Today we are all adapting to a new security environment, both in Europe and globally. From the Finnish point of view, we can see some continuity and some new elements.
After the Cold War ended, Finland did not initiate a massive defense transformation. Even though we started to build interoperability with our NATO partners and participated in crisis management operations, the main focus of the Finnish Defence Forces was always the defense of our own territory. Our consistent policy was to keep our defense strong. The upcoming investments — including four new corvettes for the Navy and replacement of the Finnish Air Force’s F-18 fleet — and new defense-related legislation will further strengthen our readiness and national defense.
What has changed in our current environment, however, is that other European Union and NATO countries have also started to focus on the defense of their own territory, and NATO’s presence is the Baltic Sea region has increased. This has enhanced stability and security in the Baltic Sea region. At the same time, increased presence in our neighborhood has created more training opportunities.
Increased cooperation and coordination is also needed because of our geography and a shared security environment, which creates some interdependency. This type of defense cooperation is based on a shared, common interest.
Today, the Finnish Defence Forces are more capable and more interoperable than they have ever been. That makes us effective in looking after our own security and a solid partner for other EU member states and NATO countries.
For Finland, the European Union has always been a security provider. It is increasingly also a facilitator and enabler of defense cooperation. The union has tools that other organizations lack. The European Defence Fund or promoting military mobility in Europe are just a few examples, and only a beginning, as we are moving from out-of-area crisis management to a more strategic approach to protecting Europe and its citizens.
Although all the EU member states have agreed on the direction we are heading, some want to move faster than others. The vision for the future must bring countries together instead of sowing divisions.
The more the EU can do for defense, the better for NATO and the trans-Atlantic link. A more capable and integrated Europe is also a stronger trans-Atlantic partner. In this respect, more EU does not mean less NATO. EU and NATO must continue to coordinate their actions on both hard and soft security.
I hope this illustrates why we, in Finland, do not see European strategic autonomy as an alternative to NATO or as an alternative to a strong trans-Atlantic link.
It is also essential to mention the Nordic Defence Cooperation, which has also adapted to changes in our shared security environment. In November, the Nordic defense ministers adopted a new Vision 2025 for taking our cooperation forward. The vision states that we will improve our defense capability and cooperation in peace, crisis and conflict, and that we will ensure a close Nordic political and military dialogue on security and defense. This regional cooperation supports what we are doing in the EU and together with NATO.
During my time as the minister of defense of Finland, we have taken other steps to strengthen the trans-Atlantic link. A prime example is our bilateral defense relationship with the United States. In October 2016, we signed our bilateral statement of intent on defense cooperation. This was later followed by a trilateral statement of intent between Finland, Sweden and the United States in May 2018. The statements of intent speak to both the depth and width of our cooperation, including joint exercises, policy dialogue and materiel cooperation. In the coming years, these links will be further strengthened.
We must also keep our minds on the bigger picture. There is a dual challenge: to sustain the vital trans-Atlantic relationship and further strengthen European security. These goals can best be achieved by increasing European capabilities. Europe needs to finds its voice and speak, alongside the United States.
Jussi Niinistö is Finland’s defense minister.