These actions highlight a qualitative shift in Finland’s security and defense policy. Defense cooperation has moved beyond international crisis management operations and is increasingly connected to Finland’s own defense and regional security. Accordingly, a new legislation was introduced in 2017, which allows Finland to provide and receive military assistance.
However, Finland does not belong to a military alliance (i.e. NATO), which means that independent defense capability remains the cornerstone of Finland’s defense policy. As a result, unlike many other European states, Finland continued to invest in its territorial defense system in the post-Cold War era. The country is currently executing two major strategic capability projects: the HX Programme will replace the relatively strong multipurpose fighter fleet of FA-18 Hornets by 2030; and the Squadron 2020 project aims at replacing seven vessels of the Finnish Navy with modern corvettes. These and other investments are estimated to increase the country’s defense spending from approximately 1.5 percent to 2 percent of the country’s GDP in the 2020s. There is a rather broad national consensus that these investments should be carried out despite the economic challenges related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
EU as the key security community for Finland
The Finnish notion of the EU as a security community draws from the country’s membership discussion in the 1990s. While the economic rationale played a key role, security policy considerations were deemed to weight equally or even more. In Finland, the EU membership in 1995 was seen to bring about stability and security by anchoring the country to (Western) Europe politically and economically. Interestingly, the decision to adopt the single currency from its outset in 1999 was also argued to come with security policy benefits related to deeper integration, as having the same currency as Germany, France and other Eurozone countries was expected to provide stability with regards to Finland’s international position and a seat in the currency union’s decision-making. Against this backdrop, support for stronger EU defense cooperation amid current security challenges and war-torn EU neighbourhoods, come as no surprise. The ambition to work towards European strategic autonomy in the field of security and defense has been welcomed by Helsinki, but approached pragmatically. Becoming a stronger security and defense policy actor would also make the EU a more credible actor in the world, which is increasingly marked by great power rivalry. Yet, there are no quick fixes to Europe’s security and defense dependencies, in particular with regards to the role of the US to provide geostrategic balance in the Baltic Sea region.
While Finland has strongly supported the launch of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) as well as the new EU tools to enhance defense industrial research and markets, these actions are expected to bear fruit in the longer term. More attention should be paid to the position of small and medium sized enterprises in order to make the EU defense market integration work for all. Relatedly, a less competitive milieu for defense systems and materials procurement should be averted, and the contribution of like-minded third countries with technological assets should be encouraged.