June 29, 2009:
The Finnish Government has voted to increase defense spending in order to keep up with inflation. Finnish lawmakers also believe that the rising cost of war material and military equipment, besides inflation, necessitates the additional funds. The measure to spend more money on the military was met with significant opposition from the usual left of centre political parties. The opposition used the argument common throughout Western Europe; that Finland has no major conventional threats at the moment and the additional money could be better spent on social programs.
Still, the opposition to the move was hardly overwhelming, with 116 legislators voting for additional money against 64 voting against. The Finns currently have no major threats, but they do have long memories. Finland is a small country with the a small military. To make up for their lack of manpower, procuring sophisticated, high-tech equipment is top priority. Based on their 20th century experiences, the Finns tend to take defense a little more seriously than countries like Germany or Portugal.
The last time Finland had to fight a war was in during World War II, against Russia. The Finns ultimately lost but inflicted several severe defeats on the Russians, who outnumbered them many times over. This was largely thanks to the professionalism and skill of the Finnish soldier, whereas the Russian soldiers were largely poorly trained, illiterate conscripts.
This is the same scenario that Finland is becoming nervous about again, knowing that all it takes is the wrong president (or dictator) in Russia to spark a major confrontation. With Russia now making everyone nervous with its increasingly aggressive stance in surrounding nations, the Finns think it's a good idea to bite the bullet and spend a little extra cash on their armed forces.
Currently, Finland's military budget is around $3 billion. That's around 1.3 percent of the country's total GDP ($273 billion) and 5.5 percent of Finland's total national budget. This is well below the 2 percent minimum of the GDP that NATO recommends its members and partners spend on their militaries.
Still, by raising their spending, Finland pulls more of its weight in the alliance and thus is more likely to get a favorable response to any future requests for defense aid (i.e. if they get attacked). Finland is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, and, with their new emphasis on added security, are likely to grow a closer relationship in the future. Finland hasn't shown an eagerness to get full NATO membership, unlike virtually every country in Eastern Europe, but they also like the idea of NATO having their back if the country has to fight. The failure of many European member and partner countries to spend the recommended 2 percent on defense has been one of NATO's biggest problems for years and it continues to this day, even with the new threats of terrorism.
Currently, the Finnish ground forces have about 61,000 active duty troops organized into Operational Units, but the total wartime strength of the army (in the event of invasion or national emergency) is 237,000, with the active duty troops being augmented by 176,000 Regional Units. Because of their small size, the active duty soldiers use the regiment, not the division or brigade, as their basic combat unit. Divisions and brigades are activated once wartime mobilization becomes necessary. These 237,000 troops, beefed up with the latest infantry weapons and heavy armor, is nothing to sneeze at, and certainly enough to give any attacker a bloody nose. The Finnish Army still uses a system of conscription but feels that its necessary in order to keep up a formidable level of manpower on the ground.