Keynote of General (retired) Curtis Scaparrotti: European nations’ role in NATO 


The program of the Kouvola Security Conference 18 th of September 2023 is dedicated to the historic occasion of Finland joining the NATO alliance earlier this year – on April 4th, the 74th anniversary of the signing of North Atlantic Treaty.

It is a great honor to enter discussion with all of you at such a critical moment in Finnish, European, and transatlantic security.

General (retired) Curtis Scaparrotti, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, SACEUR

To start us off here today, I’d like to share with you a few words from President Truman’s address at the signing ceremony of the Washington Treaty. “We believe that it is possible for nations to achieve unity on the great principles of human freedom and justice, and at the same time to permit, in other respects, the greatest diversity of which the human mind is capable…If there is anything certain today, if there is anything inevitable in the future, it is the will of the people of the world – for freedom, and for peace.”

Now, we’re here today because we are neighbors in these great principles of human freedom and justice, in the shared values of national sovereignty and self-determination. Because we are believers in the will of the people. We are here today because of your decision to join the Alliance – a decision affirmed by your Parliament’s ratification process, the fastest in modern Alliance history. And, we are here today because of your commitment to deterrence and collective defense through NATO.

Before I go further, I want to thank you for all that Finland has done in the past.

Alliance members have benefitted from a close partnership with Finland since you joined the Partnership for Peace program in 1994.

You were one of NATO’s most active partners during some of the most difficult periods of the Alliance’s history. At times, this was no small order. Finland is owed a great debt of gratitude for your support to missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. When I served as Commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, I witnessed firsthand the excellence of Finnish troops and Finland’s comprehensive approach including crisis management expertise and humanitarian efforts. Whether it was in Afghanistan, in NATO’s planning and review process, crisis management exercises, or improving resilience – NATO operations and discussions were always stronger when Finland was involved.
You made these contributions to the benefit of the Alliance before you had an Article 5 guarantee in return. This does not go unrecognized.

Now, the Finnish model of comprehensive security and total defense is an excellent example for other countries around the world. You have been serious about defending your country, about creating a powerful and secure armed force, and about making this a whole of society effort. That in and of itself has been so important for the rest of Europe, for the European Union, and for NATO. It made your bid to join NATO an easy decision for the United States. Thank you for making this security and political commitment.

Before I go on, I must note the great admiration I have for the way Finland has responded to the war in Ukraine – both militarily and in terms of humanitarian assistance. Finland’s decision just two weeks ago to provide 94 million euros of military aid to Ukraine marks the 18th tranche of Finnish defense packages to Ukraine’s armed forces since Moscow’s attack. Total aid provided by Helsinki to Kyiv totals 1.8 billion euros. It is a testament to your unwavering commitment to their defense capabilities and their greater sovereignty.

NATO’s continued ability to deliver urgently needed non-lethal practical assistance to Ukraine through the Comprehensive Assistance Package remains critical. This has been strengthened after Vilnius, when Allies agreed to develop the CAP into a multi-year agreement. Allies must adhere to these terms to ensure the rebuilding of Ukraine’s defense sector and to propel the country towards full interoperability with NATO.

Now, there is now a significant Nordic grouping in NATO, which will become more powerful still with Sweden’s accession. Make no mistake, Finland and Sweden’s decisions to join the Alliance have fundamentally changed the geopolitical map of Europe, giving NATO an edge in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic, and strengthening total European security for years to come.

The message to Russia and other would-be aggressors is clear: Europe is more united than ever in rejecting attempts to change borders by force. Might does not make right. What we see in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is Putin’s clear goal to rewrite the post-Soviet era and reassert Russia’s position as a European and global hegemon. Russia’s war on Ukraine has therefore rightfully been a focal point of international attention, but it is not the only threat with far-reaching implications for our global security environment.

A surge of authoritarianism poses an enormous threat to our shared ideals of peace and the right to democratic self-governance. The Chinese Communist Party seeks domination through intimidation of its neighbors, pursues illicit methods to advantage their economy, obstructs multilateral organizations, and disregards critical issues of transnational importance.

