The security situation in Northern Europe is unstable and difficult to predict. This, in a nutshell, is the outlook for 2021, according to the recent Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy. It describes an environment where relations between great powers are in flux and the rules-based international system is under pressure.

Few of us will miss 2020. However, in Finland there are also reasons for optimism. Our society is resilient. We have confidence in our model of comprehensive security, which we have developed and fine-tuned during the post-Cold War era. We have maintained and developed a national defense capability throughout the decades. We never dropped the ball on defense. In addition, we are members of the European Union, are partners to NATO and cooperate actively with our Nordic neighbors.

The Finnish government is currently drafting the future guidelines for our national defense. The government report on defense will be released in the spring.

We have a solid foundation for securing a strong national defense capability way into the future. Defense planning is a long-term process. Nothing happens in a year or two. The government defense report for 2021 will set guidelines with an eight- to 10-year perspective. Defense of the 2030s is being built today — and throughout the following decade.

Finland’s response to the deteriorating security environment is twofold. First, we continue to invest in defense. Our focus is to maintain a strong national defense capability for credible deterrence; and if deterrence fails, for defending the nation against external threats. Second, we continue to participate in international defense cooperation.

This year our military expenditures will reach more than 2.2 percent of gross domestic product. We will, in the coming years, procure a new Navy squadron with four corvettes. During the next decade we will also replace the current fleet of F-18 Hornet fighters; a procurement decision will be made this year. Together, these two projects will inject more than an additional €10 billion (U.S. $12 billion) into our defense system.

Additional defense expenditures will facilitate a balanced approach to defense development. They guarantee that our intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and command-and-control capabilities, joint fires, cyber defense, and the Army will get the needed upgrades during the 2020s and beyond.

To my great pride, national defense remains a common cause in Finland. It builds on a bedrock of well-functioning society. To maintain a strong defense, we will continue to develop our model of general conscription. Practically every household in Finland has at least one citizen soldier — ready to defend the nation if needed. This, together with societal resilience and well-equipped defense forces, form the center of gravity of our defense. Ensuring resilience also requires robust legislation on issues such as military intelligence and critical infrastructure.

There are numerous formats for multilateral, regional and bilateral defense cooperation in Northern Europe. Finland participates in many of them. It is noteworthy that cooperation is not an end in itself; there is a big picture behind the defense-related acronyms. Our goal is to strengthen our defense and, together with others, to increase Europe’s defense capabilities. This promotes stability in our region. The structures are there; now it is time for implementation.

Bilateral defense cooperation between Finland and Sweden is a good example of a pragmatic, goal-oriented mindset. Cooperation has developed step by step over the years. Today, it covers times of peace, crisis and war. The trilateral statement of intent between Finland, Sweden and the United States from 2018 complements the bilateral relations between the three countries. Recently, Finland, Sweden and Norway also agreed to establish trilateral defense ties.

The United States is among Finland’s closest and most important partners. Built on mutual interests, our relationship has systematically deepened under presidents and governments of different political orientations. I am proud to be a link in this chain.

Europe must take more responsibility for its own security. We value NATO’s role in advancing trans-Atlantic and European security. In the past years, our NATO cooperation has also deepened. We are also a strong supporter of defense cooperation within the European Union.

In 2021, Finland will hold the rotating presidency of Nordic Defence Cooperation, or NORDEFCO. Trans-Atlantic cooperation is an important part of it. We will continue to work toward the ambitious goal set in the NORDEFCO Vision 2025: to develop our ability to act together in times of peace, crisis and conflict. This enhances security and stability in Northern Europe.

To conclude, we in Finland are very confident that despite the tensions and uncertainty in the international security environment, we have the needed military capabilities — backed by the will of the population to defend the nation — to thwart any potential military threat rising against us. A strong national defense capability — supported by defense cooperation with credible partners — is our way forward during 2021 and in the years to come.

Antti Kaikkonen is the defense minister in Finland.

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