Monday, January 25, 2010

Disarming military conscription

(Your country needs you... to stand around in the cold a lot. An honour guard of some sort outside the Presidential Palace, snapped from the tram)

The politics of the Finnish conscription system, I have to admit, is something of a specialist interest of mine. I guess if you're a 17 year old Finnish bloke looking at giving up the next 6 months of your life to the fatherland, its kinda interesting - but less so for the other 99.9% of the world's population. Nevertheless, YLE reports an interesting statement that the President made Monday, opening a National Defence Course - a common venue for making major policy proposals on defence and security related issues. YLE reports:
"[President] Halonen [stated] both international and national defence scenarios had changed sufficiently in nature to allow for a common training period at the start of both military and civilian national service. Following an initial common training period, both forms of service would carry on as before".
I have a chapter in my PhD where I argue that the Finnish military conscription system has very little do with the military defence of Finland, and far more to do with reproducing ideas of what it is to be Finnish. It seems that the President agrees, even if she wouldn't put it in those words, as the suggestion seems to be that basic training in the Finnish army now doesn't need to have anything to do with being a soldier because it will be done by conscientious objectors as well who want nothing to do with being a soldier. That's kinda weird isn't it?

19 comments:

Eeva said...

Plausible thesis that. I've always thought that the one great thing about being born a girl in Finland has been that I didn't have to wrangle with my conscience about the military versus non-military service question. But I'm with Tarja in that both can be patriotic. And patriotic - in Finland - seems somehow OK.
Basic training on the other hand always sounded totally pointless except as a way to empty young men's heads of all coherent thought. Now that's weird.

KGS said...

Resting Finland's fate on the goodwill of whoever may be in power in Kremlin at the moment, doesn't sound like a good defense policy to me.

Scott Kohlhaas said...

Thanks for this very interesting post. My humble opinion is that Finland is fighting the tide on conscription. Conscription is disapearing all over Europe so they are scrambling, trying to reform conscription in Finland.

Please visit www.draftresistance.org for more on conscription

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Kenneth - if you have a defence system that no one takes particularly seriously, you will of course be reliant on the goodwill of neighbours and others. Finland doesn't even have enough weapons for its supposed 'wartime forces' and most of them haven't had any training in many decades. Conscription is maintained because the public, and hence politicians, support it. Not because the military want it. They know that 1939 was, well, 70 years ago and the world has changed.

otyikondo said...

I presume "dismarming" (sic) is the act of removing a female president and replacing her with a male one?
Or is it the use of double the normal quantity of Brylcreem? (a little dab'll do ya)

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Thanks for the correction! The bloody title field is the only place where there isn't an auto spell check using firefox. Grrr.. read more carefully next time - promise.

KGS said...

What has changed since the 39'? Human nature? Not likely.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

That's maybe the one thing that hasn't. I was thinking more a long the lines of UAVs, laser and GPS guided munitions, multiple warhead missile systems, cyber attacks, netcentric warfare doctrine, total battlespace awareness, cruise missiles, helicopters, jet planes - that sort of thing.

Admiral Kaskeala said it himself when opening the new land warfare HQ a couple of years back; Finland isn't Iraq, the Finns can't be expected to fight a guerilla war after an out-of-date military, immobile and under equipped military has been routed by a superior force. Which era of US military was more effective? The conscript force of the late Vietnam era or the professional force that rolled through Iraq in 3 weeks in 2003?

KGS said...

What about the IDF? They have managed to combine both rather effectively.

As for Vietnam, "extracting defeat from the jaws of victory" seems to me the best way to describe that debacle.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

If I remember correctly the IDF is two years for everyone (except ultra orthodox) with regular call backs for further reserve training. And as I'm sure you know, the IDF has done a huge amount of lesson learning after what they themselves called their poor performance in the Lebanon war. Finnish men do mainly now six months (a few do 9) and those not in the "manoeuvre forces" will never get called back for refresher training. I've had Finnish officers tell me, the conscription system is more part of the education system than it is part of national defence because so many more boys do it than the FDF wants or needs.

KGS said...

OK...point taken.

Anonymous said...

Finnish conscripts do 6 - 9 - 12 months depending on the skill level needed. After their military service they have proven to be fully on the level of other nations' professional soldiers in international missions.

Reason: also the clever young men have to do their compulsory military service in Finland, whereas in professional armies only the most stupid ones make a career as riflemen. And they do not become any better after 10 years in service ...

KGS said...

Good point anonymous, the intensive training received, which involves learning multi-specialities due to the size of its military makes it a very effective fighting force.

As for the Lebanon war, it wasn't the conscripts fault that Israel fell short of its goals, it was the bad leadership under Olmert who refused to listen to his wiser generals.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

All the troop going on crisis management/peace keeping operations have extra training - conscripts can't be sent by law and I think it is the case that they will only take those who have done 12 months isn't it? The conscripts who do 6 months are only destined for the reserve forces and as the 2009 white paper (and Kaskeala's comments) make clear, no one really expects much from them - to the extent that they are often left with 1960s equipment. Just look at the budget, its all going to the "manoeuvre brigades" or whatever they call them and crisis management ops.

