Finnish Arctic policy keys on defense cooperation


The security environment in Europe is changing rapidly. We do not know what the outcome and consequences of the current crisis will be. Finland is in a strategically important region. From the military-strategic perspective, increased tensions in another region may rapidly lead to increasing military activities in Northern Europe. The significance of the Baltic Sea, North Atlantic sea lines of communication and the Arctic region to Finland is growing, and military activity in these areas has increased during the past few years.

Finland has recently updated its Arctic strategy and also issued a new government defense report in 2021. These documents create the basis for Finland’s Arctic policy and Finland’s presence as an actor in the Arctic domain.

Furthermore, the more international attention the region receives and the greater the growth, in such fields as Arctic maritime traffic or telecommunications, the more interest the region will attract from the perspective of security and defense. As the geographically largest Arctic country, Russia has stressed the importance of the region in its activities more than ever. The developments in Russia’s Arctic region are important to the Arctic region as a whole. Russia is systematically strengthening its military presence in the Arctic to safeguard its economic interests and to ensure control over the Northern Sea Route. In the meantime, Russian security thinking has increased emphasis on the importance of the military bases and nuclear weapons in the Kola Peninsula, as well as the Northern Fleet’s freedom of operation and access to the oceans.

Also, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in particular has shown increasing economic and strategic interest in the region, especially in its natural resources, infrastructure and transport routes. The PRC’s global goals and efforts to play a greater role in the Arctic may create competition and conflicts of interest, particularly between the great powers, and heighten regional tensions.

Defense cooperation plays a key role in increasing Finland’s situational awareness, contributing to maximum freedom of action and options for decision-making. Changes in Finland’s operating environment have required the Finnish Defence Forces to improve situational awareness to ensure sufficient early warning and support for decision-making, adjust readiness, and maintain a strong and credible defense capability.

The Finnish Defence Forces participate in Arctic research cooperation and conduct military exercises in the north, both nationally and with international partners. Finland’s strength lies in capable defense forces developed to operate in Arctic conditions and possess high-level Arctic expertise internationally.

Exercises play a key role in developing interoperability and common understanding. The Finnish Defence Forces conduct regular national exercises in Arctic conditions. Some of them include international participation, such as Exercises Northern Forest (Army live-fire exercise), Lightning Strike (combined fires exercise) and Northern Griffin (special operations forces and aviation winter training exercise), which provide versatile opportunities to test interoperability in the northern environment.

Finns also participate in Arctic exercises abroad. One good example is the air combat exercise Arctic Challenge, jointly executed every other year by Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden with a rotational lead role, while the United States Air Force provides considerable support. This sizable exercise sends a clear signal of strength and serves as a stabilizing factor in the region. (Pictured: A Finnish F-18 Hornet departs from Jokkmokk Air Base during a joint exercise between the air forces of Finland and Sweden over the Arctic Circle towns of Jokkmokk, Sweden, and Rovaniemi, Finland, in 2019.)

The authorities in the north, including the Police, Customs, Border Guard and rescue services, already engage in close and direct cooperation, especially between the Nordic countries. In the future, increasing attention must be paid to the potential challenges and needs arising from improving the interagency cooperation in the Arctic’s multilateral, regional and bilateral structures.

Finally, Finland is one of the eight permanent members of the Arctic Council. Despite the current situation in Europe, Finland’s goal is a peaceful Arctic region marked by dialogue and cooperation. Military and hard security actions are now dominating the discussions. However, longer-perspective challenges in the North prevail. Sustainable development goals relevant to this region can be attained through close cooperation and, in combination with global measures, ever increasing climate change and its harmful impacts can be mitigated. The scale of the Arctic region and its challenging conditions require cooperation between all safety and security authorities within Finland and, as far as possible, including comprehensive cross-border activities.