A military coup is usually characterized by the increasing presence of military personnel and equipment on the streets and in the vicinity of government offices with the attempt to take over the state and install a military or new civilian rule . A coup d’état usually involves clashes between the military and the police divided in loyalist and revolutionary factions.
The Finnish military coup after the outbreak of the new coronavirus is something quite different. Yes, we observe an increased presence of soldiers and military equipment in the streets. Well, most of the cars are rentals – but look closely, and you’ll spot a nondescript matte olive jeep somewhere.
The Finnish military coup is about the military taking charge of the normal functions of other authorities.
A State of Emergency
Firstly, when the state of emergency was declared and the first government policy for the coronavirus pandemic restrictions was issued the military was tasked to function normally under any circumstances and support other authorities:
The Defence Forces will ensure the continuity of their operations and their preparedness in all circumstances. The other authorities will be prepared to provide support as necessary.
The Defence Forces did just that. Planning ahead for outbreak contingencies made it possible for the military to smoothly rearrange the daily lives of more than 25,000 service personnel, whilst maintaining a heightened readiness and situational awareness without disruptions in operations or training. This is a case that deserves looking into after the crisis. ’Business as usual’ in the military domain, but answering ’how did they do it?’ could provide valuable insight for the public and private sector.
Secondly, on March 28th, the government declared a lockdown of the province of Uusimaa, restricting traffic between the Uusimaa and other regions. The military was called in to assist the understaffed Finnish Police in setting up roadblocks and checkpoints. The military had prepared for this takeover in the garrisons for a while and acted swiflty when the order was issued, deploying 800 soldiers to assist the police.
Wishes become tasks
Since that day two weeks ago the military has been called upon again. The Defence Forces’ ”surplus” capacity of ventilators was asked for and the Minister of Defence Antti Kaikkonen (at left inspecting the troops in the photo above) obliged. During the crisis the military has also provided other authorities with transport assistance and other personnel and equipment resources.
There are no free resources in national security
The last development is the joint initiative with the military spearheading research into disinfecting masks for reuse. There has also been talk about diverting or reallocating funds from the HX fighter programme to this crisis, but this discussion was quickly stifled by prime minister Sanna Marin, who stated that the defence capability is paramount and that the programme will only be delayed because [test flights can’t be done according to plans].
This uniquely Finnish model for a military takeover is quite lovable and will ultimately increase the trust and confidence in the Finnish Defence Forces. The most alarming question is not about ”generals in power” or ”civilian rule”. The most alarming question is about the military providing for the rest of the society in a most efficient manner with a sense of selfless service, urgency, and necessity – and the government continuing to tap into this readily available emergency reserve without reimbursing it. The military resources are built for endurance and they will be readily available with minimal or no extra funding. The delayed negative effects on the defence capability are easy to ignore, but will become evident somewhere in the future.
Decisions to utilize military resources should be made promptly when necessary, but with great care and immediate reinvestment. There are no free resources in the zero-sum game of national security.