FIIA Briefing Paper 112 “Not just another arms deal: The security
policy implications of the United States selling advanced missiles to
Finland” by Institute researcher Charly Salonius-Pasternak was featured in the newspaper European Voice on 20 September. The briefing paper describes the missile deal as the culmination of the co-operation between Finland and the United States.
The Finns are expanding their already impressive military might, posing questions for their Nordic neighbours and Russia.
Finland takes its security seriously, which means Finns do not like
talking about it much, especially to outsiders. Few realise that a
Nordic country of just over 5.3 million people has the biggest artillery
force in Europe, for example, and some of the most advanced airspace
surveillance. It has top-notch special forces; its cyber-defences are in
far better shape than those in most European countries. Finnish
military intelligence is as formidable as it is discreet.
Nor does anyone like discussing why. Finnish diplomats like to point
out that they have excellent relations with all their neighbours. Yet it
is clear that Finnish military planners do not lose any sleep about
possible aggression from Estonia, Sweden or Norway. Russia, however, is
an uncomfortable neighbour, and has been taking an increasingly nasty
tone with Finland this year. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin
threatened a “tough response” if Finland improved its co-operation with
NATO or bought new weapons.
But that is exactly what is happening. At a cost of €178.5 million
Finland is buying the US’s advanced AGM-158 joint air-to-surface
stand-off missile (JASSM). This is an ultra-modern air-to-surface
weapon, which the US has so far sold to no NATO member. These
semi-stealthy cruise missiles, launched from the newly upgraded F/A-18
Hornets of Finland’s air force, will be able to strike deep into enemy
territory, flying indirect routes to evade air defences. This is not a
nuclear deterrent. But to anyone even contemplating an attack on
Finland, it is the next best thing.
Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a leading Finnish security analyst,
outlines the importance of the deal in a new paper*. He writes:
“Russia’s ability to invade Finland or use Finnish territory to advance
its goals is severely diminished and Finland gains the capability to
comprehensively close all surrounding sea lanes.” Instead of relying on
mass infantry and old-fashioned artillery to block a Russian attack,
Finland can use 21st-century weapons.
But the deal is not just about defence. As Salonius-Pasternak notes,
it is the culmination of 20 years of increasing co-operation between
Finland and the United States. And it is also part of a big US effort to
plug the security gap in north-eastern Europe. After the war in
Georgia, NATO’s lack of contingency plans for its new Baltic members
became embarrassingly clear, and Russia’s menacing military exercises in
the region in the autumn of 2009 made a response vital.
Since 2010, NATO has developed the Eagle Guardian contingency plans
(technically a reinforcement plan) and has conducted so many manoeuvres
in the region that it is hard to keep count (they have names like Sabre
Strike, Amber Hope, Baltic Eagle and, next year, potentially the biggest
of the lot: Steadfast Jazz).
But the problem for NATO is that two non-member countries – Sweden
and Finland – must be involved for any of these plans to make sense.
That is why the US is giving strong support to Nordic defence
co-operation, particularly between Finland, Sweden and Norway. After a
slow start, this is deepening. To take just one example: in 2010, the
three countries’ air forces conducted 48 joint exercises. By the end of
this year, the number will be 120. Routine drills over Lapland now take
place two or three times a month.
The big question now is how Russia will respond. Its tactics so far
have been evidently counter-productive. Blustering and bullying talk
vindicates Finnish security hawks. Instead, the Kremlin could try being
nice to its neighbours and easing their fears. Which would be quite good
for Russia too.
* “Not just another arms deal: The security policy implications of
the United States selling advanced missiles to Finland”, by Charly
Salonius-Pasternak. FIIA Briefing Paper 112, September 2012.
Edward Lucas edits the international section of The Economist.