battalion at most trained and interoperable with NATO forces, any addition would be superfluous. On this point one has to concede to NATO opponents. In the traditional sense of understanding warfare (i.e. boots on the ground), NATO wouldn’t lend us much support in crisis. Viewed from a capability perspective, however, the opposite is suggested. There is great honour in infantry and cavalry, but gunships and men-of-war really make the difference.
  • In addition to these chief components support units would be deployed. Such useful units could be special forces units (think Ukraine), psychological warfare units (think Ukraine) and of course logistic units needed to ensure flow of materiel and services to both Finnish and co-fighting (is that a real word?) NATO units.


2. Finland will decide in which non-article V NATO operations it takes part.

Commentary: This is definitely a counter-argument, as opponents claim that Finnish soldiers would be sent Africa and Asia, if we were to join NATO. While a very sound argument from a Westphalian sovereignty perspective, it is somewhat contradictory if presented with the characterization of NATO as an alliance of democratic nations with Western values. If values are argued, then the implications of that system must be taken into account. Shared values and undertakings by these values requires being flexible on sovereignty.

The concept of creating security with diplomacy, and use of force if necessary, should also be weighed carefully. Article V, while being the foundation of NATO, has a diminished significance in the current and future undertakings of NATO. This is evident in the Chicago Summit official texts and in the mission of the Allied Command Transformation. This has also been argumented (in Finnish) by the Finnish Institute for International Affairs visiting researcher Noora Kotilainen. NATO is becoming more of a security organization that strives to prevent crises by active CA/DIME engagements outside its territory. This does not diminish the security guarantees provided in article V, but the future mission needs of NATO will shift the focus of operations to conflict prevention outside Europe and North America. All members (and partners) are expected to chip in on this, each according to its capabilities. This is already done today and will be done tomorrow.

3. Finland, as a NATO member, will be able to maintain good relations with Russia.

Commentary: Our bilateral relations with Russia probably wouldn’t be affected in the long term, but Russia would resist membership plans and pressure Finland with diplomatic and economic means. Some NATO members have good relations with Russia, Germany and Norway as prime examples. These relations are not affected by the Ukraine crisis any more than Finland’s relations. NATO and EU, both sharing 22 members of 28 total, are acting in concert and cooperation. It could be argued that by not being a NATO member Finland is actually left on the sidelines with less influence despite self-declared ”special” and ”good neighbourly relations.”

In the current situation, however, any aspirations towards a fast-track membership would elicit a stark Russian response. The ability to respond to any further escalation in the Baltic Sea area is beyond the capabilities of NATO, already stretched thin. The window of opportunity on an independent membership decision has closed. A Finnish NATO membership will require a strong pull from members and can only be done together with Sweden. Only this would create a critical mass nullifying Russian resistance.

4. NATO won’t have an impact on our defence; a sovereign nation must stand on its own feet and take care of its own defence.

Commentary: This is an argument shared by both advocates and antagonists. I therefore repeat my previous: This is a decision we will have to make with the other member states. Not all NATO countries maintain full capabilities in all services. Notoriously, the Baltic States are ”infantry and schools only”, to put it bluntly. They rely on NATO to bring the air and maritime power. Finland is no ”biggie” on maritime or air power either. The cost of the F-18 Hornet replacement, assuming that 60 will be acquired, will land somewhere between 7 and 12 billion USD (5-9 bn EUR). This is an unplanned and unfinanced cost that equals three to five annual defence budgets. This is one reason why Finland is active in Nordic Defence Cooperation. NATO offers options in the evolving concept of smart defence.


Please further the debate by sharing your views and opinions below!


11 reaktioner på ”On fire, pt 6. The Finnish NATO debate (Eld och lågor, del 6 | Liekeissä, osa 6)

  1. hello all,

    This discussion has been enlightening, and made me, at least, to reconsider some of the missgivings I have about NATO. I fear that in NATO there is at least tow tiers of allies. those who can pull their weight and those who can’t. Unfortunately for all, tose who can’t contribute outnumber those who do by hefty margin. It is not enought that USA UK and Estonia pull their weight when old powerhouses like Netherlands and Germany are happy to sell their equipment and make cutbacks in defence spending. I’m aware how, prime example being Locheed, bleed defence for money. Lockheed managed to go over the top, and will now face much lesser number of sales because of extraorbitant prices thay ask. Mostly the techno doesn’t need to be cutting edge, 2-5 yearold tech is in all practical applications just as good. This might be a bit of hindrace, but not really as devastating as it seems.

    Mr Katainen is rignt in that even allied Finland will have to bear the brunt of defending the country ourselves, nobody else is going to do it for us, BUT they might help. Most important thig for us locally is to at last get somekind of ballistic protection for out troops and make sure thet they can fight in dark. Nato might help in that.

