Friday, September 04, 2009

Conscription politics

I noticed a little news article last week, from the STT wire, which I've been meaning to write about for ages. The new commander of the Finnish defence forces, General Ari Puheloinen, stated that Finland's wartime force numbers are going to fall due to budget cuts and demographic changes. General Puheloinen mentions the magic 250,000 number. Now 250,000 men under arms sounds and huge amount, and indeed it is. But currently Finnish wartime forces are meant to be an incredible 350,000 men. If you ask Finnish military officers and senior people in the MoD what they think about this, they seem willing to say even on the record that it is a bit of a joke. Finland has a reserve military, so to get to that sort of number you would be calling up reservists in their 40s who haven't had any contact with the military for decades and its questionable what weapons there would be for them to use, even if they could remember how to use them. If there ever was a war, the real defence would be based on the air force, navy and the so-called readiness brigades of Kainuu, Pori and Karelia. These brigades would account for less than a tenth of that number but would have the best equipment, and the best trained and youngest reservists.

I've written before about how Finnish conscription isn't really about the military, they can't say it publicly but off the record there are some (but by no means all) officers and policy makers who support professionalisation and getting rid of conscription. But support for conscription remains so high in the public, and hence amongst politicians, I really don't see this happening soon. My oldest son has well over a decade before he gets called up, but there is a good chance things won't have changed much by the time he is old enough.

The General's comments are interesting because clearly the Finnish Defence Forces (FDF) know that they can't run a serious military under the current structure (one foreign military attaché described the Finnish systems as antiquated and poor, saying the FDF simply couldn't run modern combined arms operations because the airforce can do next to nothing in support of ground forces). There are three major upgrades process coming up in the next couple of decades as equipment in the air force, navy and army all becomes obsolete and MoD planners will tell anyone willing to listen about military inflation - that all weapons systems are getting more and more expensive. There appears to be no public support for more of the budget being spent on defence, so the FDF knows they need to make do with what they've got. And they seem to think that this means less men and more machines but the public and politicians feel differently.

The irony is 250,000 remains a massive amount of men, and so far they still can't get even that past the politicians. Civilian democratic control of the military is wonderful thing but if the military are the experts on this war-stuff, its worth listening to what they actually have to say on the matter.

Here's the Finnish army deployed in central Helsinki (snapped from a passing tram) they are involved in an important military activity - shaking charity collecting tins. Ho hum.

1 comment:

Scott Kohlhaas said...

Thanks for this report on conscription in Finland.
Conscription is dying all across Europe, we can only hope for the same in your country.
Please see!