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Due to Russia’s war of aggression, NATO refocused its activities on the implementation of collective defence. To ensure credible deterrence, one must bolster domestic defence industries, writes Piritta Asunmaa, Permanent Representative of Finland to NATO.

Russia’s full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine has led to significant changes in the European security environment. It can be said that this is the most serious threat in decades. There is a full-scale war in the middle of Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. It is clear that this has a substantial impact on both NATO’s role and its activities. 

Suurlähettiläs Piritta Asunmaa
Ambassador Piritta AsunmaaHead of Mission, Permanent Representation of Finland to NATO

NATO ensures the collective defence of its member states. Its activities are now strongly focused on  this aim instead of its two other core tasks, namely cooperative security as well as crisis prevention and management.

Key drivers of change in NATO’s operating and security environment also include the mounting strategic competition between the U.S. and China and growing global tensions. Furthermore, there is rising instability in its Southern neighborhood — as evident from the war in Gaza and the escalation of tensions between Israel and Iran to armed strikes.

In both the short and long term, NATO’s activities are influenced in particular by the development of the transatlantic relationship and U.S. attitudes towards NATO and commitment to European defence.

Focus has shifted to credible deterrence

Russia’s full-scale war of aggression is the key factor with a long-term impact on NATO’s activities. It is the reason why Finland applied for NATO membership. NATO’s Strategic Concept — the key document guiding the Alliance — states that the “Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.” The Strategic Concept does not discount the possibility of an attack against NATO Allies’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. As a result, NATO’s focus has shifted back to strengthening and maintaining a credible deterrent and defence. 

The shift of focus from crisis management to ensuring collective defence will not happen overnight. It requires shared situational awareness, political will, resources and persistence. From Finland’s perspective, ongoing efforts to bolster deterrence and defence are heading in the right direction. It is important that this work will continue even after the war in Ukraine has ended.

Supporting Ukraine is a key priority

In addition to strengthening deterrence and defence, Ukraine is by far the largest challenge currently faced by NATO. The relationship between Russia and Ukraine is a key issue for European security. The outcome of the war will determine the development of security far into the future.

For this reason, supporting Ukraine has become a key priority for the Alliance. NATO is currently focusing on providing practical support to Ukraine in the war. NATO still maintains that it does not want to become a direct participant in the war.

In the short term, NATO support focuses on non-lethal materiel. That said, in the longer term, efforts must also be made to support the Ukrainian defence sector and the country’s changeover to NATO standard defence materiel.

Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, has proposed that there should be a more robust and institutionalised framework for NATO support to Ukraine. This is currently being discussed by the allies. Finland believes that it is important to provide Ukraine with a strong message of both political and practical support at the NATO summit in July in Washington.

Finland punches above its weight in NATO

The Government Programme states that NATO membership strengthens Finnish security and Northern European stability, and positions Finland as an even more integral member of the European and transatlantic security community. On the other hand, Finland’s membership also strengthens NATO. Finland wants to be a security provider rather than a security consumer in NATO. In military terms, we are a high-performance country whose geographical location is strategically important to the Alliance. Our membership is important to NATO as a whole, even though it doubles the length of the border the Alliance shares with Russia.

In Brussels, President of the Republic Alexander Stubb recently described the changes ushered in by Finland’s NATO membership: what we used to call “credible and independent defence” is changing to “a strong defence as part of the alliance.” The President has also emphasised that he wants to see Finland play a role in the heart of NATO, just like we did when we joined the EU.

In other words, although we are located on its geographical periphery, we work in the heart of NATO. In addition, the President emphasised that in NATO our military capability combined with our geographic location puts us in the “mid-size” country category. We are a major pillar of northeastern European defence.

Finland wants to help steer NATO

Our decades of partnership with NATO laid an excellent foundation for membership. Of course, there is still much left for us to learn, and it will take time to integrate our national defence into collective NATO defence.

The two key objectives of our Permanent Representation to NATO are, on the one hand, to influence the development of NATO activities in the direction desired by Finland. On the other hand, we seek to promote Finland’s own military integration as required by our membership.

As ambassador, I lead the Permanent Representation to NATO, which is now Finland’s second-largest mission abroad, just after Finland’s Permanent Representation to the EU. At the same time, I serve as Finland’s Permanent Representative in the Nort Atlantic Council, which convenes several times a week.

The NATO membership of Finland and Sweden opens up brand-new opportunities to deepen Nordic defence cooperation, both between Nordic countries and in NATO. In military terms, the Nordic countries form a single strategic entity. We aim to take this into consideration in NATO’s operational planning and command structure solutions.

Defence industry issues are highlighted in NATO

Defence industry issues are currently very topical in NATO. The allies, including Finland, have donated defence materiel to Ukraine, and there is a need to replace this donated materiel. To tackle this issue, NATO is coordinating actions to build up the defence industry capacity of the member states.

NATO does not set actual industrial policy, nor is it qualified to intervene in the materiel procurements of the allies. NATO’s defence planning process defines the capabilities that the allies should possess. However, it is up to the allies how they acquire these capabilities. Furthermore, NATO does not procure defence materiel. Each ally is responsible for its own procurements.

Closer relationships between companies and NATO

Perhaps the greatest impact of NATO membership is that, as an ally, Finland is now an attractive partner. We have attracted plenty of interest.

The Finnish defence industry has been collaborating with NATO for years, such as by participating in meetings of the NATO Industrial Advisory Group (NIAG). NATO thus has a smaller effect on the traditional defence industry than on other industries which have not been NATO partners in the past.

The Finnish defence industry is already quite interoperable with. In addition, Finland has only purchased NATO standard defence material for years. The Finnish defence industry is thus already accustomed to NATO standards.

NATO membership has given Finnish industry — over and above the defence sector — access to NATO bidding within the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) and the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCIA). Finland had earlier participated in NSPA bidding, but not all such invitations to tender were open to us.

To participate in bidding, a company must have a Declaration of Eligibility, which can be obtained in Finland through the Ministry of Defence. The NATO Mission also provides help and support to companies that have questions about NATO.

Ambassador Piritta Asunmaa
Head of Mission, Permanent Representation of Finland to NATO

Read the full PATRIA MAGAZINE 1/2024 edition