On Friday President Sauli Niinistö and the Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy (known as UTVA) discussed plans for next year's military exercises. Also on the table was a proposal by Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö (no relation) for a major international military exercise to be hosted by Finland in 2020 or 2021.
President Niinistö said afterwards that the military exercises had only been discussed at the level of a matter of principle, with practical decisions left to be made next spring.
The head of state said that the committee has a positive stance toward arranging a larger-than-normal military exercise that would include requesting and receiving international assistance, but that the issue was not discussed any further than that.
"This will have to be developed over the years, but a decision of principle, yes or no, will certainly be made next spring," President Niinistö said.
He added that the government would seek a general agreement on such manoeuvres with parliamentary committees.
"When you go over into another legislative period, it is important to ascertain that there is a general, broader understanding of this matter, so that it doesn't turn out that after the election we run into a situation where different ideas dominate," he said. Finland's next parliamentary elections are scheduled for April, 2019.
Defence minister on the spot
Minister Jussi Niinistö of the newly-formed Blue Reform party first floated the idea of arranging a large international military exercise during an interview with commercial broadcaster MTV in early November. He suggested an event comparable to the Aurora 17 exercise organised by Sweden in September, which some 20,000 troops, including some from Finland, Denmark, Estonia, France, Lithuania, Norway and the US.
His proposal raised eyebrows as it had not been discussed in advance with the president, who is tasked with overseeing Finland's foreign policy. There was also consternation when minister Niinistö discussed the idea with visiting US Secretary of Defense James Mattis. The minister's solo performance drew criticism from the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as from political parties across the board.