Finland, NATO, and the changing calculus of European defense

Loppi, Finland

In a picturesque pine forest some 60 miles north of Helsinki, members of the Finnish Reservist Association crouch behind a wooden bunker barricade, shooting at torso-shaped targets in a trailer-sized trench, dug out to keep bullets from ricocheting off the vicinity’s ubiquitous granite rock.

It is late afternoon Thursday and these reservists have come from their day jobs, ready to drill in the drizzling rain until 9 p.m. or the ammunition runs out. 

Their training has taken on a new sense of urgency: Just hours before, Finnish leaders announced that their country, which shares an 800-mile border with Russia, intends to join NATO. For the Finnish people, this doesn’t average a retreat from their long tradition of self-preparedness, but it does portend a future with the assistance of formal backup from their neighbors.

Why We Wrote This

As Finland applies to join NATO, with Sweden moving in tandem, Europe’s strategic posture toward Russia is shifting. What isn’t changing is the Finnish people’s devotion to defending their nation and its values.

“This has been a long time coming,” says Antti Kettunen, who served as a peacekeeper in Kosovo, accompanying Finnish officials investigating mass killings carried out by Russian-backed Serbian forces. “Now NATO is the only way to go.”

Less than three months ago, this was not the prevailing view. sustain among Finns for joining the alliance hovered at 20%. But that figure skyrocketed nearly overnight to 76% – along with need for military training – after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

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