Finland ramping up preparations for NATO accession
Finland has plotted a clear NATO course, with pro-alliance National Coalition Party leader Petteri Orpo recently appointed chair of the Eduskunta Defense Committee. The Finnish media is tallying up the cost of joining NATO that is estimated as modest.
Members of the Eduskunta Defense Committee visited Sweden on Thursday where their message was that Finland's NATO accession is very nearly a done deal. The Finnish parliament also decided to make changes to the composition of the committee on Thursday. The National Coalition Party leader Petteri Orpo will chair the committee in place of the late Ilkka Kanerva.
Finnish political observers said it is rare for a party leader to head a parliamentary committee. National Coalition Party whip Kai Mykkänen explained that the aim of the move is to bring the party's influence to bear to successfully conclude the NATO accession.
The coalition party has been supporting Finland's NATO membership since 2006.
At the same time, former True Finns member Ano Turtiainen will leave the committee as a long-time opponent of Finland joining NATO.
The Finns have also calculated how much joining the alliance will cost. Defense experts told daily Helsingin Sanomat that the additional cost in the defense budget would be 1-1.5 percent. With this year's national defense budget at over €5 billion, joining NATO would require just €50-75 million.
NATO allies have agreed to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense. Finland's defense spending comes in at 1.96 percent of GDP and is set to grow in the coming years, with ship and aircraft procurements the reason. These tenders will continue to affect the defense budget until 2031.
NATO calculates defense spending differently from Finland, including military pensions, special operations' salary expenses and part of border guard expenses. The Finnish finance ministry estimates that adding these expenses to defense spending would immediately boost its share in GDP by 0.2 percent.
Daily Kauppalehti writes in its editorial that a member state's expenses consist of direct expenses, such as participating in the joint NATO budget and sending representatives to its military structures. There is no need for new NATO infrastructure, such as bases, the paper concludes.
However, indirect costs must also be taken into account. For example, strained relations with Russia following Finland's NATO accession. Russia has thrown around several threats, with an analysis presented to the Eduskunta finding that the country should take measures against extensive influence activities and count on heightened tensions on the border with Russia.
Finland's defensive capacity is largely based on a considerable reserve and conscription that is cheaper than maintaining a professional force of similar capacity. Very few NATO countries spend so little of their defense budget on salaries as Finland.
Helsingin Sanomat gives the example of Portugal that spends 64 percent of its defense budget on wages, while Finland only spends 32 percent.
Experts estimate that between 80-100 additional staff need to be sent to NATO structures, adding that joining NATO would open up new career opportunities for Finnish officers that could affect staffing needs, as might participation in NATO missions.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski