In today’s media environment, the whole world is constantly present. And we are used to hearing about the ongoing turmoil. Every now and then, we get dramatic news, but they are only current for a short while before something new comes along to overshadow them. And despite the distant thunder, people usually feel confident and think that for them, personally, all will be well in the end. Only if the storm hits close enough, it becomes real. For everyone.
The European security environment changed on 24 February 2022 when Russia attacked Ukraine. With war at such close range, the impact is imminent, not only directly on the activities of the authorities, and the operating environment of the police, but also on the lives of everyone here in Finland. Everything that we relied on and trusted before, has failed us. Pillars of support are established now to meet the needs of a new era. At the same time, Finland has taken the historic decision to seek membership in NATO, the defensive military alliance. Submission of the application marked the beginning of a new era and in the past few weeks, we have seen Finland prepare for potential military conflicts and strengthen its security structure. Various measures to enhance military capacity, including more exercises and orders of military equipment, are being taken.
A little less attention has maybe been paid to the fact that in today’s technologically advanced world, the means of exerting influence – also in connection with state conflicts – have become wider in scope and more complex. At the same time, the limits between external and internal security threats have become vague. Weapons are not the only means of warfare. Attempts to influence the minds and the will of people take diverse forms – we hear about hybrid influence, or rather, attempts to disturb peace in society.
The range of hybrid activities is wide, including provoked protests, information operations, threats of various degrees, instrumentalisation of migrants, sabotage of critical infrastructure, cyber attacks or, in the most extreme cases, terrorist attacks. Typically, the aim is to obscure the true nature and origin of the activities. These activities have one thing in common: the purpose is to destabilise society, its national integrity and the trust in the authorities.
A strong common denominator for the hybrid activities is the fact that they are mainly visible in the area of internal security, particularly in the field of police operations. The allocation of responsibilities and tasks of preparedness in society are based on legislation: before actual identifiable military activities, the police is the primary authority that responds to hybrid measures in the field and is in charge of investigating the incident, whatever it may involve: little green men, terrorist attacks, sabotage camouflaged as accidents, or attempts to disturb public order and security. As the multitasker in security and the authority bearing primary responsibility for internal security, the police is prepared in many ways to keep everyone safe, at all times.
During the “grey period” between the NATO application and potential actual membership, hybrid activities and provocations targeted by Russia against Finland are possible. Moreover, even after the possible NATO membership, the threshold to recognise any acts of influence as military, or posing a threat not only to Finland, but also the defence alliance, would be high. Therefore, for as long as possible, the response is based on powers of normal conditions, with the police being responsible for securing inland Finland. Preparations for this have been made and the police have assessed the possibility of various scenarios, and taken the necessary measures based on this assessment. The recent legislative reforms are helpful in this work. It is important that in the future, among other things, more extensive executive assistance from the Defence Forces and the Border Guard is available to the police to facilitate the use of military force, in case it is needed to support police operations. This is how cooperation must work in Finland.
Before anything possibly happens, it is however essential that the police, as the first responding authority, identify and analyse even the slightest signals of hybrid influence and can act accordingly, if need be, with an information-driven approach. To secure this, the police have harnessed their network of sensors in full to collect observations. These nuggets of information form a continuously refining situational picture that enables the police to plan and manage operations. The situational picture is also widely shared, all the way up to government level.
In the future, the possibilities for information exchange and sharing of the authorities’ situational picture, and the ability of the police to obtain information and engage in criminal intelligence, should be developed further, also through legislative decisions. It is in the wider interests of society that anyone who has information is allowed share it with others who need it, without strict boundaries. At the same time, the party who needs the information for its operations must be able to obtain and use it in sufficient ways.
Finally, cooperation is key – no-one can manage on their own, and Finland’s security is built together. Monitoring and analysis of changes in the operational environment, and maintaining foresight capacity, must be a continuous and active activity of all parties responsible for preparedness in society and incident management. Comprehensive security is a cooperation model for preparedness in Finland, according to which the vital functions in society are looked after through cooperation between the authorities, the business community, organisations and citizens. It is important that everyone can trust the authorities, and the threshold is low for conveying information about citizens’ observations. This makes it possible for everyone to contribute to public safety.
The war in Ukraine affects the everyday work of the police in diverse ways. For example, when someone escapes the war in Ukraine and arrives in Finland, and applies for asylum or temporary protection, the police are there to meet the arrivals and register the people who enter the country. Until now, a little more than 25,000 people have arrived from Ukraine to seek help in Finland, and the police have registered over 90% of them. At the same time, the police collect information from the arrivals about the war crimes they have experienced or witnessed, for the purpose of eventual investigation at a later date. ICC, the International Criminal Court, is the competent authority to investigate war crimes. Those responsible must be convicted, that is the right of the victims and the police intends to ensure that.
The best way to prevent outside attempts to exert influence, to investigate crimes and secure the functioning of society is to ensure that everyone living in Finland, regardless of their background, can trust Finnish society and the ability of the public authorities to protect citizens’ rights. Even in times of instability, it must be possible for people to rely on the society’s ability to intervene with phenomena that jeopardise security, to prevent them in advance or deal with them in emergencies at the latest.
And whenever the time is right, the police will respond for its part. At all times.
Seppo Kolehmainen National Police Commissioner National Police Board Twitter @SJKolehmainen