A military reserve of cyber security experts

Monica M. Ruiz argues in War on the Rocks that the Estonian voluntary Cyber Defense Unit is a model that the United States should implement. I think this is a great idea for many countries, including other countries in the Baltic region.

The idea is that citizens who are specialists in cyber security or have other information technology skills can volunteer for the Estonian Defense League. When necessary, they can contribute to protect the online infrastructure of the country and participate in crisis management. …Continue reading

The Baltic nations would be hard to beat

One of the things that I didn’t touch on in my description about how a war between Russia and the West will play out was the resistance that the populations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania would muster after a Russian occupation. That was a deliberate omission because you just can’t fit everything into one piece, but to be fair this is indeed so important that it deserves attention. …Continue reading

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. 

Compensation of reservists causes trouble for Estonia

Having a good reserve is complicated. The material and logistical requirements are obvious as a reserve is not worth much if you are not able to provide simple things like uniforms and weapons when the reservists show up for service. Denmark is a good example of a country with a large reserve of former conscripts but no clue whatsoever about how to equip the reservists if they should ever be called upon.1 But the logistical question is one of the simpler obstacles to a good force of reservists because the defense authorities can manage that alone given the necessary resources. A much more complex issue is how to create the societal support that makes it possible for reservists to combine a military commitment with their daily jobs and personal life.

A rather embarrassing display of the difficulties governments can face when trying to make favorable conditions for reservists can be found in Estonia where a story on delfi.ee uncovers problems with the financial compensation of soldiers during periods of military service.

In its efforts to guarantee the income of soldiers, Estonia has a system of compensation so that all reservists will receive at least something for their time. Since the government rates are lower than most people’s normal income and the prospect of losing money is a drag on potential reservists’ motivation for military service, the military authorities have engaged with employers’ organizations in joint efforts to make employers voluntarily pay the soldiers’ normal salary during the time of military reconvening. The government accompanied the efforts with a slogan saying that employers are not obligated to pay during service time but that a good employer would choose to do so anyway.

Well, turns out that the Estonian government is not a good employer by its own standards. The guidelines from the Ministry of Finance do not allow government managers to continue the payment of salaries to reservists, and indeed the computer system is set up in ways to prevent mistaken incidents of the government securing the income of employees who engage in the defense of the country.

Clearly the Estonian government should get its act together and fix this. The interesting part is that everyone quoted in the article seems to agree that this is unfortunate, but they come up with a series of bureaucratic excuses to explain the complicated nature of different parts of government having to coordinate and nobody really knowing whose responsibility it is. The article actually finishes with a representative from the Ministry of Defense saying that perhaps increasing the rates of compensation to a less painful level could be an alternative solution to the government fixing its administrative guidelines.

But no, increasing the rates of compensation is not a good solution because it still means that reservists will feel that they have to pay to be active in the military. And if the government can get away with not paying salaries for reservists, how will the government argue that private sector employers should do it? So the different branches of government must learn to work together with a common goal of having a robust reserve of soldiers to defend the government. Sure it takes some effort to harmonize the administrative guidelines to account for reservists, and the question of compensation will just be one issue out of many. But if you want a well functioning reserve, you have to invest the time to work out the kinks to make military an easy choice for the potential reservists and their employers.


  1. Denmark is looking into ways of improving conscription so the force is actually useful. Some solution is expected in the coming five-year political defense agreement that will be approved later this year.