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Reduction in number of conscripts leading to closure of garrisons
Defence report still speaks of need of military service for entire age group
Finland’s system of conscription could be facing greater upheavals than the government’s new report on security and defence policy suggests at first glance. The report is to be submitted to Parliament on Wednesday this week.
Finland’s system of conscripting the vast majority of males into military service is increasingly setting Finland apart from most of the rest of Europe. Despite assurances to the contrary, there are increasing pressures to make conscription in Finland more selective. As the number of conscripts to be trained each year declines, Finland will face the closure of garrisons, experts say.
According to the report approved by the government, the military reserve “can be produced only by training the entire age group fit for service”. In reality, about half of the number is seen as sufficient to meet Finland’s goals.
Assessments of the future number of conscripts are based on a goal, according to which the wartime strength of the Finnish Defence forces would be 250,000 in the next decade, down from the present 350,000.
The idea of a smaller reserve has not been written into the government’s defence policy report, or any other official public document, but the sentiment has come out in speeches of the military brass and politicians. The report states simply that “wartime forces will be reduced in the long term”.
Lieutenant Colonel Mika Kerttunen, the head teacher of the Department of Strategic and Defence Studies at the National Defence University looks at the numbers.
The present reserve is based on the assumption that each year about 25,000 conscripts enter the wartime reserves at an average age of 20, and stay there until the age of 35. There are 16 age groups represented among the 350,000 reservists.
If the reserves are trimmed to 250,000, and if better training means that they will be in the reserves until the age of 40, only 12,500 soldiers would be needed from each age group, which is half of the present number.
Another researcher of the of the National Defence University, Arto Nokkala, notes that there are moves to keep the reserve younger, which might have an opposite effect. However, all calculations have the number of Finns completing military service declining rapidly.
The age groups are not declining at the same pace - or at least not significantly, although the defence policy report says that they are. Kerttunen says that the age groups born in the past two decades might even grow.
According to the public strategy plan of the Defence Forces, the age groups will remain at their current size through 2012, and then decline by ten per cent by 2030, says colonel Kari Rannikko of the national defence policy unit of the Ministry of Defence.
A rapid decline in the number of conscripts entering service would be a great change in any event, which would inevitably lead to a decline in the number of garrisons.
“The policy line is that it is not feasible to maintain empty space”, says Nokkala.
The government’s security and defence policy report does not take up the existence of pressure to close garrisons. This is only hinted at: “organisational changes” are mentioned as alternatives to increased defence spending after 2011.
The expert finds other signs in the government report, by reading between the lines.
For “the entire age group fit for service” to be taken into service in the future, all that is needed will be to redefine fitness for service, Nokkala says. He also says that a report will be drawn up on the conscription system.
However, the only purpose of the report will be to cut back the number of people who start their military service but do not complete it, says Colonel Rannikko. He insists that the starting point at the Ministry of Defence remains that about 70 per cent of each age group completes military service.