Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö on the flag day of the Finnish Defence Forces in Helsinki on 4 June 2017

It is a great honour to receive the parade of the Flag Day of the Finnish Defence Forces here in the Senate Square, a centre of Finland’s statehood and cultural and spiritual life. This day is always festive, but especially so this year. It has been customary to celebrate the Flag Day of the Finnish Defence Forces in our capital city whenever Finland marks another five or ten years since it became independent. The atmosphere of our celebration is reinforced also by the fact that today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Marshal Mannerheim.

Alongside National Veterans’ Day and Independence Day, Flag Day is a special celebration which highlights how much we cherish our independent Finland. Finland is among the top nations in almost every global comparison of positive characteristics, and one message is clear: We are the world’s most stable state. This is invaluable in the current global situation.

With respect to our security, I have often referred to the four pillar model. These too are topical today. Our pillars are national defence and security, western integration, relations with Russia, and the international system, particularly its structure, rule-based nature and manageability. These are not static pillars, but develop over time. They also continuously interact.  The better the balance between these pillars, the more stable Finland’s situation is.

We will have to endure a period of global instability for some time. This obliges us to attend to our strongest cornerstone – a credible national defence. Our defence forces have succeeded in completing major reforms in recent years. However, you cannot upgrade an operating system in one go, but have to work on it continuously. This will require both resources and a vision of how our defence should be developed. 

In everything we do, we should bear in mind that strong defence forces present a threshold to a potential enemy, while attracting our friends to engage in cooperation.

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Compulsory military service has been the undoubted cornerstone of Finland’s defence during the entire period of independence. Such a system has sometimes been subject to criticism, and many other European countries have wound down conscription. Despite this, Finland has consistently maintained its military service, and rightly so. Many other countries are now restoring what they once decommissioned.

Consistency has been another strength of Finland’s defence. An example of this is the manner in which respect for compulsory military service has been the common thread running through a number of defence reforms. The cornerstone of our defence therefore remains strongly in place – and will continue to do so.

Compulsory military service has a strong societal role, as well as a defensive aspect. It brings together a diverse range of Finns – from different parts of the country, different backgrounds and with different ideas – who then learn how to get along with each other. The cohesion of a nation is a major factor in its success. The better we understand each other and keep everyone in the same boat, the better our chances will be of succeeding in the second century of our independence.

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Around a year ago, a statistic measuring the confidence of citizens in their own army was published. Finland came first in this comparison, or should I say ‘in this comparison as well’. As many as 91 percent of Finns trust in our defence forces. Such trust cannot be taken for granted, but must be earned through continuous work and one conscript induction at a time. 

The statistics reflect the support and willingness of our entire nation with respect to defending our country. Each and every Finn is a defender of our land, particularly during this time of changing threats. Although we cannot always know what lies ahead, we are ready to respond to new situations and willing to prevail during difficult times.

I would like to thank all of you who serve in our defence forces for the valuable work you are doing on behalf of our century-old country. I also wish you a patriotic Flag Day of the Finnish Defence Forces.