    What really gt me thinking was the fact how much can we go against A. Ehresnvärds advise about trusting others. meaning do we trust taht article 5.is ironclad, it seems it is not, considering what proNATO folk are saying.

    Then a slight rebutt for you mr Mashiri: If the lowly T-55 is only tank in the arena, it is the best tank in arena. I wouldn’t plan fighting T-80s with T-55 along Porvoo Highway, but they would be more than adequate bashing LAV-25s in Ahvenanmaa.


  2. Dear Tomi,

    I think we really have to look at the context here. If we assume that Russia will attack Finland to conquer Finland and stop there it would make sense to stockpile and increase the reserve to say a ½ million men.

    If, on the other hand, we see Finland as a part of the theatre, different conclusions can be made. Looking at the air force, for instance, one might see much misplaced equipment as long as they reman within our borders.

    Let’s keep in mind that NATO is about collective defence and a membership would mean making concrete defence plans with assigned units for Finland (and Sweden), so concerns would be addressed quite well.

    The problem is that we still tend to think in terms of us and the others, even when hypothesising on membership. A collective defence means joint operations. Planned and executed jointly from a single command. It’s not like the Finnish Defence Staff would be given command of NATO units.


  3. Dear Insinööri,

    This is off the topic, but I’ll try to put it in perspective.

    First of all, the range of the 122H63 (2A18) doesn’t extend beyond 20 km no matter RAP or base-bleed. These also decrease payload. Throwing around expensive hand grenades is just stupid.

    When you are within 20 km you are well within range of 2S19 and should expect heavy casualties. Your professed willingness to sacrifice I find admirable, but we really need to get away from the cannon fodder thinking. This kind of thinking, while highly honourable and a great proof of the effects of conscription, is what keeps us bound to antiquated equipment, while we claim that it is still usable in modern warfare.

    Any technical demonstration, even a mathematical analysis, will show the greater effect of self-propelled arty units over towed arty. The better protection and mobility are self-evident, of course. When it comes to concealment you can’t just go with the cannon, but also have to take into account the trucks. These combined make for a greater target area than a mechanized system. Firepower is not in numbers but in power. Artillery is most effective on the first splash. This has led to mortar and arty systems capable of MRSI.

    Sometimes a capable defence means letting go of old units and equipment. These are never easy decisions and replacements are bound to be less in numbers, always a sure source of criticism from those being ”laid off” with old systems. But let’s be honest, if our well trained reservists were at the helm, we’d probably still use Suomi submachine guns and T-55 MBTs as these are seriously discussed as capable systems on many forums. Having bullet-resistant body armour, a rifle with reach in the dark and support with a punch is not the forbidden ”techno-army”, it’s what we need to not get overrun. Less men will do, but not lesser equipment.


  4. Hello all,

    just a small point concerning the ”equipment and whose hands”.
    If the equipment is in say, Poland. The equipment is in polish hands, not readily available for our use. If this piece of equipment is for example a Tank, it will remain in Poland unless alliance, NATO here, goes to some lenghts to transport that piece of equipment to Finland. It would be a bit easier with ships and quite a lot easier with airplanes, but would newer the less take time and cause wear and tear to equipment.

    Of course if NATO would still go about and making ready stockpiles here, the equipment would be in ”our hands”, just waiting the warfighters to be flown in and get ready. It is OK to lend equipment to and fro in peacetime, but in wartime this just is not feasible. Any weapon system would be in hard use, and thus going back and forth all the time and potentially always being in the wrong place in wrong time.

    In reality there would not be much allied forces coming to our aid, because the current de-armament of NATO allies, it STILL would make sense to try to build up own forces with knockdown prices. In 90’ies Thomas Ries had opinion, that NATO could only send air forces to help defending Finland. This is still the case, but amount of that available help has greatly diminished in passing years. Finland would still be defended with our glorious infantry and ”crem de la crem” Artillery. Along with the less.. other arms as well.

    So it seems that fundamentally we agree in joining the NATO, but I would much more like to join 1985 NATO that 2015 NATO. Obviously joining 1985 NATO is impossible, but one has to hope NATO will step up her capabilities in close future, so that NATO 2020 is something much more than the bit paperish tiger it is today.


