Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the opening of the 219th National Defence Course on 7 November 2016

Congratulations on being selected to participate in the National Defence Course. You are on the course because you are needed. A great experience and an important lesson on the many ways in which our country is protected lies ahead of you.

Every one of us is needed. I have a habit of saying that each and every Finn is a defender of our country. In the unpredictable times we are living, our national will to defend ourselves is not merely old-fashioned rhetoric.

It is good that Finns share this idea. Eight out of ten Finns are ready to defend their country. This is high by international standards and sends a strong message to the world around us. Just as importantly, the skills and attitudes acquired during military service mean that a large proportion of our citizens know how to act in a state of emergency. This provides a strong foundation for our security.

We long believed that we were living in an ideal world. One dominated by consensus-based, international law and in which disputes are resolved peacefully.

The reality is different. Even we in Europe have witnessed this over the last few years. We have cherished the idea of an arc of stability around us, but that arc has started to disintegrate.

Some believe that the solution is to close our eyes. But this will not banish evil from the world. The threats and problems will remain in place or even strengthen. Others seek quick solutions, which they think will eliminate all of our problems at once. This is not realistic. In a constantly changing situation, there is no such thing as complete security. However, there are many ways in which we can increase our own security.


In national defence courses, the participants engage in open discussions, both in the classroom and around the coffee table. You are sure to do the same.

An open discussion on security is now underway in Finland. This discussion is most hotly contended by a minority at diametrically opposed extremes: there are those who believe that “now, if ever” is the time for Finland to join NATO, while others believe that “we should never join, not now or ever”.

Let me take the heated debate on our freedom of expression on Russia as an example. I do not really understand what is this all about. Finland has been quick and clear in condemning Russia’s actions in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria; during the last parliamentary elections the headlines again trawled through every possible route by which Russia might attack Finland. Now, the Åland Islands, which were forgotten at the time, have also fallen to Russia! Suspicions have also been publicly raised that Russia will dispute our independence during our anniversary year. It is difficult to think of anything that has been left unsaid. Inventiveness is now required in the contest over who can be harshest on Russia.

The other side has, in turn, complained that criticism of Russia has gone too far.
I am worried about a completely different phenomenon – the trivialisation of evil. If we engage in war on paper on a daily basis, then war will grow near to us in our thoughts. The same holds true of the references to nuclear weapons during the Russian discussion on Crimea – the possibility of using them was somehow normalised.

Another sensitive topic appears to be military exercises alongside the West, meaning Sweden, NATO and the United States. According to some, this will endanger Finland’s military non-alignment while others advise us to increase training with our Western partners as soon as possible. The truth is that our western military cooperation is already much more extensive than before and that this will continue. Finland engages in such military cooperation only on the basis of its own points of departure and needs. Finland will develop its military preparedness and interoperability not only to form a deterrent and threshold for intruders but also to be an attractive partner should the worst happen. This will also serve the development of Finland’s own defence.

It is not in Finland’s interests to stir up confrontation.  A wise person asks whether there are means of alleviating confrontation. This is called dialogue, or diplomacy. It is also Finland’s long-term foreign and security policy. It is also my policy.


What I have just said does not make our own defence unnecessary – on the contrary. I would like to mention a key theme, namely Finland’s preparedness in the face of a fast-changing security environment. It is a theme which I have already discussed with three governments.

The recent crises have challenged our notions of traditional warfare.  We have witnessed systematic operations exploiting the vulnerabilities of the targeted state. A wide range of hybrid threats are employed: information-based operations, pressure by economic or technological means, unmarked armed forces and cyber warfare – and the range of means will continue to expand.

Via broad-based collaboration between public authorities, Finland’s overall security model aims to guarantee that society functions as smoothly as possible in all circumstances. Hybrid operations are specifically aimed at preventing the achievement of this. Although our model is up to date, we need to be capable of upgrading it continuously.

I believe that Finland’s preparedness to respond to potential threats is based on an equation with three variables: accurate and real-time situational awareness, appropriate competences and sufficient capabilities. Finland has room for improvement with respect to all of these.

Accurate, up-to-date situational awareness is the first requirement of sufficient readiness. In our current world, military and civilian intelligence legislation is an absolute precondition for our general ability to identify actions that could have a significant impact on, or threaten, our security.

However, this is not enough in itself. New threats tend to progress fast, often on several fronts. That is why more foresight is required from our situational awareness. The bill – on the government’s situational awareness – soon to be presented to Parliament is a step in the right direction.

Once a threat has been verified, the question of the required competencies arises. We should critically examine the application of the current Emergency Powers Act: Do our current practices enable sufficiently streamlined and rapid action? Regardless of the situation, it needs to be clear that we can easily identify emergency situations when necessary. At the moment, there is a hybrid-warfare-sized gap between routine powers and confirming an emergency situation. We need to investigate and, if necessary, plug this gap.

However, our response to possible threats ultimately depends on our capabilities. This places the focus on the performance of our Defence Forces, our border control and internal security resources, and the crisis tolerance of Finnish society in general.

Much has already been done. Above all, we have in many ways improved the readiness of our Defence Forces. We have improved our defence zone surveillance, particularly in sea areas and airspace. We have improved our troop mobilisation. A new legal interpretation has improved the availability of conscripts for various missions. Legislative amendments have expedited the recruitment of reservists. We have improved the material readiness of our rapid reaction forces. In addition, we have improved the skills of our troops through exercises.

However, action is still required in all sectors of national security. Ensuring the appropriate level of readiness in economically difficult times is certainly burdensome for our nation, but it is also unavoidable.


Our national defence and security form just one of the four pillars on which our security rests. The others are western integration and partnerships, well-functioning relations with Russia, and the international system and broad-based security. I will now only take up the EU which forms a part of our western pillar.

Membership of the European Union is of key importance to Finland’s security policy. The EU has entered a new situation in relation to security, at a time when it faces many other difficulties. Military tensions have intensified rapidly on the EU’s frontiers in the Baltic region.

Discussions on strengthening EU defence cooperation have intensified in many countries – this is not important to Finland only. Finland must make a strong contribution to this development effort – we can only gain by the process.

Progress, rather than speculation on the ultimate goal, is now of paramount importance. This reflects the basic wisdom of the founding fathers of integration: by moving forward on an ambitious but pragmatic basis, we can take tangible steps that, in this instance, increase our security.

Let me cite an example: There has long been talk of establishing a permanent military headquarters to strengthen the EU’s own planning and command capabilities. Now, it should simply be established.  Many other issues deserve our continued attention – including cooperation on defence materiel and measures to promote security of supply. When developing the EU’s security policy, we should also bear in mind the fact that internal and external security are now more strongly integrated. When discussing asymmetric or hybrid threats, it is highly artificial to compartmentalise them into external and internal activities.

It would be natural for our intensifying security policy cooperation with Sweden to be reflected at European level.


Many people feel that we live in troubled times. However, I do not regard Finland’s situation as bleak. We have a good security status, which we are further strengthening in many respects. In this, we will need to use our national strengths, engage in strong international cooperation and be ready to invest in our common security.

I believe that the course you are about to begin will reinforce this notion for many of you. May I wish you a productive and successful National Defence Course.