Brigadier General Pekka Toveri held a speech on the Finnish Defence Forces Flag Day celebration.
Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
There is a well know saying in Finland that says more or less “to talk is silver, being silent is gold”. Unfortunately for you, that doesn't mean that I wouldn't give a speech. But I promise to be brief.
We are celebrating this year the 100th Birthday of the Finnish Defence Forces. The actual birthday is 25th of January 1917, when it was decided to create a Defence Force to upkeep law and order and defend the newly independent nation.
The year 1942 it was decided to move the Defence Forces Flagday to 4th of June, which if the birthday of Marshall of Finland, Gustaf Mannerheim. This was done to honor Marshall Mannerheim, who was the Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces during all the four wars that we fought last century. Considering the January weather in Finland, that was a very wise decision.
Finnish Defence Forces were created to defend the country, its democratic rule and people, and it managed to do that successfully through four wars during the last century. Especially during the Second World War the Defence Forces faced great challenge defending our country against the Soviet Union during the Winter War from 1939 to 1940 and Continuation War from 1941 to 1944.
Almost 95,000 Finnish men and women who served in the Defence Forces lost their lives defending the country. For a small country which had that time population of only 3.5 million, it was a huge sacrifice. If we compare it to the casualties of the United States during the Second World War, our losses were ten times bigger. On the other hand, Finland remained free, was never occupied and kept its democratic rule. Our civilian losses were also among the smallest among the warfighting countries, only less than two thousand civilians died because of enemy action during those heavy years.
The fact that Defence Forces managed to fulfill its task successfully, is probably also one reason why we are successful also today. Finland is according to several international studies the most stable and resilient society in the world. It is also according to many studies one of the best places to live with one of the happiest people in the world. A fact that Finns tend to deny when asked about it.
Nevertheless, it makes Finland a place worth defending which makes the Defence Forces task much easier. The situation in the country reflects for example to the willingness to defend the country, which is among our population the highest in Europe. Almost 80% of the people are ready to defend the country in all circumstances. We are also the most trusted armed force in the EU. 95% of Finns trust the Defence Forces.
The biggest reason for the Defence Forces success is, that Finland's Defence has always depended on its people. Our army has always been a conscript and reservist force supported by a small cadre of professional officers, NCO's and civilians. The defence of Finland is a joint venture, to which everybody participates. Finland doesn't have a Defence Force, Finland is a Defence Force. Around 76% of male population serve as conscripts and around 3% of females on voluntary bases. Out of the population of 5.5 million people, 1.2 million belongs to our reserve or auxiliary reserve. From that pool around 300,000 are placed to wartime troops. Only around 4% of our wartime forces are professional military, the rest are conscripts and reservists.
We have also managed to keep up a considerable defence capability. With our big reserves and high tech spearhead capabilities like F-18 Hornet, JASSM missiles, GMLRS rocket systems, Leopard 2A6 main battle tanks etc. we punch well above our weight among the European nations. Our forces are also well trained which has been proven during numerous international exercises and international crises management operations.
But even though we are in good condition to defend the country, we know very well, that we can't defend Finland alone. We couldn't do it during the last century either. During the Independence War in 1918, support from the Imperial German Army was very important. During the Winter War Sweden provided us with humanitarian and military support, and pressure from the United Kingdom and France was central in forcing Josef Stalin to make peace with Finland. During the Continuation War we received substantial support from Germany, and in the end of war United States had a great diplomatic role in pressuring the Soviet Union to accept a peace that safeguarded Finnish Independence after the war.
The situation is not much different today. Finland is a vulnerable modern high tech society which depends on foreign trade and support of other countries in times of crises. Because of that, international cooperation with our partners is in a big role when we build our defence capabilities. Our forces participate annually in around 80 international exercises both abroad and in Finland. On these video clips on the walls, you can see Finnish troops exercising together with US Army and US Marine Corps Forces during the annual Arrow mechanized exercise in western Finland. Fighting shoulder to shoulder as General Milley, the Chief of Staff of US Army likes to say. We participate also in material procurement cooperation and send troops to many international crises management operations especially in the Middle East and Africa.
Our most important partners in this cooperation are United States, Sweden, our Nordic neighbors plus other EU and NATO-countries. The importance of this cooperation is also reflected in the law. According to the Finnish law, Defence Forces used to have three tasks. To defend the country, its democratic system and people, support other authorities in peacetime crises to and to participate in the international crises management operations. To those tasks our Parliament added recently the fourth task, to be prepared to receive military support from other countries, and also to be prepared to give military assistance to other countries if so needed.
Ladies and Gentlemen. Finnish Defence Forces are 100-year-young force, which is currently in a great condition and fully capable to fulfill all its tasks. We are also mature enough to acknowledge, that even if we are great, together with our foreign partners and friends we are even greater. This cooperation is crucial especially today when we face a very volatile and unstable security situation in Europe and around the world. I'd like to raise a toast to the Finnish Defence Forces and our great partners and friends.
Defence, Military, Naval and Air Attaché