Finland’s new role as full Nato member will help the alliance fill vital capability gaps, a former Nato chief has said. And there is little fear of last week’s change of government altering the country’s stance against Russian aggression.
Finland’s accession to become Nato’s 31st member doubles the length of the alliance’s border and ends 80 years of “military non-alignment” with its neighbour, Russia.
Despite Russian threats, it also ends any hope of Moscow using hybrid tactics such as cyber attacks, disinformation and grey-zone offensives to dissuade the Fins from aligning themselves firmly to the West.
It is in military terms where the real differences will be felt, said former Nato director of policy and planning Fabrice Pothier.
“First of all, it ends one of the biggest headaches for Nato. Until now the alliance has had to develop its responses to a range of scenarios in the Baltics – the most likely flashpoint with Russia – without Finland’s direct input. Even though Finland was an associate member of Nato, planning was a complicated affair.
“Now, in terms of planning, Nato has 100 per cent certainty and this makes a huge difference.”
The other difference is in military numbers.
While Finland boasts only 20,000 regular and active personnel, it is one of the few European nations to have kept conscription, bolstering its wartime forces to an astonishing 280,000.
This was boosted from 50,000 in 2017, in recognition of Russia’s increasingly aggressive posture following the first Ukrainian invasion.
Its defence strategy relies on using the heavily forested terrain to deter a Russian attack, but its arsenal of 700 howitzers, 700 heavy mortars and 100 multiple rocket launchers gives it the greatest artillery capability of any force in Western Europe.
“Militarily, Finland is in the category of more capable alliance partner, ” said Pothier.
“It’s true that its air force is not up to Nato standards in terms of capabilities – it has never been a strong player in this field – and the same can be said for its navy.
“But its land forces are able to make a real contribution and plug Nato’s biggest weakness.
“Nato is strong in air, is not too bad in maritime but is increasingly thin on land and air defence.
“Finland will be able to add some real capacity with substantial numbers, and these will be felt not only in Finland itself but also in other parts of Europe.”
Russia’s foreign ministry last year pledged that it would be forced to take “retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop the threats to its national security that arise” from accession.
Finland’s SUPO intelligence agency predicted that the Scandinavian country would now become “a more interesting target for Russian intelligence and influence operations” particularly in regards to its military policy.
Moscow reheated the threats of “counter measures” again last week , but so far threats to increase Russian military presence along other border have not materialised.
“Russia’s reaction has been actually quite muted,” said Pothier.
“They had threatened a buildup of military presence but it has not yet materialised. They know they cannot afford to do more, given their commitment in Ukraine.”
But Moscow will be aware that its only real opportunity to sway Finnish public opinion before the event, by using cyber disinformation and grey zone tactics, has now vanished.
“Finland’s accession is a real political boost, in the way it further consolidates European powers.
“Russia always tries to play the division card, but knows it is now too late.”
Professor Michael Clarke, from the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security Institute, said: “This is the most significant enlargement and military enhancement of NATO since German rearmament in 1955, and it is likely to have a dramatic effect.
“In the awful event of a general European war, it would leave Russia’s northern flank wide open to an effective attack from Scandinavia. This vulnerability now confronts any Russian leader for the next several decades. “
Finland’s promotion to 31st Nato member is the second major political change to have befallen the Scandinavian country last week -after parliamentary elections pointed to popular PM Sanna Marin’s exit.
But being replaced by a right-wing coalition leader under Petteri Orpo because of domestic issues will not affect Finland’s stance against Russia, said Pothier, who added: “Public opinion is strongly for Nato, and the momentum is too strong for a new government to alter its membership.”
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