HELSINKI – Top National Guard officials recently visited Finland as part of a larger Nordic itinerary to strengthen the Guard’s security cooperation in the region.
The Guards Corps has been working with Finland for more than 20 years. The framework for a deeper partnership is already in place, General Daniel Hokansson, head of the National Security Agency, told Finnish defense officials during his second visit to the Nordic country this year.
“Finland has a rich history, strong military power and strategic importance,” Hokansson said. “We congratulate Finland on becoming NATO’s newest member and look forward to continuing to work together to learn from each other and increase our readiness.”
During his visit, Håkansson met with Douglas Hickey, the US ambassador to Finland. Esa Pulkinen, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence. General Timo Kivinen, Chief of Defense of Finland. Lieutenant General Vesa Virtanen, Chief of Staff of the Finnish Defense Forces. Leaders and soldiers of the Karelia Brigade and Jaeger Brigade of the Finnish Army, as well as members of the South-Eastern Border Guard District of Finland.
“The National Guard is an important partner for us,” Virtanen said. “It has significant execution capabilities and forces, and we are happy to practice and strengthen cooperation.
“NATO membership and bilateral cooperation are not mutually exclusive,” he said. “Bilateral defense cooperation can effectively support NATO’s collective defense, strengthen the implementation capabilities of both sides, and prevent the occurrence of crises.”
The United States established diplomatic relations with Finland in 1919, following Finland’s declaration of independence from the Russian Empire. Russian culture and historical influence are still evident here.
Finland’s support for Ukraine is evident from the many Ukrainian flags flying over Helsinki and from the defense aid package Finland sent to Kiev.
In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland and war broke out between the Finnish army and the much larger Red Army.
The “Winter War” lasted longer than many expected, including Russia. A quick Soviet victory was thwarted by Finland’s strong and resilient military, but after nearly four months of fighting, the country stipulated that Finland would cede 11% of its territory to the Soviet Union, including the strategic Isthmus of Karelia. A peace treaty was concluded.
For Finns, the similarities between 1939 and 2022 were striking. A larger state and military force was trying to bring its neighbors under its control.
Russia’s recent attempt to conquer Ukraine prompted Finnish leaders to reconsider and eventually revise their long-standing policy of neutrality. In April, Finland joined NATO as the 31st member state.
Afterwards, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said: “The era of military non-alignment in Finland is over. A new era begins.”
Before Russia invaded Ukraine, one in four Finns supported Ukraine’s membership in NATO. After the invasion, three out of four Finns supported participation.
Cooperation between NATO and Finland began in 1994 when Helsinki joined the Peace Partnership Program. Around that time, Finland strengthened its air force with American-made fighter jets and began bilateral relations with the United States.
Over the following decades, Finland became one of NATO’s most active partners and a valuable contributor to Alliance activities, including NATO-led operations and missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Also, in the early 1990s, the Pentagon was looking for ways to help former Soviet states emerging from the Iron Curtain. The National Guard was selected to administer the initial National Partnership Program as a means of supporting the development of the militaries of these newly independent nations. The California Guard played against Ukraine in 1993 as one of the program’s charter brackets.
The California National Guard has a close personal relationship with the Ukrainian Guard, benefiting Ukraine in its ongoing fight against Russia.
The National Partnership Program currently includes security partnerships between 100 countries and the National Guard of every state, territory, and District of Columbia.
Although not an official SPP association, the Virginia National Guard has been working with members of the Finnish Defense Forces since the early 2000s. In 2001, Finnish troops and the Virginia National Guard were deployed together to Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of NATO’s SFOR-10 (Stabilization Force) Multinational Division Northern Force.
This joint development has now resulted in extensive security cooperation. The Finnish Army and Virginia National Guard have participated together in many training exchanges over the past 20 years.
In recent years, the Guard has collaborated with the Finnish military on cyber exchanges and Arctic training, two areas of increasing importance to the Defense Department and National Guard.
“For us, learning how to survive in the Arctic is very important,” Hokansson said. I think it’s very important to train together and learn from them in this environment. ”
In April, more than 60 Virginia National Guard members participated in Exercise Northern Defense, part of the U.S. Army Europe-Africa-led Exercise Arctic Forge, which focuses on building military capabilities and cooperation in the Arctic.
Held at Finland’s Sodankyla Garrison, north of the Arctic Circle, Guardsmen and active-duty soldiers joined 500 Finnish members who shared their cold-weather expertise and taught them the basics of operating in an arctic environment. trained.
Knowledge flowed both ways.
“we, [traditional, part-time Guard] Troops could be rapidly deployed to overseas bases in the High North, receive specialized theater-specific training, and be able to conduct tactical operations in arctic environments,” said Sidney, commander of 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment. said Maj. Leslie. 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Virginia Guard.
The National Guard and Finland each have strong capabilities in the areas of cybersecurity and defense. In August, the Virginia National Guard hosted a cyber defense exercise to test its cyber response plan. Finnish cyber experts participated in CyberFortress 2.0 in Virginia Beach.
Regarding its air force, Finland is preparing to replace its aging F-18 fighter fleet with F-35 fighters. Helsinki has ordered 64 fifth-generation fighter jets, with initial deployment set for 2026.
Finnish pilots visited the Virginia Guard’s 192nd Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in May to discuss technology and operations.
“The Virginia Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Squadron is leading the U.S. Air Force’s efforts in agile combat employment, an area where we have much to learn from the Finnish Air Force, which operates with an ACE mindset every day. There are a lot of areas,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Lawrence Dietrich, 149th Fighter Squadron commander.
“Furthermore, the 149th has significant experience in joint tactics for fifth-generation fighters, which will help Finland as it procures the F-35 and begins to fly it alongside its existing F-18 fleet. “We can offer our expertise,” he said.
It’s all part of both countries’ commitment to peace, stability, and an international rules-based order.
“We are happy to assist them in any way we can,” Hokanson said. “It’s a two-way street and a mutually beneficial relationship.”
While in Finland’s South-Eastern Border Guard District in Valimaa, the CNGB met with Colonel Mika Litkonen, the commander of the agency that guards part of Finland’s 833-mile border with Russia.
This law enforcement force conducts border surveillance and inspection and maritime search and rescue. Its members receive military training to protect the country’s borders if necessary.
Finland has a long history of incorporating military and non-military aspects of society into a comprehensive security model. Litkonen described the collective condemnation as a “ruthless will to defend Finland.”
Air Force Lt. Col. M. Caitlin Brown contributed to this article