The Middle East and Africa remain areas of strategic interest and of deep-seated challenges.
While we no longer see the fight against terrorism headlining our news channels, terrorism in all its forms and origins remain a challenge. Their aim is unchanged: to undo the progress our societies have made toward tolerance and democracy.

The threat of nuclear proliferation is reaching new magnitudes. Iran has increased its level of uranium enrichment to near-weapons-grade levels. North Korea has conducted record numbers of demonstrative missile launches. China is building its atomic arsenal through a new reactor just 135 miles from Taiwan. Russia has suspended its participation in the last major nuclear arms control treaty with the United States. This new global nuclear order demands strategic leadership and appreciable international cooperation and information sharing.

A broad range of modern threats challenge our traditional notions of security. Cyber-attacks and AI driven disruptions have the potential to destabilize the critical infrastructure of multilateral institutions and of entire nations. The integration of AI into military contexts adds a layer of complexity to the nature of national defense and of warfare, and it raises questions about the regulation and control of autonomous systems in a new era of rapidly advancing technology.

Disinformation campaigns – aimed to manipulate public opinion and to exploit disagreements that exist in every democratic society – are increasingly prevalent. Combatting disinformation necessitates increased cyber and media literacy, and it hinges upon international cooperation to be able to identify and counteract threats proactively.

Climate change challenges transcend borders, having an underappreciated affect on global security. You know well the impact that we are seeing with extreme heat waves, destructive wildfires, and flooding in much of the world. Conflict over life-giving resources will rear its head further in coming years – with deadly consequences.

In the face of these multifaceted challenges, the importance of the Alliance and of global partners today cannot be overstated. But in light of these threats, it is essentially that we simultaneously look ahead and prepare for the terms that could define the global security environment in 2030. What does the year 2030 look like, and what are the strategic shifts that we need to be anticipating?

A view of 2030 is challenging, but I will paint a broad picture into what we might encounter.

In 2030, we still see leadership in Russia under Putin or someone with a similar disposition. Russia’s ambitions on the world stage will persist, if not intensify. The war in Ukraine may not be resolved definitively, and Russia will seek to reconstitute and modernize its armed forces. Meanwhile, China’s military capabilities and coercive behavior will further develop. It will continue to take advantage of the focus on Eastern Europe and Russia’s vulnerabilities to establish a strengthened presence in strategic regions like the Arctic, Mediterranean, and the Atlantic. And, we will still face what I call “persistent threats” – Iran, North Korea, global terrorism, and nuclear proliferation, to name a few.

This picture may seem somber. But what we do know is that our world in 2030 will be better if we continue to stand up to Russia and help Ukraine to ensure its future as an independent country anchored in Europe.

Now, we’re here today to discuss what Finland and European nations in NATO should do to best prepare for and participate in this new strategic era.

I’ll offer a few suggestions as to what Finland should not do, or more specifically, should not change about your security policy.

First, as I noted earlier, Finland’s comprehensive security concept and defense posture has proven formidable for decades now. It goes beyond mere military defense; it encompasses your economy, critical infrastructure, security of supply, civil defense, and overall societal resilience and preparedness. Your accession to the Alliance should not mean a reevaluation of this key facet of your approach to sustained security.

Second, your draft system, which has retained military and civilian service conscription through decades of peace and boasts upwards of 280,000 soldiers in its reserve, is a testament to this comprehensive approach. Do not consider adjustments to your conscription due to your place in the Alliance.

Third, your full and open accession to the Alliance without any redlines. Our Alliance relies on the commitment of each of us to contribute across the board. The high quality and capability of Finnish citizens—in suits or uniforms—will strengthen our Alliance. Do not hesitate to pursue opportunities to foster deep levels of trust between Finland, the United States, and Alliance partners due to your place in the Alliance.

