Report from Finland
From: Dave Webb and Kerstin Tuomala
May 21 - 24 2017
The Arctic Challenge Exercises have been conducted every second year since 2013 and this year it was the turn of the Finnish Air Force to plan and direct the wide range of aircraft and forces of warfare from the 11 participating nations - Finland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States - from 3 host country bases at Bodø in Norway, Luleå in Sweden, and Rovaniemi in Finland.
Dave arrived at the small airport there on the evening of Sunday 21st and could plainly see some 12 or 13 fighter jets and a couple of military transporter planes parked not far from the runway. Kerstin Tuomoal and My Leffler escorted Dave to the hotel and the next morning we left quite early to travel back to the airport to take part in the demonstration against Arctic Challenge.
Members of the Joensuu peace group came by bus and brought 16 people with good spirit and slogans, a good microphone, and impressive banners to join with those from the north. Agneta Norberg (GN board member) and My Leffler from Sweden were the other international guests there and some people from Kolari, which the war planes would be flying over, about 170 kms from Rovaniemi, were probably from the furthest north.
A number of short protest speeches were made,including one from a local politician and the press was there and interviewed a few of the demonstrators. Many people expressed their concerns about military spending taking tax money away from health and social care needs. They also expressed their gratitude for the organisers giving them an opportunity to demonstrate.
I think we all had a turnat the microphone and of course Agneta sang. Dave spoke of our solidarity with the protest and warned of Finland’s increasing involvement with NATO. In 1994 Finland, a once proudly independent and peace loving country, joined NATO’s ‘Partnership for Peace’ and then in 2014 signed a ‘Host Country’ agreement which enables NATO to store equipment there and move forces through the country. There was no discussion about this in the Finnish Parliament! Kerstin was also interviewed for the Swedish radio but was very distracted by the noise of the aircraft.
It was a small but effective protest against the military presence in this beautiful and somewhat remote part of the world. There was singing, and even dancing, as the military jets took off with a thunderous, explosive roar that instinctively turned heads and clenched fists.
It was cold and windy and so, a little later, we moved on to the centre of Rovaniemi to get some coffee and tea and then stood with banners there in protest for a while. More local people joined us and they talked very well about their concerns of cuts in welfare in favour of militarism. Originally the plan was to be there for only half an hour but we stayed longer so that everyone who wanted to could speak. We we also got some good local publicity.
In the afternoon there was a seminar at the university where Tuula Sykko interpreted for Dave’s representation about the Arctic Challenge exercise and the role of space technology. The places of importance to space technology in Scandinavia were specifically mentioned, such as the Vidsel test range and Kiruna and Esrange space centres in Sweden and the Arctic Space Centre in Sodankyla, Finland. The ‘Operation Joint Warrior’ exercise, held twice a year off the coast of Scotland by the Royal Navy and NATO partners, was also mentioned - it had a drones component last year. Called ‘Operation Unmanned Warrior’ it featured airborne and undersea drones for the first time. (Notes, pictures etc from Dave's presentation can be seen here).
Agneta and My from Sweden gave a wonderfully illustrated representation about the effects of the military on the environment. About 30-40 people attended the seminar - mainly locals, but some from Kemi and 16 from East Finland, but there was not that much time for questions at the end because the bus from Joensuu had to leave, as they had a long journey home.
The following day when we stopped at a services on our journey north to Kerstin's cabin in Lapland, we saw that there was a report in the newspaper the next day including remarks from Tuula Birgitta Sykkö who translated our speeches for the seminar.
The same newspaper later reported that the demonstration was small and they interpreted that as meaning that the majority of the public actually approved of the ACE 2017 and the government’s plans to purchase new fighters and warships. They also claimed that during the Cold War the Peace Committee of Finland worked for the agenda of the Soviet Union. So it appears that they must have thought we were a bit too visible and so decided to label us in that way!
On the morning of the 23rd of May we went to Sodankylä to visit the Arctic Space Center which was opened on April 5, 2017. For the previous 100 years it had been a Geophysical and Meteorological Research Institute of different universities in Finland. Since 2009 17 million euros has been spent (7 million from the Finnish Ministry of Communication and Traffic) on antennas, radars and other technical equipment and NASA, the European Space Agency and NOA have become sponsors and collaborators. The ASC also hosts the National Satellite Data Centre (NSDC) focusing on "fast delivery remote sensing product generation". The NSDC is in an excellent location for receiving data from all polar orbiting spacecraft and it provides free and open data for national and international partners and customers.
This includes the hosting of the Copernicus Sentinel Collaborative Ground Station which acts as a downlink station for the Sentinel satellites of the Copernicus programme run by the EC and ESA. Each Sentinel mission is based on a constellation of two satellites to provide robust datasets for Copernicus Services.
These missions carry a range of technologies, such as radar and multi-spectral imaging instruments for land, ocean and atmospheric monitoring of the Earth.
In the recent Conference in Stockholm Regina Hagen emphasized the importance of dual use satellites –used for both military and civilian purposes – and that Copernicus is just such a dual use system. It is the world's largest single earth observation programme and aims to achieve a global and continuous Earth observation capacity, providing accurate and easily accessible information to, among other things, improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change, and ensure ‘civil security’.
It is interesting that, originally, Copernicus was named the ‘Global Monitoring for Environmental Security’ (GMES) but in 1999 the name was changed to the ‘Global Monitoring for Environment and Security’ (my emphasis) – showing clearly that there are security implications.
These security implications include border surveillance, EU external actions and maritime surveillance. In the area of border surveillance, one of the main objectives is to reduce the number of illegal immigrants entering the European Union. In November 2015, the EC entrusted the European Border and Coast Guard Agency FRONTEX with the border surveillance component of Copernicus. FRONTEX (headquartered in Warsaw, Poland) supports the European Border Surveillance System (Eurosur), a surveillance system of the EU that uses drones, reconnaissance aircraft, offshore sensors and satellite remote sensing to track illegal immigration into its member states.
The Copernicus support for ’EU External Actions’ is operated by the EU Satellite Centre in Torrejón de Ardoz, close to Madrid (Spain). It provides the EU with satellite and aerial imagery for the monitoring of events or activities outside Europe in support of, in particular, the Common Security and Defence Policy.
From Sodankylä we went to Kemijärvi to look at the small air port hired by Robonic and although we saw no action there we were able to see the extent of the land that Robonics uses to test the drone launchers it produces.
The area is owned by the city of Kemijarvi and is situated near the huge military range of Rovajarvi (the biggest ground military exercise area in Europe), where there was an air defense exercise alongside the ACE 2017.
THis was the end of the tour for Dave but Kerstin, My and Agneta went on to Luleå where there had already been a demonstration against the ACE by around 30-40 people, arranged by the local peace group.
My Leffler had also arranged a number of seminars and events:
On the Wednesday, while resting in the cafeteria and a man said to Kerstin that he recognized her voice and asked if she had been on the radio. She said yes and he said that he had felt good about her talking so straight.
As Kerstin relates "During WW II the Nazis were in Finland and the USSR soldiers captured by Finnish and Nazi armies were held in concentration camps where they had to work hard and did not get enough food. In Kemi there was one such camp, where more than 1,600 persons died, most of them from hunger and disease, only a minority by shooting. Those graveyards of war prisoners are in many places, also a small one in the community I live. The Finnish-Russian Friendship Association tries to clean them up in the spring and relatives from Russia visit the graves at times."
Thanks to all who took part and helped bring the activities of the ACE to the
notice of the people. We must not and cannot let these exercises and the strong
grip of militarism go unchalleneged.