Is there an epidemic of pneumonia among soldiers in Leningrad Oblast?

Almost 1000 draftees from Leningrad Oblast have been hospitalized in less than two months, reports Ekho Moskvy. According to the radio station, most of the soldiers have been diagnosed with pneumonia.

There are no official statements about the apparent epidemic. Ekho Moskvy says that the sick soldiers are brought to the hospital in Saint Petersburg in other cars than ambulances in order to hide the number of infections. The report says that the sick soldiers come from at least five different military installations in Leningrad Oblast. …Continue reading

Knowledge increases support for women soldiers, says Estonian study

Andres Siplane in an ICDS report about Women in the Estonian Defense Forces:

“As an important observation, it has to be pointed out that support for women serving in the [Estonian Defense Forces] is much higher among active service personnel than in society in general.[…]
While in society in general almost half of the respondents were inclined to agree with the claim that women should serve in the EDF only in peacetime or that women are not suited to fighting a war, among active service personnel only under 30% held that view.[…]
It is interesting that the experience of instructing female conscripts significantly increases active servicemen’s support for the idea that women manage equally well compared to male conscripts.”

30 percent is still a large number, but it’s a lot better than 50. And women in Estonia have only since 2013 had the chance to volunteer for conscription, so many in the military still haven’t had the experience of working with female conscripts.

Is Finland setting the example for military leadership?

Finland is getting positive attention for their approach to military leadership and the remarkable defense preparedness of the Finns.

It seems that Finland is assuming the position as the country everybody is looking to when it comes to modern military leadership methods. Which is a little annoying because it means that we now have to envy not only Finland’s remarkable PISA scores but also their trust in the military and their defense preparedness.

Whilst in Denmark since the Cold War we have more or less abandoned a territorial defense and focused on deployable assets with professional manning, Finland has maintained the ability to defend itself with mandatory male conscription and a large and active military reserve. And the results are stunning when it comes to the people’s interest and trust in the military. Denmark suffers from the paradox that the military is more or less constantly engaged in wars in other parts of the world, but the people is genuinely disinterested and mostly unaware that it is happening. In the current debates about a new political defense agreement in Denmark, it is common to meet the popular argument that the territorial integrity of Denmark is unrelated to military spending because it’s the responsibility of other NATO countries to defend us anyways.

Finland, on the other hand, maintained a national focus with their armed forces all throughout the honeymoon years with Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. I remember not long ago that we used to smile at Finland’s inability to adjust to a future of deployable assets and excused the apparent paranoia of the Finns with a historic inclination to the solitude of neutrality that prevented them from taking full responsibility in the international environment. Now the security climate has changed in the Baltic Region, and instead of laughing at Finland we suddenly find ourselves reading articles about what we can learn from them.

So what is it that we can learn from Finland? Elisabeth Braw has an interesting article in Foreign Affairs about The Finnish Model, and she has a few ideas. For starters, we can learn that if conscription is widespread and of high quality, it will give whole generations a positive attitude towards the military and enhance the willingness to take responsibility for national defense. Instead of being old-fashioned, conscription may in fact be the model of a future where Europe must prepare to handle security without America. There are historical and geographical reasons for Finland to emphasize the territorial defense higher than in for example Denmark, but the numbers cited about the support for the military and the personal sense of duty among Finns are surely impressive.

According to Braw, we can also learn from Finland that evaluation is a powerful tool to develop military leadership if it is done systematically and with care. It really does seem to be a good evaluation system the Finns have set up, but I would have to look closer at it before I can make a final judgement. Given Finland’s academic traditions in the field of organizational learning, I am prepared to believe that they have done a good job.1

Finally, Braw notes that Finland is good at setting the right expectations about the military service. It is a matter of branding and delivering on the promises by neither overselling nor underselling the military, and by having an inspiring program where the skills learned in the military can also be used elsewhere.

Surely aspects of these things can also be found in other countries, but it seems that Finland has excelled in systematizing its conscription and the development of methods to improve military leadership. This is actually really exciting, and although it pains me somewhat to admit it, the Finnish model may be worth studying for those of us who until recently believed that the future was deployable.

  1. I don’t think Braw’s point about military commanders learning to talk to soldiers like normal people instead of shouting is particularly ground-breaking for the other Scandinavian countries. During my study time we had annual Nordic Cadet sports games (NOCA) between the naval academies from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and the Finnish cadets always stood out with a remarkably shouting attitude towards each other. 

Finland and the art of self-reliance in national defense

Good look at the defense philosophy in Finland by Teri Schultz in DW. And what a contrast to many other countries in the Baltic region that have perfected the art of being dependent on USA.

President Sauli Niinisto says Finland – with a population of 5.2 million, a border with Russia that runs 1,340 kilometers (833 miles) and just a small professional army of trainers – has spent its century of independence perfecting the art of self-reliance. It’s not joining NATO any time soon, if ever.

“We have a huge reserve [of military forces] and they are trained reservists,” Niinisto explained to DW this week. “One of the largest in Europe.” If Finland called in all its back-ups, officials say, that would be almost a million soldiers. To illustrate his point further, the president explained Finland would then have 5,000 more “men in arms” than Germany would with its reserves, despite boasting a population just one-sixteenth the size.

Though the number of Finns kept in training as active reservists has dropped considerably since its peak in the mid-1990’s, the government decided to boost its forces by 50,000 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The current number of continuously trained reservists now stands at 280,000.

A widely circulated 2015 Gallup poll showed 74 percent of Finns said they’d be willing to take up arms to defend their country – the highest figure by far in Europe. Almost 60 percent of Russians would be willing to fight for their country. In next highest Sweden, that figure was 55 percent; in Germany, just 18 percent.

It’s easy to point to different geopolitical circumstances that make it possible for Finland to focus on its own territory, and it could be argued that the stability in the region has been assured because other countries chose NATO. But it must be granted that the Finnish approach has ensured a popular understanding of the need for a military defense, whereas NATO countries may experience a more fatalistic public opinion regarding national defense.

Russia continues move to more professional military

Russia has called in 134,000 new conscripts to begin 12 months of military training in the fourth quarter of 2017.

The schedule is such that new recruits begin in the second and fourth quarters, and together with the spring draft the total number for 2017 is up to 276,000 conscripts. Although that is a very large number, it is actually a reduction of about 10% compared to 2016.

Russia is in the process of moving to a more professional military. Between 2015 and 2020 the number of soldiers with a contract is expected to grow from 300,000 to 500,000, and the number of conscripts will be reduced during the same period.