Caught Between Two Controversies (Finland)
Seeking Land-Mine Alternative, Finnish Military Chooses Cluster Bombs
A planned Finnish Defense Force (FDF) procurement program to replace its anti-personnel mine stockpile with cluster bombs has sparked a political row that has split Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen's center-led coalition government.
The Ministry of Defense (MoD) has estimated the cost of replacing the mine stockpile at $400 million. The purchase is supported by the FDF, the MoD, Finland's president and many government ministers.
However, Finance Minister Eero Heinäluoma has provoked a debate by stating that he would not support establishing a procurement budget to cover the purchase of cluster bombs.
"I could not commit to, nor support, replacing anti-personnel land mines with cluster munitions. I do not feel this is the proper route for the defense forces or national defense to take," Heinäluoma said in a statement, reflecting a global political push to ban the weapons.
The FDF is working on plans to phase out the deployment of anti-personnel mines, while the MoD's Weapons Procurement Committee is examining alternative replacements, including cluster bombs.
"The acquisition of cluster bombs must be seriously considered," said Laura Kansikas, department chief at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs' Arms Control Unit. "We are ready to discuss various technical restrictions and other matters that would reduce human suffering, but we do not want to ban the use of such weapons. Finland is committed to discontinuing the use of infantry land mines by 2016, so we need to look at alternatives now. Cluster bombs will not be the sole replacement for anti-personnel mines."
Norway in February organized a conference to raise support for banning cluster munitions, and Belgium recently made it a crime to invest in companies that make cluster bombs.
The FDF is working closely with the MoD to pick a cluster bomb, said Brig. Gen. Arto Räty, director of the MoD's Defense Policy Unit.
"Our preferred choice would be cluster bombs that do not linger on the ground for long periods and that have a self-destruct mechanism," he said. "That self-destruct mechanism feature is important. We recently bought heavy mortars from the Netherlands. A certain type of shell would have come with them. These shells did not have a self-destruct mechanism, so we did not take them."
The FDF is testing the different grades of cluster munitions available on the market, Räty said. He said the required self-destruct mechanism would be one that "either destroys the bomb or makes it inoperable after a certain length of time."
The FDF's strategic position is that cluster bombs will be added to the armed forces' arsenal in the future, Adm. Juhani Kaskeala, FDF chief, said in a statement.
"It would be impossible from the military's point of view to commit to a total ban on purchasing or using cluster weapons," he said. "To do this would be to lose a significant part of the defense forces' firepower. We will not purchase obsolete or ethically questionable weapons. We will focus weapon purchases on technically reliable, modern cargo projectiles."
The FDF's tests have included DM662 cargo shells containing DM1385 bomblets and a self-destruct mechanism. The FDF has been actively purchasing test samples of cluster bomb systems since the 1990s, and cluster bomb deployment is now a regular feature of the FDF's exercises on the Army's firing range at Rovajärvi in northern Finland.
"Munitions such as this leave less unexploded ordnance in the field than is the case with, say, conventional shells," Kaskeala said.
The political-military debate around the procurement of cluster bomb systems provoked a response from Finland's president, Tarja Halonen, on March 5.
"There is no conflict between Finland's future arms acquisitions for cluster bombs and our commitment to working to join the Ottawa treaty to ban land mines," Halonen said in a statement.
Finland has pledged to join the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty in 2012 as part of a broader process to phase out its mine arsenal by 2016. Finland became the only European Union state in 2004 not to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty. Instead, the country committed to sign the treaty by 2012, six years behind its previously stated goal.
The decision to delay joining the Ottawa treaty was noted in the MoD's 2004 Security and Defense Policy Review, and was approved by the Eduskunta, Finland's national legislature, on Dec. 21, 2004. In this review, it was agreed that the FDF would be provided with $250 million in extra funding over eight years to replace land mines, with the Army allocating $150 million in additional funding from its annual budget.
The replacement process, according to the policy review, is to start in 2009 and continue until 2016. The plan is to replace anti-personnel mines with "close combat weapons and sensors."
"If the defense forces decommission its land mines too fast and without sufficient funds directed at replacement systems, the credibility of Finnish defense will suffer," Defense Minister Seppo Kääriäinen said in the report.
Von: 19.03.2007 by Gerard Odwyer, www.defensenews.com