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MP bemoans lack of information on US military exercises

Veteran MP Erkki Tuomioja lamented in his blog on Saturday that parliamentary members have been left in the dark about US military manoeuvres planned in Finland this spring. He says MPs have had to read about the details in the media instead of being informed directly, something that has vexed members of the parliamentary defence and foreign affairs committees, who should have been consulted before the decision.

Kansanedustaja Erkki Tuomioja (SDP) eduskunnan täysistunnossa 16. helmikuuta 2016.
Erkki Tuomioja during the February 16 plenary session. Image: Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva

Long-term Social Democrat MP Erkki Tuomioja enjoys a special status in Finland as a social commentator and statesman. In his widely-read blog, he complained on Saturday about the poor dissemination of information associated with the recent news that US military forces would be travelling to Finland this spring to train in war games.

The original February 9 announcement came as a complete surprise to many, and details have been slow in coming ever since. On Thursday, Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö told parliament that several US armoured fighting vehicles would also be travelling to Finland in May to participate.

Minister Niinistö admitted during his parliamentary presentation that he did not know if there had ever been such an extensive US participation in a military exercise in Finland, which is not a member of the US-led NATO military alliance, but takes part in its Partnership for Peace.

News of the arrival of the US jets and the armoured vehicles was the first many members of the parliamentary defence committee had heard of the plans, even though they had been approved by the government and the president in November.

MPs in the dark

Tuomioja wrote in this blog that MPs have been talking all week about the information deficit they have been exposed to, not to mention the fact that the nature and political ramifications of the exercises should have been discussed in the committees before the decision was made.

The former 11-year foreign minister and member of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee comments that he welcomes the joint exercises as a positive and necessary development, as long as the fundamentals of Finland’s foreign and security policy are preserved.

“Colonels, captains and ministers –  in this order, as several ministers were apparently just as shut out as we MPs were – have had to listen with burning ears to lectures about how communications should and shouldn’t work. I hope the message got across,” Tuomioja said.

Tuomioja said it is unfortunate that the Ministry of Defence had already earlier complained about the political leadership’s desire for more details about the exercises. He suspects that this attitude has transferred into the processing of the spring training programme.

Setting the record straight

Defence Minister Niinistö published a blog post on Friday that briefly explained the US exercises.

He says a squadron of six to eight F-15 fighter jets from the US National Guard will pay a visit to the Karelia Air Command in May and participate in tactical flight exercises. At the same time, says Niinistö, troops from the US and observers from Poland will participate in mechanized Finnish Army training, the Arrow-16 exercise involving about 20 US Stryker armoured transport vehicles.

He says in June the US will conduct its annual Baltops-16 maritime exercises on the Baltic Sea, a tradition that dates back to the 1970s. Finland has participated in the exercises since the early 1990s, the minister writes, and this year the exercises will be carried out in Finnish territory.

Minister Niinistö finished his blog post with the following statement:

“It is important that all of the key defence policy players in Finland receive adequate and timely information about international exercises as well. The informational needs of the parliamentary defence and foreign affairs committees have been duly taken into account in this matter.”

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