Finland defense report focuses on cybersecurity, significance of the Arctic

The emergence of great power competition in the Arctic could have spillover effects for smaller nations such as Finland, the report said.

By Saara-Maria Salonen, The Independent Barents Observer - October 13, 2021
Soldiers from the Finnish Armed Forces. ( via The Independent Barents Observer)

The Arctic has a key focus in the Finnish Government’s Defence Report of 2021, which lays out national security priorities for the upcoming years.

The report also concentrates on new challenges including cyber defense, as well as maintaining the situational awareness of space. In addition, the government plans an internal restructuring of the armed forces, with regional units to be discontinued and the number of military personnel to increase by 500 by the end of the decade.

The report highlights the ‘tense and unpredictable’ status of Finnish defense and the changes in the operational environment. During a press conference, general director Esa Pulkkinen stated that tensions have risen in Finland’s neighboring areas due to the competition between great powers, which in turn affects the status of smaller countries such as Finland. China’s rise as a global agent has also changed the mutual dynamics between the great powers. According to the defense report, China’s influence on target countries cannot be ignored. Russia, in turn, has recently strengthened its military powers on its western border. The report suggests that threat of military action cannot be ruled out, even though there is no immediate threat to Finnish national security.

Commander Timo Kivinen stated in the press conference that modern defense mechanisms are more dependent on digitalization, information and the utilization of space. Finland will keep on advancing cyber security and defense, while continuing cooperation internationally.

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The most practical changes are coming from the changes in the internal restructuring. The restructuring does not change the quantity of the troops, which will remain at 280,000. The regional units will be discontinued and merged with the operative units and local defense units. Operational units are mobile and carry out battle missions in the whole country, whereas local units work to protect targets and cooperate with officials. Merging regional units with the operational and local ones ensures more flexibility to the use of operational forces which will ensure stronger local defense and it will have a direct impact on their ability to respond to possible hybrid operations. According to Kivinen, the possibility of hybrid operations, the wide-ranging method of influence, is part of the modern age and with the development of technology, the threat of hybrid operations will only increase.

The report discusses the possibility of increasing the military reserve and boosting the reserve’s training by increasing military refresh courses, for example. The Finnish Defence Forces will work to increase the number of women volunteers joining the army, in the hope of increasing the defense and responding to the changing challenges. The report also states that the defense forces will increase their number of staff by 500 from 21,500 in order to “maintain the readiness requirements stemming from the operating environment, to meet conscript and reservist training requirements, and develop new capabilities.”

The report highlights new concerns over the growing strategic importance of the Arctic region and its challenges to Finnish national security. According to the report, the opening of the Northern Sea Route will invite interest in exploiting natural resources in the area. This could increase international tensions. The report states that “Finland is located in strategically important region” from the point of view of the great powers, especially with the significant North Atlantic sea lines.

In a press conference held on September 9 , Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen emphasized that the most important aspects laid down by the report are the upkeep and advancing of Finland’s defense is the most important goal. They will also concentrate on the opportunities for women and reserve members to participate in the defense duties.