News | March 10, 2023

Finnish Defense "Left of Bang"

By Jyri Raitasalo PRISM Vol. 10, No. 2

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Colonel Jyri Raitasalo is Docent of Strategy and Security Policy at the Finnish National Defence University. The views expressed here are his own.
Aurora Borealis, northern Finland. Image by: The image is released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0.
February 27, 2017

Finland has a long tradition of combining military and non-military aspects of defense. During the Cold War this crystallized within the concept of “total defense,” the mobilization of the entire society for the potential purpose of war. Throughout the Cold War, the all-penetrating threat from the Soviet Union was felt constantly within Finnish society. This threat was not only military in nature but also contained political, economic, energy-related, and even cultural aspects. In today’s parlance, the Soviet Union prosecuted an aggressive campaign of information warfare, hybrid war, and political warfare against Finland.

With the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Finland decided to move from a policy of neutrality toward closer cooperation with the Western security community. The concept of total defense with its military-centric focus began to lose significance and meaning. This did not occur overnight. Rather, it was a process of slow decay. A broader conception of security seemed warranted as the all-pervasive and all-penetrating politico-military threat from the East rapidly waned. This was not only the case in Finland but also throughout the Western world. Western states—Finland among them—have gradually stretched the contours of the concept of security during the last 30 years. Today, the Western—and Finnish—notions of international security are extremely broad—both concerning the different sectors of security (military, economic, environmental, societal, etc.) and different referent objects of security (the state, the nation, individual security, the stability of the international system).1

During the post–Cold War era, the Finnish system of total defense was gradually redefined into a comprehensive security model. This model was first formalized in 2003—more than a decade before the West became obsessed with Russia’s Gerasimov doctrine,2 hybrid warfare,3 the gray zone,4 the weaponization of information,5 and weaponized narratives.6 This model has been developed and practiced ever since, with the Government of Finland issuing official strategy updates in 2006, 2010, and 2017. The model has been based on the increasing cooperation among different authorities, the business community, and the third-sector actors in tackling an ever-widening spectrum of security threats. These threats include information threats, threats to data networks, the threat of large-scale immigration, terrorism, military pressure against Finland, and dozens of other threat scenarios.

Doctrine: The Comprehensive Security Model

Based on the Cold War tradition of total defense, the comprehensive security model matured from the outset of the post–Cold War era. Already in 2001, the government declared in its security and defense policy white paper that,

Society takes precautionary measures for exceptional circumstances and for various disruptive situations arising under normal circumstances. The aim is to prevent the emergence of situations that could undermine the functioning of society and to create mechanisms for managing such situations and their consequences. In times of exceptional circumstances, the livelihood of the population and the national economy is safeguarded, the rule of law maintained and the territorial integrity and independence of the country ensured.7

Contingency planning had already started in 1999 on a broad range of issues, including, but not restricted to, infectious diseases, information threats, threats aimed at electronic communications and information systems, international organized crime, terrorism, changes in the environment, major disasters, and sudden, large-scale population movements.8

Two years later, in 2003, the first government-level official policy document was published on the topic of securing the vital functions of the society against all kinds of threats—not only military threats or man-made threats but also those caused by the forces of nature (e.g. flooding). This strategy for securing the vital functions of society defined a broad range of potential future threats and assigned responsibilities to various authorities to address them.

The key to being prepared for different kinds of threats facing society is to define vital functions that need to operate 365/24/7. If Finnish society is the referent object of security—the “thing” to be secured—keeping vital functions of society running is a way to do that. According to the 2017 Security Strategy for Society, the vital functions of society that need to be safeguarded at all times are presented in the figure.9

Figure. The Functions Vital for Society
Figure. The Functions Vital for Society
Figure. The Functions Vital for Society
Figure. The Functions Vital for Society
Figure. The Functions Vital for Society
Photo By: NDU Press
VIRIN: 230309-D-BD104-009

In addition, the 2003 strategy defined the process through which any kind of response to a wide range of security threats would be handled within the existing structures of authorities—from the central government downwards to regional and local level authorities. In addition, the business community was integrated into the comprehensive security model as many of the basic day-to-day services are provided by businesses. Similarly, the third sector was integrated into the model—ranging from search and rescue services, voluntary military defense, cultural and youth activities, and so forth.

