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CIAO DATE: 09/00
Constructing Post-Cold War Military Politics: The Finnish Case in a Strategic Perspective
International Studies Association
41st Annual Convention
Los Angeles, CA
March 14-18, 2000
This paper, based on a forthcoming study, is a condensed effort to approach post-Cold War state military politics from a constructivist (military) strategic perspective. The study arises from a dissatisfaction over mainstream treatment of the military in studies of politics, where ignoring the social and political agency of the military and the multi-tiered conceptualization in terms of power and security in international relations seem to leave out some aspects, how physical violence is politicized in society.
Firstly, I discuss some general opportunities to focus on military force in society from different perspectives. After that, I develop an argument about a specific revised strategic perspective. Finally, I draw some examples of the case of Finland, where a fight over different understandings of military capability and strategic environment result in tensions, which help to form an interpretation of some patterns of military politics.
2 Constructivist Perspectives on Military Politics
Studies concerning military dimension in politics have been closely connected with the weberian understanding of the monopoly of violence in the hands of states, its instrumental character mainly for foreign policies of the state, separation of domestic and international realms, as well as an intimate connection with concepts of power and security. Still often, military issues in international relations are paradigmatically married with realist and rationalist, materialist-based approaches and considered mostly in the context of traditional politico-military security, be it “national” or “international”.
Concepts of power and security, especially if the former is understood as basically materialist terms, seem to emphasize such an understanding of military force. Power and security are contested concepts. As such they are not different from social and political concepts in general 1 . But invoked in the context of the military phenomenon, they are actually already “thick” in terms of social construction and, on the other hand, narrow, if thinking a military dimension in politics. Politicizing issues to have something to do with the military is also much wider than “official” sectoral politics 2 . But the military phenomenon is also wider than security even in a broad sense, incorporating both military and non-military dimensions and the whole array of actors and levels of analysis. Security is only one specific discourse, where the military can be approached. 3
At the same time, new patterns of post-Cold War conflicts posit ‘real’ military action somewhere “out there”, so-called ‘new wars’ 4 are understood diseases caused by enemies with a culture different from o urs, and our military action is just seen as ‘air campaign’, ‘peace operation’ or ‘humanitarian intervention’ advancing a just cause to cure that external disease. This view seems to cover the possibility that ‘old’ wars are still here, but arguments concerning them are dealt with in different contexts and they are given new meanings´, which may take distance from military action understood as an actual use of force.
A constructivist cultural-institutional approach would focus on the issue, how and where different intersubjective norms and practices reproduce or change military action in societies and how they at the same time construct actors themselves. In that approach, a variety of actor-specific understandings over meanings attached to “raw” physical facts in the context of military action is possible. They can be arranged many ways, but still within the context of action labelled as ‘military’. With a help of an institutional-organizational view it can be somewhat clarified, for instance, where expertise has a central importance in using symbolic power and creating trust or mistrust. 5 Military organization and a specific military community in society are two central actors besides other groups, which are able to politicize issues to yield such action. In that ‘official’ representative actors of state are certainly central, but not the only ones.
For that purpose, it is warranted to start from a basic concept of physical violence , since it as an ordering concept enables a wide-ranging scope of enquiry and developing a new concept of military politics after the cold war, such a concept, which instead of trying to fade military issues of being a problem “out there”, may help to unmask and emancipate locating the continuing militarism of also western societies and states. It may also help to somewhat open up the fixation between state and military, which is contingent, in spite of some easily reproducible norms and institutions.
Physical violence consists of deeds 6 like any other social action, but it is easily identifiable within and between different cultures. But it is close to “rubble of construction” 7 . Military violence is already a specifically constructed collective form of it, involving necessarily, some culture and norms accordingly, where it can be signified differently from understandings of some other group and can become a part of identity for them. For instance, military organization tends to give military violence a central locus in its culture, and that locus is different from others, where violence may have some relevance.
My preliminary concept of military politics incorporates different discourses of military violence and military issues. Such discourses are conducted over the border &-; or ‘frontier’ 8 , should I say – and inside the society. Military politics of a state is a multi-dimensional process of articulating issues to be military or non-military, and its result is continuously changing. Preliminarily, military politics is centrally about politicizing physical violence as military. It is politics emerging in societal aspects and concerning organizing, reproducing and using military force as a social institution. Clearly, this understanding requires a focus on the military organization itself as an actor, which also in liberal-democratic states is able to politicize issues, even if it normally stays out of controversies among political parties or societal formal governance.