It is the need to generate troops for the two EU battlegroups that Finland is part of means that the FDF has taken its first step towards professionalisation with the 'contract soldier' concept. Additionally Finnish assets to international missions are still limited by the government in line with their political limitations. I'm sure those guys would acquit themselves fine if necessary, but the Finnish troops in Afghanistan have not had to face fighting like the Danes have done for example. As the FDF has - to quote an American military attache - "basically no combined arms capability", I would be interested to know if the troops in Afghanistan have the ability to call in close air support from any NATO aircraft in the way that the other troops can? I guess its just extra kit that can be bought/borrowed, but it would ironic if they could call on, say, German or US CAS in Afghanistan, but couldn't do it from the Finnish air force at home!

Anonymous said...

Conscripts can not be sent abroad, but after their military service they are all reservists - and reservists can volunteer to any international mission. All Finnish soldiers are qualified to international missions after their special training for that, whether they have earlier done 6 or 9 or 12 months in military service. Finnish Army has of course the combined arms capacity with our own Air Force or Navy but we have not really thought of having the possibility of own air support since we only have had fighter planes so far, for air defence.
20 years ago we never practised for direct air support but things may have changed.

A British-Finn said...

My understanding of the independence won by Finland in the Winter/Continuation War is that the human cost for the Russians of the attempted invasion was so high that occupation was seen to be impractical. It was because of this that Stalin once said that "only a Finn is able to rule another Finn"

Although this premise is the basis of contemporary defence plans, the mass mobilisation of men as in 1939 is unlikely to have the same effect as it did then because of the centralisation of industry and whatever else - although the hardware is several decades old, the Russian military has (or will soon have due to it's increasing expenditure on the military ...which should arguably be causing alarm bells to ring not only in Finland but all around Europe)the capacity to paralyse Finnish forces and the nation itself. A wiser and more effective approach to conscription that incorporates the same premise may be to accept the near-innevitability of Finnish defence efforts being inadequate, no matter how scary that thought is, and focus instead (or also) on developing a system of insurgency and, what the West calls in the Middle-East, a network of terrorist cells that could incur devastating losses on any foreign occupational force.

Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam are all evidence supporting the idea that even the most advanced and wealthy armies can be brought to a stand-still and that once popular invasions (whether right or wrong) can be made to retreat because of long casualty lists making them unpopular at home...I find it difficult to believe that the lessons so clearly on display in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade have gone unnoticed by the Finnish military bigwigs - there must be a small and discrete insurgency wing to the conscription system or to the professional military...or so I hope

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

British-Finn, note what I said in one of the comments above. The former commander of the Finnish military said that Finland isn't Iraq and the military don't believe the country could fight an insurgency in the "Iraq style", at least not to the extent that it could be relied on as defence doctrine. Finnish society is simply to different to Iraqi society.

A British-Finn said...

- "Admiral Kaskeala said it himself when opening the new land warfare HQ a couple of years back; Finland isn't Iraq, the Finns can't be expected to fight a guerilla war after an out-of-date military, immobile and under equipped military has been routed by a superior force."

That's my point - if defence doctrine is based entirely on a conventional defence in which a numerically inferior and under-equipped military force is routed, then an effective insurgency cannot be relied upon when arms, funding, morale and leadership have been exhausted. However, if the doctrine were to disregard conventional methods to some extent and focus instead on a non-conventional defence in which planning and preparation (including conscription) sew the seeds for a well-funded, well-equipped and well-orchestrated insurgency, then could that not be a more effective use of morale, men and resources? as well as a greater threat to any Kremlin plot? Furthermore, wouldn't this make international assistance a more likely prospect, considering there is still a nation in tact that can be saved? Afterall, that is the ultimate goal of any and all Finnish defence planning - to hold out long enough for international efforts, whether likely or not, to be drawn up and put into effect?

Of course there are vast differences when compared to the likes of Iraq, but could the principles not be replicated in some way, even if our societies differ greatly? The principles used in Iraq were also effectively used in Vietnam, despite the great cultural and societal differences, were they not?

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

> "Afterall, that is the ultimate goal of any and all Finnish defence planning - to hold out long enough for international efforts, whether likely or not, to be drawn up and put into effect?"

Rhetorically at least, it is the opposite. Finland is the nation "destined to stand alone", and must rely on itself for defence. That is the emotional rationale at least for continuing conscription. If Finland really thought bandwagoning was the answer to its security dilemma, then the answer would be very simple - join NATO. At least theoretically, that complicates your hypothetical Kremlin planners' calculation. US/UK ICBM pointing at Moscow might give more pause for thought than asking whether Finns could fight an insurgency or not.

There was an error in this gadget