  5. @James,
    This an aside, but with right kind of ammunition, 122H63 can reach targets clearly further away than 20 km. When it comes to targeting, the current NATO standard doctrine for artillery use is overcautious. When the ballistic, topographical and meteorological preparation is proper, the accuracy of the artillery is quite comparable to CAS aircraft using missiles, if also targeting mistakes of aircraft are taken into account. In areas which have so low civilian density that air support is justifiable, well coordinated arty strikes should also be acceptable. If we really want to contribute, it should happen also on doctrinal level, not just by providing equipment and men.
    Your main point about the vulnerability of towed artillery is correct, but moot in most international missions. In Afghanistan-type environment, there is a constant threat of armed attacks where rapid, heavy fire support is needed. On the other hand, the danger posed by enemy aircraft is negligible. It is quite enough to have covered foxholes (or APC’s) to negate dangers caused by mortar strikes. The guns themselves are quite resistant to indirect fire.
    On the other hand, if we are fighting against a major power without air superiority, then we are using our large reservist army. In such case, having large amounts of firepower is preferable to having only few technologically superior artillery pieces. Even if they are much more resistant to threats, it is easy for the overwhelmingly strong enemy to find and destroy a few armored artillery pieces than hundreds of badly-protected but easily concealed towed guns. Artillery units are designed to have a large oversupply of men, so the units retain their capability even after massive casualties. With conscription and existing weapons systems, this is much cheaper than buying armored artillery. (And before anyone calls me callous: I am an arty reservist with an sa-placement. I am among those I consider expendable.)


  6. Thanks for contributing to the debate, Tomi!

    I didn’t explicitly make the points you claimed, but they were implied to some extent, of course. I assess that road or rail transports aren’t feasible except as complementary. Sea transports are vital for Finland. When looking at who provides the different combat or support services, I don’t really see the need to differentiate between ”hands.” The objective is paramount, not who does it. That’s why it’s called an ”alliance.” The capabilities are jointly commanded and controlled. This principle is called unity of command and effort. I concur with you on the main point – what capabilities we maintain and to what extent. That’s the choice we will have to make, unless money suddenly becomes abundant.

    I’ll say again: ”The only thing more costly than maintaining a pluralistic Nordic welfare society based on social liberalism is maintaining a capable, credible and independent defence.”



  7. Hi,
    As you pointed out, most of the help arriving from NATO allies would have to cross semi-hostile waters of Baltic. And as you mentioned Finnish Navy would not be in positition to escort convoys to Finland with any reasonable chances of succes. Indeed the NATO corvettes and Frigates would be sorely needed to get anykind of material help to Finland.
    There is of course the possibility of landtransport across ally or neutral party Sweden, But this would maybe be much more time and energy consuming option. Jets can and will naturally fly to Finland, but their stores would somehow need to follow. One suspects that Finnish Air Forces 600 AMRAAMs would quickly be spent.
    And however you look at it, The land army would need infantry brigades to keep those airfields and harbors secure. So indeed capabilities might be nicely enhanced, but they would still be needed in “our hands” and not in our allies hands.
    So mostly, in my very own humble and maybe ill advised opinion: the question joining or not joining the NATO is largely trivial. the real question is how much will we have capabilities in our own hands. meaning how many fighters, how many corvettes and how much C4 capabilities, not to mention how to go about procuring for our “glorious infantry”.


  8. Thank you for the comment, Insinööri maakunnasta!
    You properly highlight one of our greatest capabilities we should rightfully be proud of. Our artillery system is unparalleled, but I will correct some errors: The range of the Soviet-built 122 mm howitzer (Soviet designation 2A18, also D-30, Finnish 122H63, 122 mm Howitzer 1963) has a range of 15 km, or probalby below, with bore wear as it must be today. Using artillery units in Crisis Response Operations is problematic, as the system won’t allow for pinpoint strikes unless guided ammunition is used. This usually requires modern 155 mm arty och 120 mm mortar systems. Most targeting processes will rule out artillery as the preferred weapon system due to the restraints implied. Nonetheless, our arty system is very good and valuable in conventional warfare, especially if developed to produce better protection, mobility and precision. I find it more cost-effective to have an expensive platform with high survivability than twenty cheap cannons with a neutralized crews.


  9. Thanks shadow_warrior!
    I agree. It is vital for Finland not to let go of the progress we’ve made and the knowledge we have in the cyber security and defence domains. However, contributing requires membership and most nations are still not sharing ttheir knowledge and capabilities to other nations. In this NATO isn’t the salvation, but we should forcefully develop our cyber capabilities on our own with both public and private actors involved.


  10. @shadow_warrior
    On the contrary, the real strength the FDF is its extremely strong artillery, which is used with a relatively flexible and creative doctrine. The towed artillery is very transportable and it might have a lot of use. For example, an artillery battallion with 122H63 (D-30) can cover an area with a radius of 20 km and maintain a constant three-minute readiness to have grenades arriving for weeks, if necessary. Such performance cannot be provided by air units and even at remote location, an artillery unit located at a FOB (perhaps an independent company instead of a full battalion) can provide cheaper and more ready fire support for infantry patrols than any air unit.

    So, we should absolutely propose artillery units as the Finnish contribution to international missions for that capability is something where we are really good at and which many even larger nations are lacking.


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