Fourth, your commitment to provide for your own defense, and the defense spending that goes along with that. I applaud the news that Finland plans to spend 2.3% of its GDP on defense this upcoming year. When NATO leaders at Vilnius agreed that Allies should commit at least 2% of their annual GDP to defense, Finland was already amongst those Allies meeting that mark. Do not be dissuaded from your firm resolve to provide for your own security due to your place in the Alliance.

Fifth, your role as a leader within the Nordic grouping. The Finnish artillery has more firepower than the combined forces of Poland, Germany, Norway, and Sweden. You provide Europe’s largest artillery training area, Rovajärvi, that offers Alliance members capability training and development. Politically and diplomatically, you are a voice for the security of the Nordic region. Do not draw back from this role due to your place in the Alliance.

Finally, your bilateral relationship with the United States. I must take a moment to recognize the significance of the Defense Cooperation Agreement negotiations between Finland and the United States. These documents are foundational to enabling greater policy cooperation and deeper military collaboration between our two countries. Carry on with these efforts. Do not falter with your bilateral and multilateral relationships due to your place in the Alliance.

The question of what would be important for Finland to do more of comes to mind – for Finland, and for the Alliance. I’ll offer a few topics for consideration as you head into the rest of the day’s programming.
Finland needs to be focused on having a robust and ready national force. While your conscription processes should not be changed, a greater number of active-duty personnel would balance Finland’s ready posture and aid your preparation for whatever this new strategic era might bring.

Finland needs to build a robust Nordic grouping and joint capability to assert dominance over the Scandinavian peninsula. Joining the Alliance offers a new range of opportunities, one of which is within your immediate neighborhood. You are now able to work with your neighbors and, consistent with your emphasis on security of supply, see the opportunities for regionally based shared support and sustainment programs for commonly held platforms, such as the F-35. This will deliver an economic and technical edge in the region, bolstering your security and the strength of the Alliance.

More broadly, Finland needs to build on shared Nordic security and capabilities. Air and missile defense. Your decision last year to join the German “European Sky Shield Initiative” to strengthen short-, medium-, and long-range air-defense capabilities is commendable. Continue to invest in coordinated and joint procurement to enhance air-defense coverage along NATO’s northeastern flank.

Naval capabilities and subwater dominance. While I am hesitant to yet declare the Baltic Sea a “NATO lake,” Sweden’s accession to the Alliance will provide a special operational environment. Several NATO states focus on blue-water operations in the North Atlantic. To counter Russian covert underwater operations and to safeguard all littoral nations, you need to work hand in hand with Sweden in prioritizing maritime dominance off of the Baltic states’ coasts.

Joint intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities (JISR). Your accession to NATO is an opportunity to evaluate the modernization needs of your forces and your ISR capability gaps – namely, airborne drone systems and unmanned underwater vehicles. Work with Russia specialized analysts within NATO to give the Alliance the upper hand on the ground, in the air, in space, and in the cyber domain. Again, interoperable capabilities are essential to ensure comprehensive understanding of the Russian threat.

Lastly, Finland needs to prioritize the staffing of commands and ensure presence and comprehensive participation at NATO headquarters and Commands. After the Vilnius Summit, I understand that the number of personnel placed in the NATO command structure will be around one hundred. I commend this effort, but I encourage you to think critically about how to further increase your visibility and influence in the Alliance to develop the connectivity of national and NATO command and control systems. Future missions and increased activity in the Arctic and Baltic Seas are likely, and positioning yourself as a framework nation in this regard will be critical.

NATO since its founding has benefitted from Finland’s steely determination to defend its borders. Whatever the necessities of public policy, we had no doubt which direction Finland’s forces faced during the Cold War; and today, I am looking forward to seeing all that we can accomplish together.
Thank you all for your resiliency and partnership in our collective fight to protect and promote the values we hold most dear.

To the organizers of the Kouvola Security Conference, thank you for creating this platform for dialogue.

Link to the Kouvola Security Conference 18.9.2023 – YouTube