American soldiers may soon be deploying to bases near Russia’s border with Finland if ongoing talks on a new defense cooperation agreement (DCA) between Helsinki and Washington prove successful.
Finnish newspaper Helsinki Sanomat reported Monday, citing Finnish Foreign Ministry official Mikael Antell, that discussions on the new cooperation deal may allow for the construction of significant military infrastructure on Finnish soil. The proposed agreement would not cover nuclear weapons.
Helsinki Sanomat reported that Antell—the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director general for political affairs—is leading the bilateral negotiations, and that fresh discussions took place in the Finnish capital last week. The agreement, Antell said, will augment Finland’s recent NATO membership.
“The most important thing is that the agreement enables smooth cooperation with the United States in all security situations, and also at short notice,” Antell said.
DCA discussions have been ongoing since last fall. Helsinki said at the time: “Finland’s membership in NATO will not diminish the importance of bilateral cooperation with the United States. Instead, it will open up new opportunities for cooperation.”
The U.S. is currently also pursuing DCAs with Sweden and Denmark. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in January that such agreements would “deepen our close security partnership, enhance our cooperation in multilateral security operations, and, together, strengthen transatlantic security.”
Antell said the proposed U.S.-Finnish DCA “enables troops to enter the country, stay on the ground, the pre-storage of material and possible infrastructure investments through the funds granted by the U.S. Congress to the Pentagon .”
Though Antell said it is “too early to speculate” on specific investments, he did give an example of a “maintenance hall for F-35 fighters.” Finland last year finalized a $9.4 billion deal to acquire 64 F-35 fighters to replace its current fleet of F-18 Hornet multirole fighters.
“The agreement also defines the facilities and areas where the cooperation would be focused,” Antell said. “They are basically military areas and garrisons. In principle, there can be more than one, but the discussions are still open in this regard.”
Any eventual deal will need parliamentary approval before it can come into force. Helsinki Sanomat reported that negotiations are expected to continue into 2024.
Finland’s accession to NATO in April marked the end of Helsinki’s historic pivot away from decades-long security neutrality and into the Euro-Atlantic bloc. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 prompted a major shift in public and political opinion in favor of joining NATO. The same happened in Sweden, which is still awaiting final approval to join the alliance.
Though Finns were overwhelmingly in favor of NATO membership, polls indicate they are more divided on foreign troop presence. A January survey conducted by the Finnish MTV broadcaster found that 39 percent of respondents were in favor of a permanent NATO base.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said last month that bilateral security deals may be beneficial for Finnish security. “In that respect, the United States is a significant factor,” Niinistö told YLE.
Matti Pesu, a senior research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, told Newsweek that Helsinki will consider U.S. military presence in Finland—even if only small-scale—as important in wider efforts to deter Russian aggression.
“If you’re looking at the major benefits of NATO membership, obviously it’s the allied relationship with the U.S. and the benefits that that status may entail,” Pesu said. “Finland sees the evolving relationship with the U.S. as the greatest deterrence benefit, or deterrence boost.”
“The supplementary DCA between Norway and the U.S. is perhaps the best reference,” Pesu added, referring to the 2021 deal that gave U.S. troops and aircraft access to three airports and one naval station.
But, Pesu said, a more significant U.S. military footprint in Finland remains unlikely. “We’re not expecting any major permanent presence,” he said.
“To Finland, it’s important to regularly have U.S. boots on the ground, or U.S. Air Force capabilities here in Finland. These infrastructure arrangements could facilitate more exercises and deeper cooperation between Finland and the U.S., and then the U.S. is also a potential reinforcer if a conflict breaks out.
“Then, having some U.S. military hardware or stockpiles pre-positioned here in Finland would also be something that Finland might be looking for.”
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