Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö in honour of the 225th anniversary of the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences in Stockholm on 12 November 2021

Photo: Jouni Mölsä/The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland
Kuva: Jouni Mölsä/Tasavallan presidentin kanslia


I want to warmly congratulate the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences for its 225-year journey. You have a long and honourable history. During this time, there have been several wars in Europe and in the North, but luckily also long periods of peace. Because my personal view is that, at its best, war science serves as a guarantor of peace.

Competence related to warfare technology, skills and tactics must be developed all the time. But lessons learned from war history also show that it has been possible to prevent and avoid conflicts by means of strategic competence and statesmanship, without compromising national interests. If we have to resort to taking up arms, we have already failed in the most important task.

Of course, this interpretation of mine is not academic or historical alone. The same principle applies to today’s politics in practice. Fostering peace is also a sign of successful foreign, security and defence policy. But peace and security cannot be built upon passive wishful thinking. We need an active stability policy.

As regards Finland, I have described our stability policy as resting on four pillars. The first pillar is national defence and security – having a credible defence helps us raise the threshold against a potential outside attack. On the other hand, it also makes us a more attractive partner to others. The second pillar is Western integration and partnerships – our interoperability is further enhanced by a wide range of coalitions and initiatives. The third pillar is our relations with Russia – the firmness in defending our own interests and principles can be combined with a constructive dialogue and maintaining as functioning relations as possible at any given time. The fourth pillar consists of the international system and comprehensive security – it concerns the whole humanity. It concerns  our common human responsibilities for the future of the planet.

Unlike real pillars, none of the above is carved in stone. They change and evolve over time. But just like real pillars, they must constitute an integrated whole. If one of them weakens and cannot be reinforced, the others must be able to carry a larger share of the weight resting upon them.

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“Both louder and quieter alarm clocks are ringing. But their message is the same: it is time to wake up.” These were my words in the Rikskonferens Seminar in Sälen in the beginning of 2014. Very soon after, what happened in the Crimea and Ukraine must have been a wake-up call even to all of us.

The time of waking up is not over. Different kinds of alarm clocks keep on ringing, louder and louder. The accelerating great power competition is reflecting increasingly clearly on us in the Nordic region. The more traditional concerns over arms control have not lost their meaning. But now new transitional technologies have emerged alongside them, further complicating any arms control efforts. And such threats as climate change, biodiversity loss and pandemics are no longer mere distant future scenarios. They have rapidly become very topical problems.

In this 2020s reality, the whole post-World War II world order is about to change. It means that many of the patterns typical of the era following the Cold War no longer apply. It is clear that we are on the verge of a new era, if we have not already crossed the line.

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This is not the first time Finland and Sweden have faced new eras together. We have been closely bound by fate for several centuries, in very different constellations: first as the eastern half of the same kingdom, then under Russian rule for slightly over a century, and now as an independent republic for over a hundred years. For Finland, this western connection has always played a particularly important role. We have been bound together by constitutions and systems of government, social model and legal system, language and culture. The latest driver of our relations is the defence cooperation that has been advancing quickly over the past few years.

Over the past year, we in Finland have finalised both our Foreign and Security Policy Report and Defence Report. Both state clearly and directly that Sweden is Finland’s closest bilateral partner. This starting point remains unchanged, regardless of the political composition of government. I last discussed the matter today with Prime Minister Löfven, and I am really looking forward to continuing the cooperation with his successor.

Both Government reports state that Finland will continue to deepen the foreign and security policy cooperation and defence cooperation with Sweden without any pre-set restrictions. Our defence cooperation covers times of peace, crisis and war. When we enhance our readiness and raise the military deterrent, we jointly strengthen both the security in the Baltic Sea region and our defence capability.

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I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the enhanced defence cooperation between Finland and Sweden is not solely bilateral. We are also jointly involved in a whole range of new multilateral arrangements. They form a thickening fabric that strengthens regional stability and improves the defence capability. The trilateral structures we have, on one hand, with the United States and, on the other hand, with Norway are an important part of this entity. The tripartite discussions with the key ministers from Finland, Sweden and Norway – launched at an unofficial meeting in Kultaranta two years ago – will continue.

As regards larger groups of countries, we participate side by side in defence cooperation within the NORDEFCO framework. We also collaborate with other European partners, under the auspices of the European Intervention Initiative led by France, the Joint Expeditionary Force led by the United Kingdom and the Framework Nation Concept led by Germany.

And, naturally, the ties that bind us together through the EU membership and NATO partnership are particularly strong. Both institutions are currently in the process of clarifying their security and defence concepts for the coming years. The EU’s Strategic Compass and NATO’s Strategic Concept are closely linked to each other both in terms of scheduling and content.

Among the 27 EU Member States and within the NATO’s 30+2 format we are the only countries in a similar position. It would therefore be advisable for Finland and Sweden to seek common ground also in this regard. One opportunity for this presented itself a few weeks ago when Secretary General Stoltenberg and the whole North Atlantic Council made their first joint visit to Finland and Sweden. Strengthening European security also serves our own interests, no matter whether it takes place under the auspices of the EU or NATO.

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Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own security. That is a responsibility we cannot outsource to anyone else, not even to our closest partner. Therefore, Finland also makes its choices for guaranteeing credible defence on its own, from its own starting points. Even having the closest kind of collaboration does not mean that we would automatically follow the same schedule and same direction in every matter. But almost always the Finnish and Swedish interests coincide. And every time they do, we are certainly stronger together than either of us would be on our own.

