Strengthening his country's relationships with the United States and NATO has earned Finland's top officer the highest military award the United States can present to a foreign leader.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented the Legion of Merit to Finland's defense chief, Air Force Gen. Jarmo Lindberg, yesterday during a ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia.
Dunford noted that U.S. military exercises with Finland had increased 300 percent during Lindberg's time as chief of defense.
"We have deepened our interoperability with Finnish armed forces," the chairman told reporters following the ceremony. "Finnish armed forces are making a contribution in Afghanistan — they've been fighting alongside NATO in Afghanistan for many years. They're contributing in Iraq as well," he noted.
Dunford said he sees increased cooperation between the two nations in the future. He noted that U.S. and Finnish leaders have had discussions on aviation, command and control systems, the integration of combined arms, and cyber capabilities. "These are all areas where we've had a very vibrant dialogue," he said.
"To be honest with you, I think given the high level of capability and effectiveness of the Finnish armed forces, I think it's fair to say we've learned from each other," the chairman added.
Lindberg said the relationship with the U.S. is strong. "We have had a lot of foreign military sales and material cooperation with the United States for decades — the procurement of the F/A-18 Hornet being a perfect example," he said. "The statement of intent that was signed by the ministers a couple of years ago gives good guidance to us in the uniform."
Finland shares an 833-mile border with Russia, but Lindberg called his country's relationship with its bigger neighbor "stable." Though it isn't a NATO member, Finland has been associated with the organization since 1994 as a Partnership for Peace country. Finland has also been in the NATO Response Force for years.
"We've had stable political guidance regarding our cooperation for a couple of decades, so no dramatic turns or changes," he said. "Actually, there have been no dramatic changes with the relationship regarding Russia. Our president has kept a constant dialogue with President [Vladimir] Putin, and politically, that is a stable situation."
Finland has helped the U.S. maintain military-to-military contacts with Russia. Lindberg hosted Dunford and his Russian counterpart, Army Gen. Valery Gerasimov, in June. "We were hosted by General Lindberg and his president, and they facilitated that meeting, which was extraordinarily valuable and a great location," Dunford said. "So they've not only maintained stability in their own relationship, I would argue they've contributed to us maintaining a stable relationship as well."
Reporters asked Dunford about a possible international maritime security force in the Persian Gulf to protect vessels from Iranian attacks. "We're engaging now with a number of counties to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Straits of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandab," he said. "I think probably over the next couple weeks we'll identify which nations have the political will to support that initiative, and then we'll work directly with the militaries to identify the specific capabilities that will support that."
U.S. officials have a clear concept of what needs to be done, he said, and will talk with allies and partners with some specificity on what would be needed.
Under the concept of operations, the U.S. would provide maritime domain awareness and surveillance, the chairman said.
"Escorting in the normal course of events would be done by countries who have the same flag — so a ship that is flagged from a particular country would be escorted by that country," Dunford said. "I think what the United States can provide is domain awareness, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and then coordination and patrols for other ships that would be in the area — that would be largely coalition ships."
The effort would be scalable, he said, and would grow as countries join the effort.