Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the opening of the 211th National Defence Course on 10 November 2014

I wish you a warm welcome to the 211th course. The purpose of the National Defence Course is to provide you with a broad picture of how Finland’s security can be maintained in both normal and exceptional circumstances. The course’s main message is that responsibility for security involves all of us – the authorities, companies and organisations, you and me. Security means cooperation. The comprehensive defence and security model built in Finland over past decades forms the basis of this idea. It is also a source of strength for us now, at a time when, given the world situation, we once again seem to require strengths of this kind.

We began this year in the knowledge that it would be the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. However, 2014 also became the year of a new conflict, the Ukraine crisis. We have once again heard the voices of war in Europe. The conflict in Ukraine has already claimed thousands of lives. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes, at least temporarily.

Why did this shocking conflict arise in the first place? Its source can be traced back to internal events in Ukraine, which saw the country’s development severely neglected for years. While internal governance rested on legal foundations, it had become so corrupt and murky that many Ukrainians had simply had enough. In this situation, citizens pinned their hopes for change on the European Union and the association and free trade agreement it offered. The reforms required and the possibilities offered by the agreement seemed to point the way towards, and perhaps represented the only opportunity for, a better future.

However, this development was in powerful contrast to the view taken of the matter by, and the perceived interests of, Ukraine’s eastern neighbour, Russia. From Moscow, the prospective agreement with the EU looked like a step taken towards Europe and its social model and sphere of interest, and therefore seemed against the interests of Russia. So, when Ukraine’s development took this turn via the Maidan protests, Russia drew its own conclusions and acted accordingly. We have witnessed, and will continue to witness, the consequences of this.

Naturally, we believe that it is Ukraine and the Ukrainians who can best decide on their own foreign policy and trade issues. The final phase of the Cold War showed that attempts to hold peoples in a certain situation against their will are made in vain. Sooner or later, the dams built to contain popular sentiment will break. However, this is complicated by the fact that such dams are often built within, as well as between, states.

The situation in Ukraine has wider, even systematic, consequences. In the region of Eastern Europe, the territorial situation has become more uncertain. The European security system and its principles with respect to issues such as the peaceful settlement of disputes and respect for the sovereignty and self-determination of other states have sustained serious blows.

Due to the Ukraine crisis, relations between Russia and the West are at their most tense since the Cold War. This new, or to be more precise, new type of Cold War is a serious development which threatens to render our international environment more precarious over the long term. Although this is no longer entirely avoidable, it may still be possible to alleviate the situation to some extent. Since we have nothing to gain from such a situation, it is worth trying to improve it.

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Of course, the impact of the conflict on Europe’s security policy environment will also affect us in Finland. The general increase in tension can also be seen in the Baltic region, our neighbouring area. So far, this is more a question of the effects of the crisis rippling out into the Baltic region, rather than of the area becoming unstable itself. However, quite understandably, even this is being viewed as a cause for concern, since an active military presence in our neighbouring region – which was still an everyday fact of life in the 1980s – seemed to have become a thing of the past.

In the midst of various changes, we often hear loud voices urging us to change accordingly. They are also urging us to hurry. In many cases, this is good advice. We need to identify and react to changes – in situations where we have been unable to anticipate them.

While it is important to note changes during the phase in which they occur, our attention should also focus on issues that seem to be remaining constant. Distinguishing what is changing from what is remaining the same, and weighing these up, are key tasks of foreign and security policy. After all, mistakes in this sense can be expensive or, in the worst case scenario, impossible to rectify. Both history, and to some extent current affairs, provide examples of this. Hotheads have a tendency to describe composure as cowardice or evasion of responsibility. However, this is a misrepresentation.

There is a Russian proverb which says: ”kazak berjot što ploha ležit” ‘A Cossack will take whatever is not fixed to the ground’. It is worth taking heed of this household wisdom, which is doubtless based on experience. We must take care of issues and actively cherish the things we view as important. Failure to do so will have consequences. This is true of all aspects of life, from security to the economy.

We have sought to build Finland’s security on a holistic basis. The various elements of our security have included close involvement with international cooperation, as a member of the EU as well as in building separate partnerships with Sweden, the Nordic countries and NATO. Overall security also involves fostering good relations with our neighbours and maintaining a credible defence, built within the context of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Of course, our security also includes a broader, worldwide dimension, in which we strive to maintain international justice and meet the challenges facing humanity as a whole, at the level of the UN for example.

Building our security on a holistic basis means maintaining a focus on each element and the balance between them. On the other hand, a security policy based on placing our trust, or ending up placing our trust, in a single dimension or just one trump card or another, would be a step in the wrong direction for us. The more options we have for strengthening our security, the better. It is in Finland’s interests to ensure as well as we can that both the individual elements of our security and the balance between them are well maintained. Of course, as situations change, these various elements must be readjusted in order to ensure a well-working whole.

A credible national defence is and will remain one of the cornerstones of our security. The issue is not one of how big a war Finland is capable or incapable of winning; it is much more a question of our defence forming a strong deterrent, under any circumstances, to the possible use of military force or intimidation against us. A military defence must have a firm basis.

The credibility of our national defence too is holistic in nature, being dependent on a number of factors such as intent, military technology and tactics. A balance is required in this sense as well. Willingness without up-to-date equipment will not necessarily suffice. On the other hand, neither will modern materiel without the willingness to defend ourselves. Then again, willingness and equipment may not be enough to retrieve the situation if we rely on poor tactics.

While it is true that we Finns have the will to defend ourselves, the question remains as to whether we have the money. Based on our current expenditure, the economy threatens to become our Achilles heel. Due to economic developments, at one and the same time we are under pressure to cut public expenditure and increase our defence spending. On the other hand, we have developed a far-reaching consensus that we need to secure the defence capabilities of the Defence Forces – and the required development projects.

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The National Defence Course you are about to begin will provide you with a better basis for evaluating the issues involved in ensuring Finland’s security and acting accordingly. I know that you are all experts in your own fields. However, the National Defence Course will give you the opportunity to look beyond your own expertise and see the big picture. In this way, that big picture – us – will become more than the sum of its parts.
I wish you all a rewarding National Defence Course.