European Security Order Has Passed the Era of “Permanent Neutrality”

Guest article by Henri Vanhanen. March 2, 2017.

Henri VanhanenkAn institutional approach on a new European security architecture oversimplifies a complex problem and brings about untenable compromises that only Russia stands to gain from. Dealing with current challenges in the security environment requires both a long term strategic vision and a thorough understanding of the core causes of disagreements and conflict, writes Henri Vanhanen. Henri is an author for the Finnish Foreign Policy publication The Ulkopolitist and has written expert articles on Finnish Foreign and Security policy, international relations and analyses of the security environment. Currently Henri is finishing his master’s degree in contemporary history. He is also a student in the Versatile Expertise in Russian and Eastern European Studies (ExpREES) programme coordinated by the Aleksanteri Institute and has studied American history in the University of California Berkeley. Henri has worked for the US State Department and US Department of Defense as an intern. Henri’s writings represent his personal views.

On February 26th, Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal titled ‘An Alternative to NATO Expansion That Won’t Antagonize Russia’ where he discussed the possibilities of the Trump administration to improve current Russian-American relations. O’Hanlon introduced an idea of a new European security architecture based on a ‘permanent neutrality’ status of certain North and East European states, namely Finland and Sweden; Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus; Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan; Cyprus and Serbia, and possibly some Balkan states. [Read more… 1201 words, 5 min]

Russia, a military strategic and defence economic view

The Russian Federation Armed Forces are transforming from an army of masses to an army of excellence in the next ten years. After this Russia will develop capabilities to conduct modern warfare with power projection and long range strike capabilities. Russia will fuel this reform with all available economic means as it gives the State the tools needed to secure access to diminishing resources in the next four decades.

A ”little green man.” Photo: Unknown, 2014.

Reformist realism

In the post Cold War timeline up until the Ukraine crisis, I find three periods discernible. Firstly, we have the 90s —— following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and resulting in a defunct Russian state. Call it reformist realism. This period following the end of the Cold War was characterized by a defensive Russian military doctrine aiming only to maintain what was left of Russia and discourage breakaway states from further contributing to the dissolution of the Russian Federation. This Russian realism was backed by the United States and Europe, as the remaining nuclear weapons and nuclear materiel of the Soviet Union were considered a threat in any other than adequate Russian control. The sorry state of Russia resulted in a ”diplomacy first” practice relying heavily on the norms of international justice and the international political system. This increased engagement and involvement with the international community, though at times strained – , was warmly welcomed and supported by the European Union and its member states.

A stable, democratic and thriving Russia is of a crucial significance for lasting peace on the continent.

Swedish Govt Defence Proposal 2000

Russia is striving towards an economic reform and an organized and democratic society […] Russia is seeking its role as an actor in international relations and security policy.

Finnish Govt Security and Defence policy white paper, 2001.

The ”reformist Russia” was welcomed as a player aiming for a diplomatic rôle. In 2002 Nato founded the Nato-Russia council, the European Union engaged in several broad development projects and Finland was happy to facilitate, support and participate without reservations.

Cartoon of a Russian bear with a bottle of vodka sitting at the Nato table
Nato and Russia. The Nato-Russia council was founded in 2002. Cf. Wikipedia

Some states made early foresights and drastic conclusions of the state of current affairs and the foreseeable future. Sweden abandoned conscription in 2009.

Foto av svenska soldater som framrycker över fält i grupp.
Soldater Revinge 2013. Foto: Jorchr – Eget arbete (CC BY-SA 3.0). Källa: Wikipedia.

An invasion, aiming to occupy Sweden, does not seem possible over the next ten years, provided that we have a basic defense capability.

Swedish Govt Defence Proposal 2000


The next period is what I’d like to call the retake. It begun in 2007 with the fielding of strategic systems with initial operational capability. To understand this retake, its slow pace and mixed political signals, we need to look at the huge budget, maintenance, training and unit production deficit of the functionally corrupt Russian Federation Armed Forces.

Military spending as % of GDP for USA, Russia, France, UK, China and Germany.

The decline in the defence budget was reversed in 2007. By that time years of use, wear, tear and disrepair along with nonexistent maintenance had taken its toll on much of the fielded equipment. The first order of things was to modernize the strategic systems vital to Russia’s ability to deter its enemies. The first budget surge brought investments in the most capable strategic systems, such as strategic aviation, ballistic missile air defence, submarines and surface vessels.

