Finland’s Defense Minister on Regional Defense Cooperation and the Transatlantic Link

Finnish Defense Minister Carl HaglundI would like to begin my remarks by highlighting the two key security partnerships that Finland has: the strong bilateral relationship with the United States and the active partnership we have with the Atlantic Alliance.

I would like to offer today a view on the transatlantic link from a Nato Partner Nation perspective and discuss prospects for regional cooperation..

As you probably know, Finland places a high value on the security that NATO provides in Europe, and increasingly around the world.

As an active partner as well as a member of the European Union, Finland strives to contribute to European security any way we can.

As is the case with Finland’s relationship with the United States, so is our relationship with Nato based on a close and long-term partnership that provides mutual benefit to both parties.

Since the early days of the PfP-program, Finland has committed to burden-sharing through crisis management in a range of NATO-led crisis management operations. Today, this continues in Afghanistan where we also have had a long term focus (since 2002). We intend to stay committed.

Dear friends, our cooperation with NATO, for two decades now, has been very beneficial for developing both interoperability and the military capabilities of the Finnish Defense Forces.

It is the NATO standards that set the direction and quality for capability development and multinational defense cooperation in Europe; cooperation which grows in importance each and every day.

I would like to share with you two main thoughts today which play a role in strengthening the transatlantic link and providing security in Europe in practice during times of austerity; The first is the interface between regional and European capability cooperation, and the second deals with maintaining capability and interoperability in the post-ISAF world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Last year, I had the opportunity to Chair the Nordic Defence Cooperation, NORDEFCO. It gave me a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the future of regional cooperation in Northern Europe.

The Nordic cooperation has a long history; it originally started as a division of labor between the Nordic peacekeeping training centers back in the 1960’s. When NORDEFCO was formally launched five years ago by the Nordic defence ministers, clear objectives were set: strengthen our countries’ defense, find synergies and facilitate efficient common solutions.

NORDEFCO is a Smart Defense Project par excellence with an objective for tangible results. It is not an organization but merely a “virtual structure” where the cooperation is based on meetings at the Ministerial, Policy Director and expert levels. A bulk of the work takes place between the line organizations, often in a bottom–up fashion where the ideas come from the floor level of the national defense establishments.

Some of the recent NORDEFCO deliverables include the cross-border training between our Air Forces and the NORTAT-initiative on tactical air transport. Altogether we have launched tens of capability related studies over the past four years, with an aim to create common projects where it is feasible. Examples; Special operations forces medical education and long-range precision engagement project.

Perhaps most important achievement of the year was the signing of the NORDEFCO “Vision 2020” at the December Defence Ministerial in Helsinki. Our common Vision sends a strong signal of political commitment of taking the work further and it gives guidance to the NORDEFCO nations’ armed forces in such areas as maritime and air surveillance, exercise cooperation and rapid deployment in the framework of EU and NATO.

Dear friends,

There has been growing interest from outside NORDEFCO to contribute into its’ activities. Our goal has been to keep both NORDEFCO structure and activities flexible, even among its members. In an activity we can have four participants, in another activity only two or three participants, according to the need of each Nordic nation, yet an activity can in each case still fall under NORDEFCO umbrella.

Another principle has been the aim to create tangible results first within the NORDEFCO structure, and thereafter, invite external participation on a case-by-case basis to interested parties. However, NORDEFCO does not prevent us from working together in wider formats. The Baltic Countries have already participated in some of the NORDEFCO projects. We also hold regular meetings in the Northern Group format, which consists of 12 Northern European nations.

It is worth pointing out that NORDEFCO is by no means the only efficient example of this type of work. In addition to the Nordic and Baltic defense cooperation it is interesting to follow the work that has been carried out by the Benelux and Visegrad clusters or the Lancaster House between the UK and France, just to mention a few.

As a conclusion I would argue that experience shows that multinational cooperation is more effective and easier in small groupings, where less time is spent on negotiating and more in doing.

I believe this factor has contributed to the rise of regional defense cooperation formations. Nations may have differing strategic policy choices, i.e. be allied or non-allied, yet a range of things that can be accomplished; from operations to training and exercises, armaments cooperation, and even in capabilities development. Actually, regional cooperation can offer new choices.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The second theme I would like to raise is the question of maintaining interoperability in the post-ISAF situation. For most nations, maintaining the high level of interoperability also in the future, is of great importance. Finland is therefore looking for strong participation in NATO’s Connected Forces Initiative.

For example, we will provide a robust contribution to the Natos NRF Response Forces Pool and to future exercises including the LIVEX 2015. We are also currently looking at the possibility of opening our national exercises and exercise areas to NATO and partner countries.

It is specifically in training and exercises that the regional clusters can bring added value, and provide a valuable and a cost-efficient tool. The winding down of ISAF provides us with a valuable opportunity to take a breath and focus once more into this important bread-and-butter way of cooperating, thus also preparing for future operations.

One example of training and exercise cooperation in the North is the cross-border training between our Air Forces, which brings significant operational value without additional costs. Another example of cooperation is the upcoming Peacetime Preparedness Mission over Iceland, where also Finnish F-18s participate.

In this mission all participants operate from a same base, using the NATO command and control system. I should also mention that besides the Nordic Air Forces, also Navies have intensive and wide exercise co-operation.

Both of these initiatives increase interoperability, with benefits not only to the participating countries but also NATO. NRF could provide another opportunity to more systematic Nordic cooperation now that Sweden has also joined in.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Sometimes you still hear the argument that regional defense cooperation somehow undermines the work done in EU or NATO. This is clearly not the case. It would be difficult to imagine an autonomous Nordic military contribution outside these structures. Regional defense cooperation is a facilitator, it can never go at it alone.

Indeed, it is not only that regional groupings need Europe but also vice versa. As I have tried to outline in my remarks, regional cooperation is one of the key tools to maintain and improve military capabilities. Naturally, coordination is needed between the various regional clusters, and there is more demand for transparency and exchanging lessons learned.

The effects of the Nordic cooperation can have also been noticed in Washington, and it was highlighted with a historic meeting of the heads of state and government of the United States and the Nordic nations in Stockholm last September.

I would imagine that these types of meetings will gain importance, as they both spring from recognition of the increasing complexity of our security and defense cooperation, and the need to manage these complexities in an efficient manner. The meeting resulted in a joint US-Nordic statement reaffirming deep partnership based on fundamental values and agreeing to deepen collaboration on global priorities.

Our mutual interests are indeed global, ranging from cyber security to anti-piracy, weapons of mass destruction and finding common solutions to help global trouble spots, such as Afghanistan, Syria, East Africa, and Mali. There is also a lot we can still achieve together through diplomacy, crisis management, capacity building and arms control efforts in the future.

Dear friends,

I would like to end by thanking the United States for the solid bilateral relationship we continue to have. We share values and objectives for a safer and more secure world and understand that security through cooperation is the only possible way forward. The foundation on which this cooperation rests is strong. It is my intention to take this work forward together with the United States and our European partners.

Remarks by Finnish Minister of Defense Carl Haglund at the Atlantic Council, January 23, 2014.

Image: Finnish Defense Minister Carl Haglund (photo: Ministry of Defense of Finland)