An 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.
Skipper gives this opening to his post: The purpose of this text is to be an eye-opener to those who have not yet understood the serious and broad shifts in the security landscape whose main author is Russia. There are many who continue to live in ignorance and look for everlasting peace, even though we are hearing daily reports on events that are connected – directly or in a roundabout way – to the our safety in the northern Europe.
The situation in our neighborhood and the relations between Russia and the West have so fundamentally changed that we must describe this…
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.
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.
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. NATO is becoming more of a security organization that strives to prevent crises by active 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!