Beginning 2007, Russia took up strategic aviation flights with modernized Cold War airframes, such as the Tu-22M Backfire, the Tu-95 Bear and the Tu-160 Blackjack. In 2009 Russia had modernized much of its amphibious and airborne assault capabilities and demonstrated this in the Zapad 2009 exercise.

The clearest sign of the retake was the Georgian war. In Georgia Russia fielded some new and modernized combat systems, e.g. the mobile theater ballistic missile system 9K720 Iskander (SS-26 Stone).

During the retake, Russia kept an appeasing stance towards the West. In the hubris of Russian democratization, the EU fed money to Russian schools, social and health services and allowed the Russian Federation to focus on building military capabilities.

The acme of this hubris was reached in 2010, when US, UK, Polish and French armed forces’ detachments marched in the Victory Day parade on Red Square with German Chancellor Angela Merkel watching the marchpast beside Russian Federation president Dmitriy Medvedev.

Victory Day Parade, 9 May 2010. Moscow.
Victory Day Parade, 9 May 2010. Moscow.

Today at this solemn parade, the soldiers of Russia, the states of the CIS and the anti-Hitler coalition march together […] Only together can we counter present-day threats. Only as good neighbors can we resolve problems of global security in order that the ideals of justice and good triumph in all of the world and that the lives of future generations will be free and happy.

Dmitryi Medvedev, President of the Russian Federation.

The Georgian War was explained and accepted by many as an anomaly in Russian politics.


2013 was the year of drills and exercises, with the scheduled exercises maintaining capabilities and the snap drills testing the readiness of units on all levels. This current period has been labeled by some as an era of Russian ”revanchism” and ”revisionism.” I will hold a bit before assigning a fitting label.

In July 2013, the president of the Russian Federation ordered a surprise readiness drill that was the largest military exercise in 37 years, involving 160 000 troops from all over Russia on exercise in the Eastern Military District. These Russian snap drills have one chief purpose. It is to verify that the Armed Forces are at the prescribed level of readiness for combat utilization. Russia intends to build and maintain an readily applicable instrument of conventional warfare.

Victory Day Parade in Moscow, 9 May 2014.
Victory Day Parade in Moscow, 9 May 2014.

The Soviet people’s iron will, fearlessness and steadfast courage saved Europe from enslavement.

Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation

The future

The cost of this military build-up is huge. This year Russia spends almost 65 billion US dollars on defence. The increase from last year is more than 20 percent. While only making up a reasonable less than 4 % of GDP this amounts to over 20 percent of state spending. Another 17 percent is spent on national security and law enforcement, totaling a security spending of 37 %.

The Armed Forces modernization programme totals 723 billion USD in the next ten years. This amount has been increased each year since 2012.

Spending on education, social care and healthcare has fallen.

The Russian purpose of the military power build-up becomes clear when applying a geoeconomic view.In the short and long terms Ukraine is about control, access and trade. This holds true for all CIS states and their neighbours — aligned or non-aligned alike. In the medium-term Russia needs to be able to assert itself in two or more geographically distinct theatres – the West, i.e. Europe and parts of the Middle east – and in the East with China and the United States as opposing players.

As the climate change opens up the Arctic for transit and exploitation, Russia intends to assume control of those lines of communication and natural resources.

These ambitions set the need for an ability to pursue a new type of contacless warfare with drones and networked strike, command and control capabilities. The current modernization programme only enhances ”traditional” conventional capabilities. During the next decade Russia will begin a new cycle of modernization that will be even more costly.

The outlook for the cornerstones of a democratic, safe and secure society – education, social care and healthcare – is grim.


Needless to say, all things expressed above represent my personal views.

On fire, pt 7. The Finnish NATO debate (Eld och lågor, del 7 | Liekeissä, osa 7)

This seventh part of my series on the Finnish NATO debate concludes this discussion and points the way towards a subject of greater importance, one that is even harder than NATO and plagued by dogma.


The NATO debate has clearly picked up both pace and quality as a result of the Ukraine crisis. Some myths have been discussed and busted, while some arguments remain elusive or unclear. I have discussed opponent arguments in part 5 and proponent arguments in part 6. Please refer to these if you should find this post lacking. Heikki Hakala did a very good fact check on 10 commonly heard assertions on NATO (in Finnish).



Defence spending would increase dramatically if Finland were to become a member.

