Finland’s new defence chief says country likely to reduce participation in international drills

Timo Kivinen (left), then Chief of Defence Command Finland, shows a sniper’s rifle to President of Poland Andrzej Duda (center) and President of Finland Sauli Niinisto as they meet Finnish conscripts in the Santahamina military base in Helsinki, Finland, on October 25, 2017. Kivinen began his stewardship as Finland’s Defence Forces Commander Wednesday. (Jussi Nukari/AFP/Getty Images)
New Defence Forces Commander Timo Kivinen began his stewardship of Finland’s defence forces on Thursday after being formally appointed to the position by President Sauli Niinistö on Wednesday.

During his first press conference as defence chief on Thursday, the 59-year-old said that international defence cooperation should be cost-effective while serving the advancement of national defence capability.

Kivinen said that Finland would likely scale back participation in international exercises in the future.

“We have had more exercises in recent years. We have identified the exercises that best serve us, so the number of drills will not increase, but will likely go in the other direction,” Kivinen declared.

The former chief of defence command noted that there had been an increase in military activity near Finland, which began following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. He said that many Baltic States had reacted to the development by increasing their defence budgets.

“It’s important that Finland continues to have a strong defence capability and an understanding of the development of military technology,” Kivinen commented.

Praise for Finnish-Swedish partnership

According to Kivinen, Finland’s defence forces must be prepared to combat different hybrid threats that could also target non-military sectors, such as public administration.

“The use of artificial intelligence, automation and the development of sensor technology will accelerate the speed of military operations. Finland must stay abreast of those developments,” he urged.

Swedish defence forces commander Micael Bydén was present at an exchange review on Wednesday, in which outgoing defence chief Jarmo Lindberg passed the baton to Kivinen. The new chief of defence commended military cooperation with Sweden.

“Sweden is our closest partner in many respects. In 2014 none of us would have believed everything that we have accomplished over the past five years.”

Major acquisitions ahead
A Finnish Air Force F/A-18 Hornet fighter participates in the Arctic Challenge Exercise 2015 (ACE15) in Rovaniemi, Finland May 27, 2015. In 2021, Finland will have to decide which aircraft will replace its aging fleet of fighter jets. (Kaisa Siren/Lehtikuva/Reuters)

Kivinen will take the lead on major acquisitions of defence materiel, including an overhaul of the country’s ageing fleet of fighter jets. In 2021, Finland will have to decide which model to purchase to replace the current Hornet aicraft.

So far five models are vying for consideration in a deal whose value has been estimated at between seven and 10 billion euros.

Kivinen described the project as the biggest single decision of his term as commander; one that will influence the performance of the defence forces for years to come. He will also preside over the acquisition of new gear for the Navy.

Debate on military service reforms welcome

According to Kivinen, the defence forces are prepared to make changes to the current system of military service while paying attention to gender equality.

“Surveys indicate that the present support has solid national support. However compulsory military service has an established status in society so it’s good to discuss it,” he noted.

The defence top brass said that women performing military service had contributed a great deal to the defence forces. In July, a record of nearly 600 women took up voluntary military service.

Before his appointment as defence force commander, Kivinen served for two years as the head of Finland’s defence command. He spent much of his career in the army but also has international experience.

He has been assigned to peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and worked as a military attaché in Hungary, Ukraine and Austria. He has also studied in the USA and the UK. Kivinen and his spouse have four children. He is keen on physical fitness and names orienteering as his favourite pastime.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Between Militarization and Disarmament: Constructing Peace in the Arctic, Blog by Heather Exner-Pirot

Finland: Swedish soldiers take part in Finnish naval exercise, Radio Sweden

Iceland: Iceland & UK sign agreement to boost security, defence cooperation, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: NATO’s Arctic dilemma: Two visions of the Arctic collide as NATO and Russia flex muscles, Eye on the Arctic special report

Russia: Russian navy boosting armament on northwestern bases, satellite images show, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden wants to rebuild its “total defence” system, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. ups rhetoric in Arctic, but not its game, Cryopolitics Blog

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