By Iverson Ng
Finland is negotiating a bilateral defence agreement with the US this autumn. Jussi Niinisto, Finland’s Defence Minister, said in a telephone interview that the framework agreement between the US and Finland would cover areas including military training, information sharing, and research. Two months earlier, Sweden has signed a bilateral Statement of Intent with the US to increase cooperation between their defence ministries, armed forces, and defence agencies.
Stronger Finnish-US military tie is believed to be the outcome of the increasing Russian military presence in Crimea, the Ukrainian sovereign region which was annexed by Russian troops in March 2014 after the illegal referendum in the Crimean peninsula. Russia is planning to have a military exercise in Crimea next month in the midst of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, in which two Russian servicemen were killed along the contact line between southern part of Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula in early August.
In July, Finland and Sweden joined the NATO summit as non-NATO European countries in the Polish capital Warsaw. The summit adopted the Warsaw Declaration on Transatlantic Security, which reaffirmed the need for increasing NATO’s response military bases in Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. While the Nordic countries are strengthening their military cooperation with NATO, the public opinions are negative towards their possibilities of joining NATO as members. According to the polls from
For Finns, the fear of Russian invasion comes from Russian president Vladimir Putin’s threat to move their troops closer to the Finnish-Russian border if Finland joins NATO. But for Swedes, the nonalignment policy in Sweden and their belief in peace simply wouldn’t let any political party to agree on Swedish membership of NATO.
Security challenges amidst Russian expansionism
As a neighbouring country of Russia, Finland shares a 1,300 km border with the Russians, raising concerns about potential Russian expansionism. The tensions between Russia and the Northeast European countries have been increasing in recent years. The first incident came with an Estonian Intelligence officer who was abducted over the Estonian-Russian border in 2014, and he was later sentenced to be jailed in Russia for 15 years after a closed-doors hearing last year. In 2015, a US-based institute Center for European Policy Analysis published a report, claiming that about 33,000 Russian troops simulated a speedy seizure of northern Norway, Finland’s Åland islands, Sweden’s Gotland, and Denmark’s Bornholm.
Russian president Vladimir Putin vowed to “protect all overseas Russians” as he justified his military occupation in the Crimean peninsula two years ago, which raises concerns of the Nordic-Baltic countries. Among the Nordic-Baltic countries, there are 24% of ethnic Russians in Estonia, 27% in Latvia, 5% in Lithuania, and 60,000 of them in Finland, as Radio Free Europe and Finnish broadcasting company Yle reported. Even though the EU has extended economic sanctions on Russia, the conflicts between Ukrainian army and pro-Russian militants in Eastern Ukraine don’t seem to be deescalated, causing 71 casualties between June and July this year, according to a report from the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.
EU’s mutual defence treaty
The Article 42.7 of the Treaty of European Union also provides Finland and Sweden a mutual defence clause as they are both members of the EU. This article is similar to NATO’s Article 5, a collective defence treaty which means that an attack against one NATO member state is considered as an attack against all member states of NATO. Precisely, the European treaty states that “if a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with article 51 of the United Nations charter”, meaning the treaty provides a direct country-to-country dialogue and support for mutual defence.
Currently, the Finnish Defence Forces participate in 60-70 military exercises and training events with the international community every year. As a member state of the EU, Finland prioritizes the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) as the Finnish Defence Forces take part in European Defence Agency projects.