Key to an operational model is a clear division of labor—and responsibility—for authorities and other agents to deal with different kinds of threats. The bottom line of this threat management approach is based on the competent authority being the supported agent and all others the supporting agents providing all necessary assistance and support to the lead agent. This was expressed explicitly already by the government in 2001.10

A total of approximately 60 different threat scenarios were developed in the early 2000s as a basis for crisis response planning and exercising. The goal has been to build ready-to-be-used procedures and networks to deal with different surprising crises that require a networked, multi-authority approach. Based on threat assessments, every branch of government (the Ministry of Defence (MOD), Ministry of Interior, etc.) were assigned strategic tasks that they must be able to perform in all situations. Among dozens of tasks for the MOD were included preventing military pressure applied against Finland, preventing a military attack against the state, and, if necessary, repelling a military attack against Finland.

The continuity between government resolutions in 2003, 2006, 2010, and 2017 is clearly visible. Although the system has been developed and modified, the basic structure of the 2017 resolution is surprisingly identical with that of 2003.

Russia from Finland. Image by February 26, 2013


The end of the Cold War marked a shift in Finnish security and defense policy orientation. Coming out from the cold, a key driver for Finland has been to integrate into—and within—the Western security community. This development started in the early 1990s and continues to this day. Thus, during the last 30 years, the policy of neutrality that guided Finnish notions of diplomacy, security policy, and defense during the Cold War years has transitioned into a policy of political and economic alignment and close military cooperation within the West.

An increasing level of connectivity and cooperation within the West has thus formed a key aspect of the Finnish perspective on security and defense. Another key aspect of the Finnish take on security and defense is related to Russia—a military great power with which Finland shares a land border of some 1,300 kilometers in addition to a long history of both cooperation and conflict. As was noted by the government in 2001, “Russia maintains a significant military force and readiness in the Leningrad Military District, covering both the Kola Peninsula and the St. Petersburg area. Russia’s objectives in northern Europe are related above all to opposing NATO enlargement, maintaining a strategic nuclear deterrent, and protecting the St. Petersburg area and the trade route in the Baltic Sea.”11

The long history of cooperation and conflict with Russia—whether Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union, or the Russian Federation—has left a distinctive mark on Finnish diplomacy which can be described as a pragmatic approach to relations between states in general and to Finnish-Russian relations in particular. While Russia certainly has throughout the decades opened possibilities for economic benefits for Finland, in the security realm Russia has posed the greatest challenges. The 2001 government report on security and defense policy noted,

Russia is striving to achieve economic reform and organized and democratic social conditions. Its internal circumstances are gradually becoming more stable but there are still many uncertainties. Russia is searching for its role as an actor on the international stage and in security issues. . . . Russia is continuing its transition toward democracy, rule of law and a functioning market economy. However, there are still uncertainties surrounding the country’s future development.12

Throughout the decades, the role of diplomacy in advancing Finnish security has operated as a “mediating tool” or an interface between potential gains and benefits on the one hand and potential threats to national security on the other. For most of the post-Cold War era cooperation, positive-sum outcomes, and potential benefits have been at the epicenter of Finnish diplomacy vis-à-vis Russia. The security-related challenges have been acknowledged and acted on, but for almost 25 years after the Cold War, the role of Finnish diplomacy was to engage Russia, both bilaterally and in multilateral settings.

Looking at the relations between Russia and the West in the post-Crimea period and acknowledging the deteriorating relations between Russian and the West during the last 20 years, it is easy to see that Russia and the West have not shared a paradigm or a perspective through which they can engage in a meaningful dialogue over security in Europe or elsewhere. While Western states have redefined their perspective on security—moving toward a positive-sum approach to cooperatively manage the “new” security threats of the interdependent, globalizing international system—Russia never redefined its security perspective. Russia defines its security within a framework of great power politics, spheres of influence, and zero-sum competition, and has, for at least 20 years, built its status and prestige by opposing Western engagement and actions.

The above-mentioned lack of a common security paradigm between Russia and the West is deeply troubling. It has prevented—or at least hindered—mutually beneficial security outcomes as communication between Russia and Western states has not worked. But communication—or better yet diplomacy—is the only tool that might achieve a lowering of tensions in the long run. In addition, diplomacy is practically the only tool that might facilitate the building of trust and thus the settlement of conflicts. It is during crises that diplomacy is even more valuable than during peaceful “normal times.” This understanding guided the Finnish attitude toward diplomacy vis-à-vis Russia since early 2014: the need to engage, communicate, and talk to each other now that relations are at their worst in quite in a long time. The Russian war against Ukraine launched on February 24, 2022, has shattered the possibility of meaningful diplomatic outcomes between Russia and the West. From a small-state perspective neighboring a military great power, this could have catastrophic consequences for Europe, the Baltic Sea region, and Finland. Therefore, Finland started a process to redefine its security-political outlook quickly after the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Applying for NATO membership is the clearest manifestation of this sea change.