Commentary: This myth is finally busted. The recommendation of a defence spending of at least two (2) percent of GDP has been thoroughly reviewed. We know that only four or five members plan to reach that level this year, and that NATO hasn’t been that keen on forcing any members to adhere to this recommendation. Concern was expressed for Latvia’s spending by NATO staff, but there was ample reason as the expenditure had dropped well below the one (1) percent mark.

Our defence minister, Carl Haglund, has very clearly pointed out that the expenditure to follow is the share of the defence budget allocated to procurement of defence materiel. This is where Finland excels, with nearly a third quarter (and in the past years a third) spent on materiel.

The cost of a NATO membership is estimated to land at some 50 million, equalling two percent of the current defence budget, with roughly half going to ”membership fees” and the other half going to cost of officers at NATO staff. This is where the debate siderailed. Our defence minister labelled this as getting valuable international experience. I beg to differ. Officers in the NATO component commands and joint HQs won’t just get experience. They’d be deeply involved in defence planning for the alliance. Some would serve as subject matter experts in commands and centres not that heavily involved in operational planning (ACT and COEs), but the extra cost for most would only be the difference between overseas salary and domestic salary.


Member or not, Finland will still have to invest in a fully capable independent defence.

While this has a nice ring to it and sounds very resolute and powerful, it is a question which can only be answered in agreement with other members. It’s been said that nothing is as expensive as a fully independent credible defence. 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. Any addition to those capabilities during a crisis would be most welcome, as I argued in part 6. As a member we couldn’t vacate the ”eastern front” any more than we can today, but on some capabilities too expensive for a small country, we could rely on sharing the burden with other members. One good example is the long range strike capability that is being sought for JAS by Sweden. This is an example of a capability that already proved too expensive for us as we cancelled the order of the MGM-140 ATACMS Tactical Missile System. Now that Sweden is building a long range air-to-ground capability (KEPD 350 Taurus is my guess)

We should go for NATO instead of an alliance with Sweden.

These aren’t mutually exclusive. An alliance with Sweden will happen anyway if both countries apply for membership, as most politicians say it would and should happen. In NATO the two neighbours, with Norway and the Baltic countries, would be quite a natural working group or syndicate in defence planning. NATO means a de facto alliance with Sweden, so taking this first step should be quite easy. This is also politically true as the proposal enjoys great popular support. An alliance with Sweden is a no-brainer – our military capabilities differ somewhat and are actually complementary. Any mutual defence plans would enhance deterrence and work well within a NATO framework.

The way ahead

The debate has successfully brought to public attention the crux of the Finnish credible defence. It’s economics. The very core of this debate lies in understanding what capabilities are, how they are built and the time frame of acquiring capabilities. The clue to enlightenment, instead of calling for more money and more weapons – a popular and vote-winning rhetoric, but always unfinanced, is understanding how lack of materiel affects the defence system in the long term.

Sweden serves as a warning. While most information on the Swedish defence reform was public and the end state was there for all to see, the political debate was filled with flowery words like ”strengthening the defence” and ”building new capabilities for ‘complex’, ‘unpredictable’ and ‘borderless’ threats.” This idealization led to decisions further emphasizing capabilities for international peace missions in a changing security environment that ultimately called for increased focus on national defence.

The next step in the Finnish debate should be a stark, sober and very public discussion on the credibility and capabilities of our defence in the mid and long terms.

Vieraan maan profeetat

Maanpuolustuskorkeakoulun Strategian laitos julkaisi syksyllä 2011 arvostettujen tutkijoiden Stefan Forssin, Lauri Kiianlinnan, Pertti Inkisen ja Heikki Hultin raportin Venäjän sotilaspoliittinen kehitys ja Suomi. Julkaisussa painotettiin enemmän kuin tarpeeksi, ettei se edusta koulun tai puolustusvoimien virallista kantaa. Osakseen se saikin asiallisen, mutta pintapuolisen huomion lisäksi tyypillistä suomettunutta kritiikkiä, joidenkin jopa tyrmätessä raportin.

Ruotsissa on raporttiin vasta äskettäin herätty, kun se on maaliskussa 2013 ilmestynyt luettavaan muotoon englannin kielellä nimellä The Development of Russian Military Policy and Finland. Raportti on otettu aika vakavasti ja asiaan perehdytty hieman syvällisemmin ja avoimemmin kuin Suomessa.

Kukaan ei ole profeetta omalla maallaan.