NEWS ANALYSIS: In a changing world, Finland’s artillery stays the same
Finland stands apart in basic defence policy decisions
By Kari Huhta
Why in the world do the Finnish Defence Forces have the largest artillery of any Western country in Europe?
The notion that Finland has a record-big artillery force is surprising, but both statistics, and military officers confirm it.
According to figures on weaponry collected annually by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Finland has 1,398 cannons. This is a huge amount, even though the IISS includes heavy mortars in the figures.
Germany comes closest to Finland, with just 25 pieces less than Finland has, but the gap with the large defence forces of France and Britain is more than 500 big guns.
Further east, the figures are on a completely different scale. Russia has more than 26,000 pieces of artillery, which begs the question of why Finland has so many cannons.
British defence policy expert Nick Witney has a clear vision of the reasons. Finland has “too much Winter War in its national consciousness”, Witney writes in a study on European defence, which was published this week.
Witney clearly sees the massive artillery force as a relic that is unsuitable for present-day challenges.
Finnish officers sharply disagree.
“If they are a problem for someone, they are a solution for us”, says Brigadier General Markku Nikkilä, the head of the national defence policy unit.
The gigantic artillery force has as its background a great Finnish consensus on defence policy, which most recently was written into the Parliament’s follow-up report on security policy, which reiterated support for a field army of 350,000 soldiers for some years ahead.
“We also have one of Europe’s largest land forces, which requires heavy fire support”, Nikkilä explains. In his view, the fire support has been acquired at a low cost, and Finland still does not have expensive air-to-ground missiles, for instance, although steps have been taken for their acquisition.
Finns who defend the decisions made by this country often snicker at Sweden, which is said to have more generals than it has cannons. According to the IISS figures, this is not strictly true, but if calculated in a different manner, it might be (in Finland the ratio is 40.85 cannons per general).
However, Sweden is part of the mainstream of EU Europe, and Finland is the exception.
The line repeated in Finland and elsewhere is that Russia is not currently a military threat, while environmental change, terrorism, and similar phenomena are. However, Finland continues to maintain the same defence solutions, whose specific purpose is to defend against the threat from Russia.
With the path that it has chosen, Finland has been left alone in the defence of its right to deploy infantry land mines and cluster bombs. Witney and others might understand Finland’s history and its 1,200-kilometre eastern land border, but Finland’s defence decisions are understood mainly in Finland.
So is Finland’s solution based on the fact that there are more risks linked with Russia than the Parliamentary follow-up group wants to say out land, or is it based on the collective consciousness of bygone wars?
An interesting angle on the question came on Thursday at the Hamina Tattoo festival of military music, when a large military band from Leningrad military district joined forces with other military bands to play Finnish military tunes such as the March of the Jaegers, and the March of the Pori Brigade.
The amused reactions of the Finnish audience suggested that there is no lack of shared consciousness. At the same time consideration might have been given to whether or not it would be possible to reduce artillery, as Russian soldiers play the Jaeger March, even though it is not the orchestras that pose a threat.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 3.8.2008
KARI HUHTA / Helsingin Sanomat