Experts say Finland could get more professional military
Conscription stays, for now
A greater level of professionalism in the armed forces of Europe and other parts of the world is creating pressures for changes to the Finnish defence system, which remains based on conscription.
At a seminar arranged by the Ministry of Defence on Tuesday, it was pointed out that in this respect Finland is part of a dwindling number of European countries. In addition to Finland, universal male conscription is maintained by Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey.
Two studies were released at the seminar, which should serve as openers for debate on the future of Finland’s conscription-based military.
"Finland’s culture of military policy is nevertheless resistant to international pressures for change", said researcher Arto Nokkala while presenting his study.
Although the threat from Russia has receded, Nokkala sees Finland’s long eastern border as one reason why Finland still wants to maintain a large trained military reserve.
Another researcher, Kari Laitinen, pointed out the numerous strong ties that conscription has with Finland’s civilian society. In addition to the main responsibility of national defence, the Finnish Defence Forces are seen to have a key role in promoting education and social equality among young men.
The tradition is a long one. Conscription was established in Finland in the 1870s, when Finland was still a part of the Russian empire. At that time it was promoted by the Finnish nationalist elite as a way of strengthening the national identity.
While the nation takes a generally positive view of conscription, Laitinen asks if part of the political elite might be ready to gradually give it up as a step toward becoming militarily allied.
Nokkala feels that Finnish society does not differ from other Western democracies in Europe so much as to rule out change in the basis of the conscription system. This has already happened in the other Nordic Countries.
In Denmark, Norway, and Sweden only a fraction of each age group get military training. In those countries, "conscription is simply a means of recruiting professional soldiers", explained MP Tarja Cronberg (Green), who commented on the studies in her capacity as a peace and conflict researcher.
The experts also noted that the debate in Finland generally centres around two extremes, with universal conscription and a completely professional army seen as the only alternatives.
Nokkala said that it is more likely that the Defence Forces will evolve into a combination of the two.
Small steps in this direction have already been taken. A corps of professional officers is being established in the Defence Forces to deal with the increasing technical nature of weapons systems. There will also be more active recruitment of so-called contract soldiers - part-time professionals who are recruited for international duties from among the best conscripts.
Both aspects are included in the government’s defence policy report that was approved by Parliament in December.