3 A Strategic Perspective
There are several candidates for perspectives on military politics, like security and civil-military relations. They can be understood as interrelated but separable aspects of military discourse in society. In this paper, I will focus only on one of them, that is a specific strategic perspective, since it is often been presented in the context of the state and its military 9 . It also offers a kind of basic view over military violence, but cannot tell the whole story of military politics and maybe less of international relations. Strategy is about security, and there especially state military security, but I don’t think security is at the core of strategy. This assumption is different from mainstream approaches of international relations, where security has been traditionally seen as a core of strategic or even ’security’ studies. But that requires little elaboration of both concepts of strategy and Strategic Studies as a discipline.
I argue, that traditional understandings of strategy and the history of Strategic Studies nowadays contribute to conceal the military dimension of international relations, but they don’t necessarily help to shatter the power vested within states and create trust between and within them. Strategy needs to be specified to approach military politics.
The concept of strategy has been widened different ways since the beginning of 19th century 10 . It has been enlarged totally outside military violence or threatening by it, or understood only as a form of interdependent bargaining, like at its simplest in game-theory. On the other hand, it has been widened to be ’grand strategy’ or ’total strategy’, but kept within confines of international politics 11 . An offshoot of this course is the use of strategy to model development of international relations but based on realism. Finally, there is a widening, where strategy is understood to describe the military dimension of all international relations.
The first widening largely empties the concept of its usefulness in International Relations. As far as ’strategy’ is used in contexts like management of any organizations, or just in any ”rational” calculation of options, it is not very suitable for thinking over politics.
The second widening reflects more the history of Strategic Studies. The widening discussion has essentially to do with a reduction of open use of military force in favor of its deterrent use. ’Grand strategy’ has also been understood as a course of state action, with efforts to lift it ”above” politics, a grand design. There an aggregated power of state has been underlined, but at the same time the still force-centered nature of the concept of strategy concealed, since the survival of state ultimately by military force has been still taken as the most important goal.
A new widening is a ’post-realist’ account presented by Beer and Hariman. 12 They use a three-tiered model of strategy when advocating ”the rhetorical turn in international relations” and reorganize the strategic discourse without – as they say – rejecting ”the realist’s conventional association of strategic thinking with military action”. In their model, the most primitive level of strategic analysis is labelled competition based on a reactivity logic, more developed on the self-control of the strategic actor and the most developed on an application of Kritik as presented in Clausewitz’s theory 13 , where the strategist is urged to go beyond fact-finding and causal analyses. The strategist moves into an interpretative mode and ”recognizes that different languages offer different selections of reality, different programs for attributing meaning, and different means for motivating reaction”. Beer and Hariman claim to have gone further than such a grand strategy, where political power has been reduced into coercive action. The third level as a developmental stage in strategic analysis, ”post-realism”, is seen to define strategic thinking ”more a rhetorical than a military art”. Interesting as it is, this account has been welcomed by scholars of firm clausewitzian tradition as a promising opportunity for a new synthesis enhancing perspectives of classical realism 14 .
Without here challenging this claim and some bridging qualities of the post-realist understanding of international relations, from the perspective of this paper ’the strategic thinking’ in the model does not seem to bring a totally new way to consider the problem of military violence. On the level of military organization, the clausewitzian maxim of individual interpretative judgement and rejection of ”theory” have sustained their position as principles to guide the education and conduct of military leaders throughout the 20th century with all its wars. But it is doubtful, if the situation is constructed in the same way in state action and this means a take-off from simplicity in a narrower military context.
Post-realism does not go deep to consider the possibility, that actors may use their interpretative capabilities to order simplicity, restraint and flexible judgement in front of complexity – ethics included – differently from each other by the help of institutionally-based rules and routines. More important than that is to ask: where and how these different normative and cognitive orders are turned into military issues in state action and international relations. In that sense, strategy in the post-realist sense may work as a framework of international relations, but it is still an enlargement of one mode of thinking, which don’t seem to capture the context-dependent diversity of political violence in international relations.
The final opportunity to reconsider strategy is to specify the concept and return it towards its original meaning but in a new contextualisation. Strategy is more about ’military’ strategy but wider than when connected with security aims of state. 15 It is about one restricted dimension and specific normative structures in international relations, whose defining ’root’ character should be continuously questioned.
