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A military attaché is an officer with diplomatic status, posted abroad and representing the Chief of Defence and the Finnish Defence Forces. His duties include liaising with the representatives of the host nation’s defence administration, and keeping abreast of security and defence policy and the development of the armed forces in the host nation.

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Commodore Timo Ståhlhammar’s office is located at the Finnish embassy in Washington D.C.

Military attaché is also a contact person on issues related to the export of defence technology, organising high-level visits and acting as an advisor to the Finnish Ambassador in security and defence policy related issues. Approximately 150 military attachés are stationed in Washington DC. These represent around 150 different countries. One of them is Commodore Timo Ståhlhammar, who is Finland’s military attaché in the United States and Canada. The staff of the Finnish military attaché’s office also includes two assistant military attachés and an assistant, who are stationed at the Finnish embassy in Washington D.C. “The selection criteria for a military attaché highlight sufficiently extensive professional experience, knowledge of the host nation and excellent language skills. An outgoing nature and good social skills are regarded as a bonus. Before being stationed as a military attaché, I was given training that lasted around six months, addressing a broad range of topics. Naturally, I used my leisure time to gain a better understanding of the US’s armed forces and the country’s history and culture,“ says Timo Ståhlhammar.

A varied working day

Timo Ståhlhammar starts his day at 5:30 a.m. Over a cup of coffee, he browses the Finnish newspapers and key US media. Upon arrival at his office in the Finnish embassy in Washington, Ståhlhammar is already familiar with the events of the previous night both in and outside Finland, being able to predict the content of media coverage and the day’s hot topic in the United States. The working day of Finland’s military attaché in North America includes seminars and discussions arranged by the Ministry of Defence of the United States or the United States Armed Forces, by the Armed Forces research institutes or by various think-tanks, as well as meetings with military attachés representing other countries. These forums are used to discuss topical issues ranging from budget cuts and developments in the various armed forces, to day-to-day events in world politics. An integral part of the military attaché’s duties consists of arranging high-level visits from Finland to the United States, and vice versa. By any measure, the United Stated is the most popular destination for visits. Visitors range from representatives of the top management of the defence administration and the Finnish Defence Forces, to individual experts. Support is provided to Finnish companies in their export efforts, with visits and return visits from defence and research institutes forming a significant part of the annual visit programme. “As the future report of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs so aptly puts it, through their actions Finnish diplomats, soldiers included, can lay the foundation for exports, innovations and investment,“ Ståhlhammar says.

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The discussions between military attachés focus on crisis hot spots around the world, as well as on security and defence policies. The photo was taken in Koban, Syria, October 2014.

Crises across the globe spark discussion

The contemporary political situation is to the fore in discussions between military attachés. These discussions focus on crisis hot spots around the world, as well as on security and defence policies. “It should come as no surprise to you that we compare notes on the Ukrainian crisis, on developments in the Middle East, on Syria, on the disposal of chemical weapons and on Ebola. Such discussions give you some idea of other countries’ points of view on such issues We follow the discussion on defence policy under way in the United States, strategic policy and the reactions of the armed forces,” Ståhlhammar says.

A reliable partner

Finland and the Finnish Defence Forces enjoy an excellent reputation in the United States. Wherever Ståhlhammar goes, Finns are praised as reliable and professional partners. “Although Finland is a small country with limited resources, we are given high marks for our contribution to joint crisis management operations. Our professionalism and soldiers and civilians are highly valued in the United States,” says Timo Ståhlhammar.   This article was published in the Patria magazine in December 2014.