Tuesday, August 26, 2008

They are the very model of a modern military machine?

Your correspondent continues to practice his riding-one-handed-whilst-fishing-his-camera-out-of-his-bag skills

So yesterday I'm cycling into the office, and I'm nearly there - right in downtown Helsinki - and there sitting in the morning commuter traffic jam is an armoured personnel carrier. I grew up in a country where partly just to do with traditions, and in part due to the IRA's terrorist campaign, you never saw soldiers in uniform - let alone APC's in city traffic jams. But Finland is very different, with 82% of young men still doing conscription, you see soldiers in uniform everywhere and the military is a visible part of life. But why is an APC in the middle of town? One of the Finnish Defence Force's main training scenarios is to defend against a "strategic strike" - a swift attack designed at taking control of the centres of national power. So from time to time there are actually military exercises in the city centre. "Perhaps the APC was part of such an exercise?" I speculated.

And of course, Georgia is on everyone's mind in Finland. Originally all the prominent politicians said that the Russian operations/humanitarian intervention/acts of unwarranted aggression (delete as politically preferred) in Georgia changed nothing for Finland. So far, so Finlandised. But then Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said, in a stunning display of common sense and stating the obvious, that of course it changes somethings, even if Finland's underlying security policy doesn't need to change. He then couldn't resist pointing out to the Swedes that they might want to have reconsider their security solutions in this new light. Finland might keep losing at the ice hockey, so they have to take the opportunity to put the boot in where they can! And now, the still pretty new to the job Foreign Minister, Alexander Stubb (who seems to have acquitted himself well through his baptism of fire as the current chair of the OSCE that gave him a leading role in the S. Ossetian cease fire negotiations) is suggesting Finland should join NATO whilst it can.

So back to armour rumbling through the streets of a European capital. Today all was revealed: the weather looked crappy so I took the bus, and there in the middle of town as I swapped to the tram was the APC - with a banner on it advertising the fact that it's war invalids' week. The soldiers are out with collecting tins, not assault rifles, in hand.

"War invalids' autumn [charity] collection"

They're not actually armed when they ask you for money

I've enquired about this in the past and found out that it is indeed what it looks likes: the state compelling some of its citizens, the conscripts, to ask money from other citizens, the citizens of Helsinki, towards the up-keep of veterans who should presumably be looked after by the state anyway, in the form of social and health services? Is this actually an odd form of indirect and voluntary extra taxation? Are the conscripts tax collectors? And does this make the Finnish army look like a credible, modern military that might make any aggressive, unfriendly neighbouring state pause for thought?

The change from your shopping could help fund our peace-enforcement training!

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