Information has always been a key element in relations among states and an element of national power. Thus, information has always been an important tool of statecraft. Propaganda, persuasion, lying, pressure, extortion, falsely assuring or luring opponents have been tools of international politics throughout history. This has not changed, even if modern technologies have made some new information-related methods possible—and at the same time have pushed certain older methods to the dustbin of history.

Information has become one of the focal points of Western responses to Russian hybrid warfare and gray zone tactics since the 2014 annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine. Supposedly, Russia has mastered the weaponization of information and is causing havoc throughout the Western world with its election meddling, troll armies, and false news—including social media. The use of information as a weapon was acknowledged in Finland when the comprehensive security model was being developed. In 2001, the government defined information warfare as the “entity of means by which information is provided or its handling is affected, and which aims at influencing the technical or mental capability of the adversary to wage war. Information warfare can be divided into information technology warfare and psychological warfare.”13

Looked at from the Finnish perspective, Russia’s use of information warfare falls into the category of “normal” confrontational international politics or traditional statecraft in a situation where a great power uses all means at its disposal to achieve its vital security goals. After all, relations between the West and Russia have been confrontational since early 2014—if not earlier. Anyhow, it is easy to see the extensive and wide-ranging use of information by Russia to try and advance its interests. It is worth remembering that Russia is playing a bad hand resorting to every opportunity—and almost any means short of war—to gain status and respect and other vital national security goals. However, the long-term trends in the Russian economy, innovations, demographics, and investments mean that Russia will need to play its bad hand for a long time. The ongoing war in Ukraine accentuates this fact and is likely to lead in the further decline of Russia’s power.

Even if there was a lot of Western media frenzy about Russian information warfare and fake news for several years after Crimea, it is hard to see any real positive outcomes that Russia has achieved (from its perspective) with its information tools—at least in Finland. Russia’s position has become even weaker with the onset of its aggression against Ukraine in February 2022.

Many factors provide clues to why Russia’s information tools have had practically zero effect in Finland. One has to do with the high standard of education provided to all children and young adults regardless of their socioeconomic standing. The 2010 security strategy for society explains—under the strategic task of “education” for which the Ministry of Education and Culture is the lead agent—the “development of education will take into account the possibilities of conveying information on threats and preparedness by means of civic education.”14 Thus, even if social media is becoming important for younger generations, well-educated, media-literate youngsters recognize the pitfalls and dangers inherent in the social media as well as conventional media realms. If there is any generation that knows the pitfalls of fake news and social media trolling, it is the one that has lived much of its life with this phenomenon.

The second and related factor, which has inoculated Finnish society against information warfare, is the fact that the society is not fractured—politically, socially, or economically. The “Nordic welfare state system” takes care of those not able to get along on their own. Providing everyone a stake in society—getting everyone aboard—is a key to national unity. Unemployment services, sufficient health care for everyone, and good education are the best long-term policies for national unity and against information warfare. Running after fake news and false content in the media space and trying to correct it is a huge effort that fractures societies and fails to address the real problem. Policies that keep society unified, or at least not overtly fractured, provide resilience against information manipulation and fake news. As the 2010 Security Strategy for Society notes:

[t]he population’s income security and capability to function refers to society’s capability to provide comprehensive social security and social and healthcare services. These prevent social exclusion, promote harmony in society and the population’s independent coping and functional capacity. This entirety includes social insurance, social benefits, social and health care services, protection of the health of the population and a healthy environment.15

Information manipulation and information warfare are a scourge for already divided societies. Finland is not one of those. Reid Standish eloquently expressed the Finnish strengths against information warfare in his 2017 article “Why Is Finland Able to Fend Off Putin’s Information War?” published in Foreign Policy. Standish writes, “unlike its neighbors, Helsinki reckons it has the tools to effectively resist any information attack from its eastern neighbor. Finnish officials believe their country’s strong public education system, long history of balancing Russia, and a comprehensive government strategy allow it to deflect coordinated propaganda and disinformation.”16

General conscription is also a major factor reinforcing the strength of Finnish society. More than 70 percent of the male population spends between 6 months and 1 year in the military. Almost a million men, and nowadays also women, are part of the Finnish Defence Forces (FDF) reserves—prepared to defend their homes and the entire country by the force of arms—at the peril of their own lives if necessary. In addition to providing a required manpower pool of resources to the wartime defense forces, general conscription strengthens the entire society and its resilience during crises. Having a purpose in the society—and being ready to sacrifice time and effort—is a key unifying element. Practically every household in Finland has one or several citizen-soldiers in their midst.