Widening of strategy has been also connected with identity struggles of the discipline of Strategic Studies, its Anglo-Saxon and superpower inclination and disputes between practitioners and academics. Scientification and growth of the discipline pushed forward a kind of ”depoliticization” of strategy, which can be understood as a politicized effort to claim, that academic strategy, even when it lead to some choices, was ’unpolitical’ and value-neutral. Later on, these discussions have been developed into post-Cold War domain campaigns between ”proper” delineations of International Relations, International and Critical Security Studies, Strategic Studies etc. 16
If a wide and power-political conception of strategy is sustained, it leads to putting the original violent core of strategy at the backstage by a specific construction of international change. Critical Geopolitics opens up opportunities to criticize such a development 17 , but at least some ’new’ geopolitics, still in a close connection with traditional Strategic Studies, view the possibility that military power may come back 18 and don’t seem to problematize it. If the violent core of strategy is not visible, it is even lifted into a position of a kind of general, ahistorical and reductive social theory, where power in material terms and implicitly military force is understood as an ultimate factor of change. This is reinforced, if at the same time military violence, however, is presented as a continuous important future threat based on beliefs like immutability of ’human nature’.
Strategy can be more clearly understood as a discourse, where issues of violence are politicized in a specific way , by focusing on the interplay of technology and geography and by tending to give that a leading position in culturally-based construction of military capabilities and environments. This is applicable to different kinds of ’political’ contexts. Strategy resides in cultures and has different intercultural connections 19 . Very central of them are opportunities based on communicative understandings between state and its military organization, the latter and a military community of society, as well as one developed in transmilitary relations. A special attention can be given to the organizational culture of the military in terms of strategy and the whole set of doctrines based on it, since it has effects, how the military takes part in military politics.
4 Describing the Finnish Case: Examples of Post-Cold War Strategy 20
In this chapter, I will give an overview of strategic discourse in post-Cold War Finland, where construction of military capabilities and surroundings has brought tensions. Finland is a very specific case in Europe. The state has not taken much part in European disarmament, has continously educated over 80 percent of its male population in military service, underlines ’traditional’ defence of territory inside its borders and declines to strive for NATO membership, but seems eager to increase cooperation with the alliance. Finland has been especially interested to develop the military dimension of the European Union, at least as far as it does not challenge Finland’s ”independent credible national defence” and don’t urge it to participate in ”peace-enforcement” understood as compelling states by force.
A starting point is, that during last years of the Cold War Finland’s military capability with its doctrine of territorial defence was not very clearly defined. Usually it was considered sufficient in relation to the situation in ”security environment”. Possibilities and capabilities to use the military abroad were not considered, except in the context of ’traditional peacekeeping’, where Finland liked the image of ’superpower in peacekeeping’. Strategic environment was constructed first of all by claims of possible superpower confrontation, where both parties could secure their ”vital interests” and avoid engaging in armed conflict.
In the last years of the Cold War also ’politicians’, not only soldiers, got more interested in discussing the strategic environment. Common to both groups were rather symmetric treatments of both eastern and western military structures and an avoidance of labelling military capabilities as military threats caused by neighbouring states. Military threats were often presented as structure-based and in the form of weapon systems. 21 Instead of evaluating especially the relational level of military capability, future requirements of the capability were frequently specified and references to its credibility presented, but without elaborating its substance or main audience. A rather wide consensus over strategic conceptions prevailed within the society. Major controversies were not provoked, even if for instance through the high intake of conscripts people were much aware of military issues.
The end of the Cold War brought a somewhat different understanding of strategic factors, even if the strongest continuities were basic ideas of Finland’s territorial defence and a need to go on with a large army. Existing capability was more openly described and military threats specified and attached to neighbouring Russia, whose strategic continuities especially in Kola peninsula were emphasized. In 1991 Finland declared its three scenarios as bases of its military planning, which seemed still to reflect deterrence-orientation based on the idea of preventing a large-scale invasion. These were surprise attack, attack through Finland against a third-party and large-scale attack to invade the country.
At the end of the Cold War Finland broke away from considering NATO as its potential threat any more, even if it is highly doubtful, if most of public hints to such a scenario had much to do with strategic ordering, for instance, within military forces 22 . During the first half of the 1990s, the ’strategic importance’ of different areas of the country were connected with internal factors like the amount of population. A new talk was, that defence capability contributes to maintain ”non-threatening situation” in a meaning, that ”an enemy is not there”. Especially on the ’political’ level, a repeated new expression especially in the context of NATO membership was:
”---Finland’s existing defence arrangement corresponds to our needs; we do not have a security deficit. We intend to be a contributor, not a consumer of security” 23
In front of the membership of the European Union from 1995, Finnish capability to independently defend its territory was openly presented as a central Finnish contribution to European security. But among the military, the strategic environment was enlarged and frequent claims about a more dangerous world were made:
”The use of arms has come back as a real way to settle political, ethnic and religious conflicts. ----
In this time of uncertainty we are in situation, were more clearly than earlier, a real defence capability is needed to build a threshold against armed action. ---- The most important challenge for the Finnish Defence Forces now is, that we must show real capability to defend Finland’s territory with its airspace and waters with such effiency and so long, that this capability is understood sufficient both in west and east”. 24
Paradoxically, Finland’s defence capabilities were anyhow presented as improved, especially its army was often described as being in a better shape than never after the WW II 25 . The Finnish air defense was claimed to move into a very different stage compared with earlier times because of replacements of aging fighter-interceptors during the second half of the 1990s.
