Finland continues to prepare for its defence

Måndag, 25. Maj 2015     0 kommentti(a)

"...necessitated a defence plan review. The changes this would bring to reservists had to be communicated..."

Kuva: Vesa Moilanen Kuva: Vesa Moilanen

Finland has sent out 900 000 letters to reservists to inform them of their planned position in the event of a wartime mobilization of the Finnish Defence Forces (FDF). A range of international media outlets have covered this during the past month. While getting the primary news correct, much of the coverage missed the context and the actual potential impact of the letters on Finnish defence.

The contents of the letter are easily summarized as giving the recipient one of three general messages:

1) You have a specific position in the wartime organization. This would have been denoted with a more or less specific combination of abbreviated terms, the FDF actually provided an abbreviation search function. Basically it could let you know you are a machine-gunner in XY type squad/platoon/company/battalion/brigade.

2) You do not (yet) have a specific assignment, but if the decision to raise readiness (not yet mobilize) is made, you may receive one. This group is used to supplement existing units or form new ones.

3) Your employer has requested and the FDF regional office has approved your designation as someone who has a job in ensuring that "the vital functions of society" continue to function even during crises. This could be anyone from healthcare personnel to service personnel for mobile phone operators or electricity providers.

While the timing of the letter has been interpreted as having something to do with increased tensions with Russia, due to Russia's invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea and continued war in Eastern Ukraine, this is not the case. The first impulse to send the letter came from a 2010 study which as one of its multitude of recommendations on how to improve military service in the 21st century, suggested that the FDF increase its communication with the reserves. Initial discussions about how this should be done were held in 2011. The order to study and plan sending of the letter was given on October18th, 2013. Note the date, five months before the Russian invasion of Crimea.

The fundamental rationale for sending the letter had become apparent by then, as the largest post-World War II defence reorganization in Finland (Pvuud 2012-2015) meant significant changes to the peacetime (around 8000 all-volunteer cadre NCOs and officers) and wartime mobilized organizations (96% reservists). Among the most relevant changes: an entire level of command disappeared, the Army instituted a new Land Warfare Doctrine (video link describing it, w eng subtitles), the wartime size of the military was reduced from 350 000 to around 230 000 and new types of units were created. This and changes to various Navy and Air Force organizations and basing parameters necessitated a defence plan review. The changes this would bring to reservists had to be communicated, and the FDF had to ensure it had an actual up-to-date list which it could count on in the event of a partial or full mobilization. If reservists heed the request made in the letter, and inform the Finnish Defence Forces of any new skills, potential physical restrictions etc., the list will be of a higher quality than ever before.

This two way communication also gives the FDF the opportunity to take advantage of the extensive reserve, and highlights the benefits of the Finnish comprehensive security approach (née Total Defence during the Cold War). For example, a reservist who was trained as a shooter of anti-tank weapons but has worked in cyber security for the past decade can through this process be (re)assigned to societally and militarily more useful duties.

This type of personal communication between reservists and the FDF has never been done before, for a number of reasons. The reasons can be summed up in the thought that individuals were less important in large mass armies and that good intelligence would give sufficient warning to enable the myriad mistakes of the earlier lists to be corrected (people injured, moved out of country etc.). Neither of these assumptions is currently valid. Individuals do matter (see cyber security / hacker example) and Russia has shown that it has the capability to move from exercises to offensive operations in a matter of days or hours, moving large operationally ready formation across vast distances in a few days.

The above clearly indicates that there were good military reasons to send letters to 900 000 reservists, and that the thinking behind it predates the ongoing war in Ukraine. However, clearly the regional security situation changed between when the letter was conceived of and ultimately sent.

Even when the initial tasking was given in fall 2013, Russian actions in the Baltic Sea region had become increasingly aggressive, with simulated bomber attack runs against targets on Danish and Swedish territory and numerous air-space violations (some accidental, many not). When the Chief of Defence Command made the formal decision to continue planning and preparations on April 17, 2014, the regional security context had further changed with the invasion of and annexation of Crimea. Since then, observers have seen a significantly grown volume of snap exercises. The growing volume of exercise is perfectly in line with the need by Russia to itself confirm the changes its own reorganization has caused. However, the purposeful division of exercises into small chunks (not necessitating inviting foreign observers) and the complexity and nature of some exercise have caused concern among other military staffs in the region.

By early 2015, when the Finnish Defence Forces reorganization was completed, it was apparent that the mass mailing should go ahead and the details of it were discussed at a number of senior leadership meetings, where the Chief of Defence (CHOD) approved the sending of the letters. That the mailing would get publicity and would be linked with the deteriorating regional security situation was clear, but the operational needs outlined above outweighed any arguments not to go through with it.

This path of events suggests that the FDF was aware of how the changed regional security context would impact how the letter would be assessed by the outside world. Not many countries would have the human capital or technical capability to send out a personal letter to nearly a million reservists, so its news value was apparent. However, that publicity-messaging value is an additional societal benefit to the operational benefits that the FDF hoped to accrue. Though they clearly were not an actively planned part of the reservist letter, the extensive international media attention has had a positive effect. Most international readers will remember that small Finland located next to Russia has access to nearly a million reservists and has a defence force that has since independence in 1917 continued to prepare for the defence of Finland.

That the Finnish military is only one part of what makes Finland particularly resistant to the hybrid form of warfare employed by Russia is the less newsy reality; because it has to do with solid rule of law, trusted authorities and democratic institutions, universal literacy, freedom of press and a strong will forged by history to prepare for the defence of Finland.

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