Finally, national narratives are sticky in nature. In most cases, they do not transform quickly or easily. Narratives are cultural constructs—inter-subjective facts—that cannot be manipulated instrumentally based on the demands of the day. Therefore, I argue that if there is one domain where Russia’s actions have been particularly unsuccessful, it is the information domain. Despite the multitude of propositions concerning Russia’s information warfare capabilities, we should ask: Which Western narrative has Russia been able to change since the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and proxy war in Eastern Ukraine? Indeed, the West has united against Russia since 2014. In fact, there has been only one strategic narrative that Russia has been able to change within the West in recent years. Before 2014, Russia was regarded as a partner to be engaged and cooperated with. The above-mentioned approach changed significantly during the first half of 2014. The Western narrative on Russia that had developed and matured over almost 25 years changed surprisingly quickly. The role of Russia, from a Western point of view, changed from a partner to an adversary—even an enemy. This trend was reinforced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The narrative power of Russia has not been able to change the strategic framework of Western states regarding Ukraine, Syria, or Libya. Rather, the multitude of Russian attempts to change Western narratives has caused a massive setback: anything and everything Putin’s Russia says or does today is interpreted from a highly critical perspective. In the words of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, “We cannot trust Russia. We should never trust Russia.”17

Finnish soldiers taking the Finnish Defence Forces military oath. Image by: Karri Huhtanen (Wikimedia Commons). August
26, 2005

Military Defense

As argued above, the role (or issues) of diplomacy underwent a process of change during the decades of the post–Cold War era. As the level of direct politico-military threats against Finland subsided since the early 1990s, diplomacy became less focused on alleviating high-end threats to Finland’s independence and room of maneuver in international politics. Rather, diplomatic efforts became associated more with engaging and even “changing” Russia toward a path of democracy and dealing with other lower-scale threats against Finnish society and state structures. These new threats were many—from global questions on human rights and ecological or environmental security to more concrete issues related to, for example, pollution in the Baltic Sea region.

It is noteworthy that even though Finland (and all other states) faced a rather benign world in the 1990s and after, the Finnish position on military preparedness did not change significantly. Due to the Russia’s enormous military capacity—even during its most difficult years in the 1990s Russia’s military capability was staggering—for Finland the long-term military situation did not change dramatically. Russia’s political motivations and intentions toward Finland may have modified during the 1990s, but its existing military capability remained threatening.

Thus, after the Cold War, Finland never dropped the ball on matters related to military deterrence or defense. Even though there have been several rounds of adjusting peace time (and wartime) defense forces to the demands of the security environment and economic austerity measures, the one and only sizing construct for the Finnish Defence Forces has been the ability to defend 100 percent of Finland’s territory and society against external military threats.

While most European states implemented fundamental transformations of their armed forces in the wake of the Cold War—moving from large-scale warfighting capability toward small all-volunteer forces optimized for multinational expeditionary operations in the name of stability operations, military crisis management, or counterinsurgency warfare—the Finnish approach to defense changed little. Being situated next to a military great power (Russia), the logic for military defense did not change in the early 1990s, even when the Soviet Union collapsed. Though the Western framework for international security changed remarkably in the 1990s and after, Finland continued to procure main battle tanks (by the hundreds), multiple launch rocket systems, fighter interceptors, ground-based air defense missile systems, and other military systems required by a defensive “big war approach.” The guiding principle in the military defense realm has been the long-term approach needed to maintain and develop military capability: quick U-turns are not possible. Military transformation takes about 30 years. Getting rid of existing capabilities is possible in a few years—building new ones takes years and decades.18

The Bear and the Porcupine

Today, as during the Cold War, the Finnish defense system is based on the principle that “even the biggest bear will not eat a porcupine.” It is not about matching the level of military capability around Finland’s vicinity; it is about making any potential military operation against Finland so costly that even attempting it does not seem an attractive option. Increasing international cooperation in the field of defense—with Sweden, for example—supports this logic.

