Two American F-15C Eagle -figther jets, three Finnish F/A-18C Hornet -fighter jets and a German Eurofighter Typhoon -figther jet in the air force practice common lap in Finnish air space on 17th of March 2021.

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The choice concerns the fighter plane for Finland's future air defence. I am not competent to assess which criteria are most important in the selection, performance, or finances. Therefore, it is best to abstain, even if the price tag is something that any layperson can have opinions about.

It is said that Finland's choice of plane type is a choice of the planes that best meet our needs and preferably the type that is most advanced and can be procured within the budget framework set at ten billion. In addition, maintenance costs must also be included in the calculation.

The government will justify the selection with the military's statement and wishes. It will argue that the choice was made solely in the light of these and within as narrow a cost framework as possible. But is it credible to say that only these criteria are the decisive ones?

Whichever provider you choose, the others will be disappointed. Some of them will claim that the decision is politically motivated and that there is a security policy calculation behind it. I believe and hope that they are right, as it would be most worrying if the government and the President let the military alone have the last word. The selection will hardly be perceived as purely technical and apolitical.

The decision will in some places be interpreted as a choice of the preferred security policy direction in where the alternatives are called Sweden, Europe, or the USA. If you mention these three, many are willing to express an opinion: By continuing with American equipment, we get the best technology from an accommodating USA. The good defence cooperation with Sweden would be strengthened with the Gripen and a European option would support the EU's defence efforts, something that President Niinistö has promoted.

In retrospect, no one denies that the Hornet decision of the 1990s also had a security policy signal value, even though the plane's performance was said to be decisive. An American selection today does not have the same meaning; neither Finland, Russia nor the United States are the same countries as then.

We experience how the United States is now steering itself away from Europe towards Asia. Voices are raised that Europe and the EU must put their own house in order and strengthen their own defence skills. How reliable is a US where Trump may return in 2024, something that several well-known analysts predict and fear?

Let us assume that the military recommends the choice of an American plane, with good technical arguments. Then it is up to the Finnish government to carefully analyse the pros and cons and to try to read the security policy trends in the coming years. No easy task and one can only hope that the analysis is done by our best experts and that neither preconceived notions nor party politics would influence the outcome.

Is European solidarity just an illusion, is Sweden-Finland with a common air force a credible player, what is NATO's future? No easy questions and the government hardly want to go public with the conclusions.

In any case, Finland's decision will be part of a broader security policy pattern, whether we like it or not. A decision with consequences, both for us and our continent.

Pär Stenbäck


 

Pär Stenbäck is a former Finnish politician who has been an MP, Minister of Education, and of Foreign Affairs in the years before 1985. For a period of twenty years, he held leading positions in the Red Cross movement, among these as Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Geneva). He is a founding member of ICG and the European Cultural Parliament ECP. He received the honorary title as Minister in 1999. Today he is chairing the New Foreign Policy Society in Finland (NUPS) since 2017. He contributes regularly to news media.