The progress in defence cooperation between Finland and Sweden both in its strictly bilateral form and as part of other entities is an excellent matter. For its part, it testifies that we have woken up to the need created by our changing environment. It is good to remain on this path of cooperation.

Our defence administrations are in contact with each other on a daily basis. When we learn to know our counterparts across the gulf and have continuous contact, this enhances our confidence in each other almost without us even noticing it. When we already have the connection, we automatically come to think about our neighbour even when we encounter new problems – could we perhaps find a common solution to this issue as well?

However, I want to remind you that military readiness alone is not enough. As the world changes, taking care of security is becoming to an increasing extent the responsibility of every individual citizen. Therefore, I am concerned about whether other walks of life have kept up with the defence cooperation. Are we taking the good relations between our countries too much for granted? Do we know each other well enough? Do we all have an obvious counterpart who we can turn to both under normal conditions and when push comes to shove, from Finland to Sweden, from Sweden to Finland? We should wake up to these questions as well.

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When it comes to foreign and security policy cooperation, as I said earlier, we have declared that there are no pre-set restrictions for deepening it. Certainly, the connections between Helsinki and Stockholm are already diverse – the dialogue between state leaderships, foreign services and parliaments is close. But could we still find new impulses for making the deepening really happen, in addition to merely stating that there are no restrictions for it? Would there be more space for establishing common views, for making joint initiatives?

In the arena of internal security, I have long been paying attention to the risk of Finland going in a different direction than Sweden and the other Nordic Countries. I consider it important that Finland not end up in a situation where we address security risks less firmly and have laxer legislation than our peer countries. Nordic liberal democracies must have a shared view of how seriously they take their own security and what kind of means they use to take care of it. As the threat scenarios in the fields of terrorism, cyber and hybrid threats are the same for us all, there might be room for more frequent exchange of information and harmonising our countermeasures.

Our experiences of the pandemic have been very different. Despite our different practices, the lessons learned have many similarities. We should share them. We must also take care of crisis readiness extending beyond the conditions created by the pandemic. I have noted with satisfaction that a crisis readiness training programme provided by the Swedish Defence University and the Finnish Security Committee is already being implemented under the ‘Hanaholmen Iniative’.

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In 1796, among the founders of the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences there were quite a few persons born in Finland. One of them was officer Otto Carl von Fieandt, a distinguished cartographer, originally from the Kyyhkylä Manor near Mikkeli.

Cartography already played an important role in the 18th century war sciences. However, the term geopolitics that emphasises the connection between geography and international politics – why not war sciences as well – was not coined until one century later. The concept has its roots in Sweden. Rudolf Kjellén, who was influential as Professor and Member of Parliament in Gothenburg, Uppsala and Stockholm in the late 19th and early 20th century, is considered the father of the term “geopolitics”.

The term created by him came to stay. In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about the return of geopolitics. A more accurate assessment would probably be that it never went away in the first place.

There is no dispute that traditional geopolitics is very much alive again, but it has also found new manifestations. Power is now being used by a larger number of actors than before. And these actors also have new technologies and new methods in their hands. In the world of the 2020s, the geopolitical realities remain the same, but the threat scenarios change. In the Cold War era, we got used to living under the balance of terror. Now the balance is shaking. By any means, I do not want to predict mere terror for our future, but I am very much afraid that the times ahead of us will be increasingly difficult.

We must get prepared for the difficult times by strengthening our own resilience. Finland does this with the help of the two first pillars. National defence and international partnerships are means to the same end, in a mutually supportive manner.

The strength of our national defence lies in both quantity and quality. By calling its trained reserved to service, Finland would have more men and women in arms than Germany with its more than 15 times bigger population. With our current and future military acquisitions, we ensure that we have the materiel required for responding to the changing challenges. And most importantly, credible defence is based on the willingness of our citizens to defend their country, which has been traditionally high in Finland. That willingness must be actively boosted also among the future generations.

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Ers Kungliga Högheter, herr statsråd, ärade ledamöter och gäster,

However, defence alone is not enough. We must actively do the best we can to steer the development in the rest of the world on a better and more stable path. In Finland, we do that with the help of the two latter pillars, both by taking care of our relations with Russia and by influencing the state of the whole international system.

As tensions rise, the need for preventing conflicts, building confidence and strengthening dialogue increases. The need to find common denominators to ensure that dialogue across division lines can continue is growing rapidly. This is what my initiative about extending the Helsinki Spirit to a global level is all about.

The letter of Helsinki, the commonly agreed principles of the CSCE Final Act of 1975, remain a valid foundation for a cooperation-based security system of our continent. During its OSCE Chairpersonship over the past year, Sweden has been doing valuable work for implementing these values. I have considered it natural that Finland would offer to carry this responsibility of the chairpersonship in 2025, while we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the OSCE.

But, at this moment, there would be a lot broader demand for the Helsinki Spirit, which also derives from the same source. Despite all conflicts and confrontations, in the middle of the Cold War, we succeeded in sitting around the same table and seeking mutual understanding in matters concerning our common security. We desperately need to rekindle this kind of a spirit. Not only within the OSCE area, but all around the world. With this matter we cannot afford to wait until 2025. We must make every effort to build confidence right here and now.

Without confidence, there is no security. And without security, war sciences will not be able to carry out their most important task, to strengthen world peace.