An essential aspect and a constitutive element of defense capability is citizens’ will to defend the country. Every effort is made to ensure this will remains high. More than 70 percent of the adult population agrees that Finland should be defended militarily against an attack in all situations, even those in which success is not certain. In addition, the Advisory Board for Defence Information noted in its 2017 bulletins and reports that “[e]ight out of ten or 81 per cent support the current conscription system in Finland. Nine per cent are in favor of abolishing general conscription and instituting professional armed forces. Conscription is seen as the basis for Finland’s defence system. Two out of three support the current conscription system as Finland’s defence solution.”19 This level is the highest level in Europe and one of the highest levels in the world. As a 2015 Gallup International’s global survey concluded, “61% of those polled across 64 countries would be willing to fight for their country, while 27% would not. However, there are significant variations by region. Willingness to is lowest in Western Europe (25%).”20

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has strengthened the Finnish determination to maintain and develop credible military and other means of deterrence. The government reacted quickly to the war by augmenting defense expenditures to enhance FDF military capabilities and increase munition stockpiles. Additional resources were also allocated for other defense costs, including adding to the number of FDF personnel and increasing reservists’ refresher training.

Economy, Infrastructure, and Security of Supply

Today’s societies are becoming more complex and vulnerable to many kinds of disruptions. People, businesses, and authorities from local to the state levels have an interest and a stake in making sure that future disruptions will not wreak havoc on the functioning of peoples’ daily lives, the prospects of maintaining economic activity, or governing society in different domains.

Securing the functioning of the economy and infrastructure as well as being prepared in terms of security of supply are all important for the normal functioning of the society and people’s day-to-day lives. Therefore, the economy, infrastructure, and security of supply are defined as a vital function of society to be safeguarded.

Economic defense contains many layers, domains, and perspectives. First, on the societal level, it is of utmost importance that all citizens can make ends meet. The relevance to security of policies related to this is not self-evident in most cases. But as has already been argued above, many societal phenomena have links to national security and resilience. In the Finnish case, progressive taxation, redistribution of income, and social benefits form a totality which has important ramifications for the long-term stability of society and thus societal security. They all, in toto, provide possibilities to counter the centrifugal forces related to income inequality, societal alienation, and social exclusion. Educated people with jobs and possibilities for a decent life have few or no incentives for anti-societal behavior. This is particularly true when peoples’ absolute welfare is related to a sense of justice and the just distribution of wealth and welfare within society.

The second layer of economic tools related to societal security is related to a balanced and resilient economy that cannot be destabilized either by purposeful attempts or so-called market forces. While governmental regulations and actions have an impact on the economic aspect of security, it is mostly up to enterprises and businesses to secure their own—and society’s—long-term prospects for success. In practical terms this means having an economic base that is sufficiently diverse as not to be severely damaged by fluctuations in international trade and finances. In addition, this means business continuity management, which in today’s inter-connected, globalized political and economic spaces is in the self-interest of businesses as they strive to keep afloat and to make a profit. Within the economic domain, the Finnish comprehensive security model is based on the managed linkage between societal resilience and continuity management within the business community.

A third layer of the economic defense of societal security is the security of supply. According to the National Security Supply Agency, “security of supply refers to society’s ability to maintain the basic economic functions required for ensuring people’s livelihood, the overall functioning and safety of society, and the material preconditions for military defence in the event of serious disruptions and emergencies.”21 The already noted concept of business continuity management is directly linked to security of supply but does not cover all aspects of it. In the case of Finland, the decades’ long tradition of total defense has always emphasized—among other things—securing critical domains within the society and the economy through policies and actions related to security of supply. For many decades the National Emergency Supply Agency has planned, supervised, and executed policies related to this.

Again, according to the National Security Supply Agency,

“Traditionally, security of supply has meant ensuring the supply of materials, such as grain. Goods and materials vital to the functioning of society are stockpiled to secure the well-being of the population and the functioning of the economy against major crises or serious disruptions affecting availability or supply.”22

These old school security of supply actions are still important today considering that during crises the continuous flow of goods and services to Finland can become difficult or even impossible. About 80 percent of imports to Finland arrive as sea freight and depend on safe access to the Baltic Sea. This fact alone also highlights the need for (and execution of) international cooperation on security of supply.

