Kouvola Security Conference 2023 – now organized for the fourth time – focused on Finland’s role in Nato

Kouvola Mayor Marita Toikka noted in her opening address of the conference that security is a very relevant theme in Southeast Finland – for many reasons. First of all, Kouvola is the biggest garrison city in Finland, with Karelia Brigade and Utti Jaeger Regiment making their home right here. Large-scale military exercises are often organized in Kouvola as there is abundant space and top capabilities in a central location, she said.

“Due to our geographic location and logistical know-how, Kouvola has a key role in the Finnish security field, especially from the perspective of security of supply and preparation,” Toikka added.

Keynote speech of the conference was delivered General (retired) Curtis Scaparrotti, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). Appearing via video feed, Scaparrotti discussed European nations’ role in NATO, focusing on the newcomer, Finland.

While the general called Finland joining Nato in April 2023 a “critical moment,” he observed that the groundwork for collaboration was established already in 1994 as Finland joined Nato’s Partnership for Peace.

Bring the total package

According to Scaparrotti, Finland has set the model for a comprehensive defence policy where the entire society – on all levels – is committed to defence.

“This comprehensive effort shows you are serious about defending your country,” Scaparrotti said.

The total approach is rooted on the national draft system where Finnish males are conscripted to military service and stay on as reservists. There are other factors, too, such as the most formidable artillery in North Europe and great integration of various weapon systems with Nato’s systems. The upcoming F-35 fighter planes provide the cherry on the cake. 

Stand your ground

Discussing Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Scaparotti noted that stopping such unlawful aggression must be top priority. “Might does not make right.”    

As the collective fight for common values goes on in Ukraine, the general perceived also other threats: for example, China’s influence grows, terrorism is always an issue and the danger of nuclear weapons ending up in wrong hands is very real indeed.

Addressing the changing threat landscape from the framework of Nato is a tall order, the general admitted. “Collaboration is not easy, but having a comprehensive effort like Finland does help.”      

Learning the ropes

Director General Janne Kuusela from Ministry of Defence opened up Finland’s defence policy in NATO. He noted that while Finland is an old partner of Nato, membership is still different from partnership. “Nato is a very big and complex machinery and we’re still learning how it works,” Kuusela assessed.

Finland’s top priorities as a Nato member involve, first of all, getting Sweden into the alliance as well. It is a widely held tenet in Finland that the Finnish “Nato mission” is not complete without Sweden. “The second priority is supporting Ukraine, our future ally in both EU and Nato.”

Balancing act

Chief of Strategy, Lieutenant General Janne Jaakkola from Defence Command emphasized the importance of a balanced defence in facing the days ahead. “We must be able to respond with our own assets to challenges,” he said, adding that, thanks to Nato, there will be ample support available, as well.

Talking about Finland’s first months in Nato, Jaakkola pointed out that it’s good to be realistic here: full integration will take time. “One has to keep in mind that Nato is in the middle of changes, too.”

One-way ticket to Nato

Minister of Defence Antti Häkkänen offered views from the highest levels of the current administration, acknowledging that “dramatic changes” have taken place in defence policy. Russia’s growing unpredictability was the main factor behind Finland’s decision to apply for Nato membership, he recalled.

“We have steadfast commitment to national defence and Nato cooperation,” he summed up the status quo.

The Minister also gave an update on the bilateral Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) in the works between the USA and Finland. “The agreement is proceeding well and will be finalized soon.” The Defence Cooperation Agreement will make it easier, for instance, for Americans to store relevant equipment and supplies in Finland. “We are also updating the Nordic defence concept,” he added.

The Minister also noted that the Kouvola Security Conference has an important role to play in promoting the conversation about security issues. “While the world is more unstable now, it is good that we get to build better understanding here in Kouvola.”