Challenges of a new ”enhanced” peacekeeping creeped into discussion gradually from 1992. From the beginning, Finland’s political-military elite seemed to be ready for that, but stated that ”peace-enforcement” suits better for great powers. But rapid changes of legislation, which were required to take part into new operations proved impossible because of resistance in the Parliament. International participation was seen to compete with resources of Finland’s own defence and doubts of loosing lives were expressed. In the middle of the 1990s a habit to advocate participation, as well as enhanced military cooperation with European organizations, on the grounds of its usefulness for Finland’s defence of its own territorial integrity was developed and became commonplace among politicians.
Finland outlined its security policy in two reports of the Council of State to the Parliament in 1995 26 and 1997 27 . These ”charters” of Finland’s ’official’ post-Cold War security policy were accepted in the Parliament by a great majority. In the strategic perspective, they emphasize defence of Finland’s territory, but especially the 1995 report specified the need for a rapid deployment force for international peace operations, which, however, was to be developed as a part of Finland’s ”own defence readiness and capability”. At the same time, national defence and international military crisis management were claimed to be separate from each other, what comes to commitments and practices. Taking part into the latter action was understood as an ”increasing part of defence policy, a new instrument of security policy and reinforcement of defence capability”.
Later on, at the end of the 1990s Ministry of Defence adopted a new vision to advocate Finland’s defence dimension by using concentric circles. ”Defense of values” was on the most external, word-wide circle, ”defense of interests” in the middle, European circle and ”defense of territory” in the innermost, national, circle. But this was preceded and surrounded by a frequent unsatisfaction to domestic and foreign ways to define and use concepts related to ’international military crisis management’. Such a problem did not exist with concepts of defence.
In the 1995 report, Finland’s military capability was considered in the post-Cold War situation as important as earlier. The description of strategic environment did not bring much new to constructions presented already at the beginning of 1990s. Changes of European military situation had not challenged ”Finland’s defence solution”.
The report of 1997 focused more on specifics of defence policy and included a programme to develop Finland’s military capability during 1998-2008. The more ”military” second part of the report replaced the 1991 scenarios by new constructions of strategic environment, which can be understood as ”less threatening” both in terms of general technological development and changes in military capabilities of relevant state actors, especially Russia. A ’political and military pressure’ was lifted as one of the three scenarios for military planning and former ’large-scale invasion’ and ’attack through Finland against a third party’ were put together. The earlier scenario of ’surprise attack’, which reflected the history of developing the territorial defence of Finland already from the 1960s, had been developed and renamed as a ’strategic strike’, which also as a term had been presented among the military several years earlier. One novelty in the report, which however has been discussed among the military already several years earlier, was a claim that the capability against such a strategic strike is insufficient . Three other also less-discussed claims were a need to create readiness for receiving help (from the west obviously), a need to be ready on the border in case of a strategic strike (instead of more general basic principles of deep territorial omnipresent defence) and arguments, where the type of society is connected the type of armed forces (”Finland is information society, so it should have its armed forces”).
Future development, ”structural change of defence”, was directed to a path, where most attention was given to create forces especially against the strategic strike, the bulk of them consisting of three new rapid deployment brigades of labelled as ’Brigade 2005’. The most politicized controversy, however turned out to be purchase of attack (”escort”) helicopters mentioned in the report, which were finally rejected by the Parliament in a budget decision 1998. A new trait in this discussion was a widespread interest on strategic issues. For the military, as well as obviously for the most of other political-military elite, a very ’natural’ scenario of strategic strike was questioned both in the Parliament and outside it.