Finnish soldiers taking the Finnish Defence Forces military oath. Image by: Karri Huhtanen (Wikimedia Commons).
August 26, 2005

Legal Issues

If there is one element of the Finnish comprehensive security model that has been invigorated since 2014, it is legislation and legal issues. Although the cooperative model of connecting authorities, business life, and the third sector into collective planning, preparations, and exercises for securing society in diverse threat scenarios has existed for decades, Russia’s aggressive behavior since early 2014 has energized different actors into taking crisis preparations more seriously.

Legislation is an important resource for authorities in meeting the required state of proficiency and readiness against potential threats. Within democracies, the line between civil liberties on the one hand and emergency powers of authorities on the other is always closely followed and administered. This is also the case in Finland. But to be able to maintain the vital functions of society even during crises, it is of utmost importance that different government agencies have clear pre-determined and pre-planned mandates to operate in a wide range of circumstances. Competent authorities must be empowered with sufficient tools at their disposal. This is a central role of law within the Finnish comprehensive security model.

Much of the focus on legislation concerning times of crises is on the Emergency Powers Act (2011), which defines under what conditions emergency powers can be used by whom and how. In addition to the Emergency Powers Act, the State of Defence Act provides additional legal guidelines for situations in which the country faces a military threat. Together these two acts provide the foundation for organizing defense (widely conceptualized) “left of bang,” “during bang,” and “after bang.” These acts stipulate a variety of tools that can be used (when deemed necessary) to manage threats. These tools include, to name just a few, such powers that the government may:

  • regulate the production and supply of goods and construction work
  • supervise and regulate wages and salaries in public and private service relationships
  • supervise and regulate transport and traffic, issue orders on the use of means of transport
  • introduce compulsory manpower placement to procure labor
  • issue orders on the extraction of minerals and peat and on the procurement of lumber by cutting
  • issue decrees on the requisitioning of buildings and premises; and transport, rescue, firefighting, clearance, first aid and communications equipment, computers, and other supplies indispensable for the performance of official duties or of civil defense
  • entitle the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Transport and Communications to temporarily requisition real estate, buildings, and premises necessary for the raising of defensive readiness.

Since 2014, several new aspects of society’s comprehensive security have been included in the legislation process. For example, reservists (in the FDF wartime reserves, approximately 900,000 men and women) may be called upon on military readiness grounds for military refresher training without delay. In addition, giving (and receiving) international military assistance has been codified into the law on the FDF as one of the four core tasks that it must be able to perform. Also, at this time (late 2022), several pieces of legislation, which are important for the comprehensive security of society, are in Parliament for finalization: laws concerning civilian and military intelligence and a decree covering the possibilities for Finnish security agencies to access land registries and reclaim properties from suspicious buyers from countries outside the European Union and the European Economic Area. Concerning the decrees on intelligence, “The purpose would be to collect vital information to protect national security against serious international threats, military or civilian in nature. Intelligence work would ensure that the senior government leadership is able to base its decisionmaking on timely and reliable information and that the competent authorities are able to take measures to combat threats.”23 This would include collection of information from individuals and information systems.

A well-functioning legal system with appropriate legislation in place, which 1) obligates authorities to plan and prepare for different kinds of crisis situations, and 2) facilitates different operations during crises is a key element of combating threats left of bang and, in the unfortunate situation where active hostilities against Finland have commenced. Today—after almost 9 years of the Western discourses on Russian hybrid warfare and gray zone activities—Finland has a rather robust corpus of preparedness and readiness legislation in place. However, the evolution of the threat must be analyzed constantly. To guarantee national security over the long term, the culture of competent security authorities being facilitated (rather than constrained) by legislation is essential. Most potential future crises will begin with a degree of surprise. It is up to the authorities to prepare for surprises and develop resilience and a robust capability to reconstitute their operational capability even in situations that are characterized by surprise, degraded situational awareness, and uncertain command and control mechanisms. When well prepared, legislation can be part of the solution to these above-mentioned problems rather than a constraining factor that prevents authorities from tackling threats in a timely manner.

