Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the 60th anniversary of the National Defence Course Association on 18 November 2021

The speech was delivered by Secretary General Hiski Haukkala on behalf of the President of the Republic of Finland

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to warmly congratulate the National Defence Course Association on its 60th anniversary. Over the years, the association has built a status as a unique forum for discussions on comprehensive security and security policy. Most of those who complete a national defence course join the association to keep up the interaction that began on the course and discussion on the themes addressed.

Comprehensive security approach has been one of Finland’s strengths for a long time. When our security environment changes, it is increasingly important to critically analyse the various areas of comprehensive security, and to maintain and develop the practical operating conditions. Ensuring our security in a broad-based manner is a task we cannot outsource to anyone else.

Over the last decade, we have entered an era of growing uncertainty in the world politics. The great power competition is intensifying. The arenas and methods of influencing have expanded considerably from what they used to be.

The settings of great power politics involve the need to display, and to use, national capabilities in various ways. Over the past few days, we have been discussing the issue of hybrid influencing a lot, and for a good reason. The military show of force is expanding more and more into the cyber dimension, where the arms race has continued for a long time. Alongside these, people are now also talking about the space environment. Safeguarding the peaceful use of space is a concrete, and currently also a topical challenge. From the Finnish perspective, the importance of the space domain is increasing, as stated in the new Government’s Defence Report.

The rate at which everything is developing brings its own additional challenges. The technological progress has been extremely rapid over the past 20 years. It is wise to prepare for an even faster pace of development in the future. From Finland, keeping up with the advances requires long-term dedication, good foresight, and efficient and quick responses when the situation so requires.

The talk about technological revolution must not remain at the verbal level only. Technology is an increasingly central element both in the economy and security. It is of prime importance for us to ensure that our industrial foundations and competence are robust enough. Artificial intelligence, robotics and other new technologies affect not only our societies but also all areas of national defence. We must take good care of our national capabilities. We also need to keep on assessing their condition at all times. If we detect any shortcomings, we must take active measures to remedy them.

The impacts of new technologies are still partly hidden. However, it is clear that the traditional security concepts will not remain unchanged. This is a field in which the National Defence Course Association also has a lot of work to do.

In spring 2016, when I spoke at the spring meeting of the Finnish National Defence Course Association, one of the key issues of the day was bringing peace to the arc of conflict. At that point, we had already seen the rapid escalation of the Ukrainian conflict, and Europe was engaged in a heated debate about large-scale flow of migrants that had begun in 2015.

Since then, the geopolitical change has gained even more momentum. The bloc politics is making a return, although efforts to prevent it from getting totally out of control can also been seen. Some shifting can also be detected within the Western circles, and, as the geopolitical priorities change, new security political coalitions also emerge. We saw an example of this in September, when the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia declared a trilateral security pact AUKUS.

Europe is also searching for its own place. Within the EU, the debate on the future of the cooperation on security and defence has begun. This debate on the EU strategic compass will culminate during the French EU presidency in the first half of 2022. It is in both Finland’s and the whole Europe’s interest that this debate leads to a better functioning and more integrated Union.

The need for this is now greater than ever. Today, Europe is being challenged more directly on our external borders than before. The most recent phenomenon we have encountered is the Belarussian hybrid operation on the eastern border of the EU aimed at weakening the unity of our continent and putting the European values and attitudes to a real test. The operating methods of authoritarian states strike at the very core of the values and principles of the democratic and liberal Western Europe, both challenging and exploiting them. How do we respond to this challenge?

At the international and EU level, the discussion about the functionality of the existing international agreements and commitments has now begun. I do not want to predict the outcome of this discussion, but it is clear that the theory and practice must not become too distanced from each other in these matters either.

Nationally, the pressure to review our own legislation in rapid succession has increased. I welcome the opportunity. For many years, I have been drawing attention to the need to raise our readiness with a view to different, even quite surprising situations. The events we have been witnessing this autumn have shown that quick, unexpected developments are possible. Finland is not isolated from this reality.

In addition to these acute needs to change our legislation, I believe a fundamental review of our emergency powers legislation would also be necessary. I consider it important that the review be not only fundamental but also proactive. If we now brush aside the need for a more comprehensive reform or continue the otherwise very leisurely consideration of the matter, sooner or later, we will need to have same discussion in the midst of a hurry and crisis.

The emergence of challenges and threats is not limited within the European borders. Despite our common mitigation endeavours, climate change is advancing, while biodiversity is declining at a threatening pace. These are matters of life and death shared by the whole humanity, and, as time goes by, they will constitute the root causes for growing security threats against Finland.

We cannot think that the concerns of others or crises that seem to be far away from us would not concern us. On the contrary, we must carefully follow what kind of impacts other recent global crises will have on us. In addition to the collapse of the government of Afghanistan, we have been witnessing, for example, how the instability in Ethiopia is escalating into a state of war. We are not yet aware of all the ramifications, but in Europe we need to be prepared for many kinds of consequences. During the evacuation operation from Afghanistan, estimates about a potential new flow of migrants were already made. This shows how a wide variety of events have an impact on our security environment.

In addition to building readiness, we also need other methods. At all times, even under uncertain conditions, we need active stability policy and international dialogue. Dialogue at even a very minimum level and finding common denominators are necessary for ensuring the prerequisites of our own security.

In this time and age, I have considered this kind of discussion, aimed at fostering and building the Spirit of Helsinki, very important. Businesslike relations in every direction serve the purpose of Finnish security, social stability and the well-being of Finnish people. At the same time, we need to make use of every opportunity to exert influence available to us. Finland must also bear its responsibility for finding solutions to the challenges shared by the whole of humanity.

The idea that “the national defence course is never over” is an essential part of the national defence courses. The same applies to safeguarding security in society at all its levels. For six decades, the national defence course activities have been playing their own important role in building confidence between the various stakeholders of Finnish society and creating a culture of cooperation.

And if work for ensuring Finland’s security and well-being is never done, that is also something no one can manage on their own. In the last resort, security is an issue that concerns all of us Finns. In my opinion, therein lies the hard core of comprehensive security approach and, at the same, Finland’s security.