Another highly politicized issue in the latter half of the 1990s was the idea of Finland staying outside the Ottawa agreement of abolishing anti-personnel land-mines. Finland has resisted giving up its own mines on the grounds of their essence in the functioning of its territorial defence, which in newspapers was linked with an idea of Finland defending its long eastern border. Even if the issue had been on the agenda already in 1995, it was not mentioned in the 1995 report and not included in 1997 programmes. A central tension of the issue has been, that keeping anti-personnel land-mines present a controversy with developing ”a sharp technological edge” for the armed forces against strategic strikes and fits more to large land forces and traditions of territorial defence. On the other hand, advocating them by speaking about Russian military threat is at odds with claims of its reduction. Extra tension has also been present, when often the military of those countries, who joined the agreement, witnessed that anti-personnel land-mines are not militarily necessary. The mine discussion obviously surprised both for the military and government, who did not have time to turn the issue as demands for substituting resources without risking the whole project of rapid deployment forces.
Still relatively vague constructions of Finland’s current military capability partly point to continuities from the Cold War time, when the consensus about how to speak about military matters was high and many groups like also ’official’ policy-makers followed a norm to give some external but cautious warning message by Finland’s capability both to east and west. For the interpretation, it is relatively uninteresting, especially if the military establishment describes future capabilities, or continuities of strategic environment, in a richer way than current capabilities. But discontinuities, like major changes of threat scenarios and difficulties to unite them in a coherent way with capability-claims, tell more about politicization of military issues.
Tensions emanating from strategic discourse in post-Cold War Finland, first of all, focus on the question of trade-offs between ’mass-army’ and ’technoarmy’. The former is deep-rooted in Finnish strategic culture, where ”doing it alone inside own borders without relying on any outside help” lead to developing territorial defence system gradually from the 1950s. Another trait is a strong reliance on the system, which however was not so visible before the end of the Cold War. Military-technical advances have been kept within limits of central doctrinal ideas, where beliefs about favourable effects of the large area, difficult terrain and harsh weather conditions, fighting in the enemy rear and reliance on legitimacy of armed struggle even in near-occupation situations have been high.
’Technoarmy’ ideas present for many groups an odd new qualitative development, which has not been absorbed to main strategic culture, even if they have been advanced by the military and political elites. These ideas are widely understood in connection with international military crisis management tasks and such symbolic uses of the military like giving an up-to-date image of Finland’s military for other European countries. ’Technoarmy’ is seen by something ultrawestern, international, non-defence and ’new wave’ , may be even non-Finnish. It, however does not mean that the Finnish mass-army would be considered outdated in those terms, which have carried on military politics of territorial defence.
It seems that ’official’ decision-makers, at least the government and the military, campaign for greater technologization of the armed forces, but they have to do it using arguments from the Finnish ’traditional’ defence and construct the strategic environment accordingly. Discussions of helicopters and land-mines present different poles, with a distinction, that the latter has not yet sufficiently surfaced to affect on future choices about the military organization. Common to both issues were that for the military originally tactical and operational level weapons were lifted to be strategic, when they were politicized.
Another central group of tensions relates with possibilities to construct credible military threats as arguments for military politics. The basic ”Russian threat”, which is deep-rooted in Finnish political and strategic culture has not seemed to work in the same way in the second half of the 1990s as earlier. The threat scenario of ’strategic strike’ did not obviously win credibility enough, when its connection with the strategic environment in the east turned out to be difficult to maintain. Presenting just general arms technological developments (”Revolution in Military Affairs”) create controversies. There are several signs, that the idea of deterrence may not be as important as earlier and efforts to use non-deterrent arguments for sustaining the military have been increasing. This may loosen the deterrent meaning of ’credibility’, the key word connected with Finland’s non-aligned defence, and turn it more to ’reassurance’, as well as attach other meanings, which don’t belong to the strategic discourse.
Reliance on Finland’s military is continuously high in terms of strategic capabilities and one of central reasons, why Finland is not so eager to join NATO at the earliest stage. Taking part into more demanding international military crisis management with other European states don’t seem to have such obstacles, that Finnish military capabilities would be considered insufficient. This can be partly understood by the long tradition of Finnish traditional peacekeeping, whose tasks are often seen as difficult as ’new’ peace operations. Norms constraining ever wider participation like ’peace-enforcement’ mostly are non-strategic.
One of observations within the strategic perspective is, that power of the military in politics seems to have increased in Finland after the Cold War, if thinking its opportunities and practices to articulate its interests and have effects on public discussion and official decision-making. On the other hand, discussion and along it also controversies over ”military” i.e. strategic issues have increased, and also the Parliament is interested in other matters than just accepting or resisting budget proposals. Strategic discourse may be, however, loosing its centrality in Finland’s military politics, which would imply, that issues and ideas of wider security or keeping up the military on non-military, socializing and educational grounds may be increasingly prominent.
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