Final Thoughts

A key aspect of the Finnish comprehensive security model, and its application to threats left of bang, is the long tradition of interagency cooperation and trust among various security actors—be they government authorities, businesses, or third-sector actors. This long tradition has developed, matured, and settled into a network of relevant actors planning, preparing against, and exercising to tackle different threat scenarios during normal times. Although the current Finnish comprehensive security model has been in the making explicitly during the last two decades, its roots are in the threat-permeated Cold War era and the national cooperation needed to address the serious politico-economic-military-cultural threats posed by the bipolar international system and particularly by the Soviet Union. Thus, in today’s world, we really need a system of total defense—or a comprehensive security model—that helps to prevent threats from emerging and responds to those threats that do emerge.

With respect to military defense, Finland did not drop the ball when the Cold War ended. This is the main reason why the FDF does not need to start a process to rebuild military capability; that capability was never lost. What the FDF must do, however, is raise the level of ambition in the long-term development of defense capability. This is even more pressing in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has changed the European security environment in a brutal way. Achieving this greater defense ambition is more a process of “fine-tuning” the defense system rather than rebuilding it.

Many of the threatening trends and actions in today’s international system are not new per se. Rather, they are new when looked at from the Western perspective on security that developed and matured between 1989/1991–2014. From a Finnish perspective the return of geopolitics and the emergence of hybrid threats are as much the old normal as they are a new normal. Many facets of these new hybrid threats are familiar when viewed from a perspective of great power politics, conflictual international politics, or traditional statecraft. Concepts aside, what counts is the true ability to counter contemporary and emerging threats to society and state structures. After some 25 years of the benign post–Cold War era, today we face an increasingly tense international situation with the return of state-based (even existential) threats in Europe and the Baltic Sea region. Being prepared to tackle a wide variety of security threats is an essential aspect of the early 21st century security and defense policy. Being prepared requires interagency cooperation, a culture of trust between different actors, and a sufficient level or resources to all security actors. The days of more with less are over. PRISM


1 Cf. Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver, Jaap de Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998).

2 Mark Galeotti, “I Am Sorry for Creating ‘the Gerasimov Doctrine,’” Foreign Policy, March 5, 2018, available at <>.

3 Jyri Raitasalo, “Hybrid Warfare: Where’s the Beef?” War on the Rocks, April 23, 2015, available at <>.

4 Michael J. Mazarr, “Struggle in the Gray Zone and World Order,” War on the Rocks, December 22, 2015, available at <>. Mazarr notes, among other things, “Much of what goes by the name gray zone today—economic coercion, fifth column activities, clandestine disruption and sabotage, and information operations or propaganda—merely reflects what states have been doing for centuries to advance their interests in a competitive international system.”

5 John Herrman, “If Everything Can Be ‘Weaponized,’ What Should We Fear?” New York Times, March 14, 2017, available at <>.

6 Joel Garreau, “Weaponized Narrative Is the New Battlespace,” Defense One, January 3, 2017, available at <>.

7 Prime Minister’s Office, Finnish Security and Defence Policy 2001: Report by the Government to Parliament on 13 June 2001 (Helsinki: 2001), 73–74, available at <>.

8 Ibid., 74.

9 Prime Minister’s Office, Security Strategy for Society—Government Resolution 16.12.2010 (Helsinki: Ministry of Defence, 2010), 14.

10 Prime Minister’s Office, Finnish Security and Defence Policy 2001, p. 74.

11 Ibid., 28.

12 Ibid., 12, 26.

13 Ibid., 98.

14 Prime Minister’s Office, Security Strategy for Society, 52.

15 Ibid., 46.

16 Reid Standish, “Why Is Finland Able to Fend Off Putin’s Information War?” Foreign Policy, March 1, 2017, available at <>.

17 Quoted in Jyri Raitasalo, “Western Societies Shouldn’t Buy Into the Russia Hype,” The National Interest, April 9, 2017, available at <>.

18 Jyri Raitasalo, “Big War Is Back,” The National Interest, September 8, 2018, available at <>.

19 The Advisory Board For Defence Information, Finns’ Opinions On Foreign and Security Policy, National Defence and Security (Helsinki: Ministry of Defence, 2017), 8, available at <>.

20 “WIN/Gallup International’s Global Survey Shows Three in Five Willing to Fight for Their Country,” Gallup International, May 7, 2015, available at <>.

21 The New Normal of Security Supply (Helsinki: National Emergency Supply Agency, 2020). Emphasis added. <>

22 Security and Supply in Finland: Methods and Tools (Helsinki: National Security Supply Agency, 2022). <>

23 Guidelines for Developing Finnish Intelligence Legislation—Working Group Report, unofficial translation (Helsinki: Ministry of Defence, 2015), available at <>.