Event highlight

Comprehensive security, the “Finnish model” for 21st-century threats

In his address at the Hertie School, Finnish President Alexander Stubb laid out Finland’s approach to security and defence, with lessons for the rest of Europe.

On 8 May 2024, the Hertie School was delighted to host Finnish President Alexander Stubb for the keynote speech “Comprehensive security in the 21st century” on the occasion of his visit to Berlin. The event was co-hosted with the Finnish Embassy in Berlin and the Hertie School’s Centre for International Security, with moderation and welcome remarks by Hertie School President Cornelia Woll. 

Delivered on Victory in Europe Day, President Stubb’s talk detailed Finland’s “comprehensive security” approach, explaining what comprehensive security means, why it is necessary in today’s security environment, and how the approach works in practice. The speech was the second in a three-part series on security which Stubb is delivering in three world capitals.

“Life in the good old days was quite clear-cut…war was war and peace was peace.”

President Stubb began his keynote by asserting that security and defence policy is about much more than military defence now and that the line between peace and war has become blurry, with hybrid attacks puncturing times of peace. “The instruments that were supposed to bring us together,” he pointed out, “are now being used to tear us apart.” He then laid out his thesis that the most effective approach for addressing security today is Finland’s model of comprehensive security.

“The starting point for comprehensive security is an understanding that internal and external security, civil and military, public and private, peace and war are all intertwined.” 

To set the stage for his explanation of comprehensive security, President Stubb first outlined the current security landscape, which he terms “the world of disorder”. At the end of the Cold War, Stubb explained, there was a “naïve expectation” that the world’s countries would all become democracies. The reality is much different: the world today is “defined by global unrest, strategic competition, and technological disruption”. In an increasingly interdependent and technologically-dependent world, “there are threats against all of our critical infrastructures: physical, digital and social.”

To handle these myriad threats, Finland has adopted the holistic approach known as comprehensive security. This approach links six intertwined pillars, which Stubb laid out with examples: 

  1. Societal resilience (including social justice and a strong educational system)
  2. Military and defence capability (including mandatory military service)
  3. Security of supply (modelled by Finland’s National Emergency Supply Agency)
  4. Economic security (including protecting critical industries and materials)
  5. Democracy and values (including checks and balances and media freedom)
  6. International cooperation (such as bringing a comprehensive security approach to the EU) 

“You have to be prepared. I call it the Finnish way.”

Through three Finnish examples, President Stubb demonstrated how comprehensive security works in practice. The first was Finland’s National Emergency Supply Agency, a vast public-private partnership focussed on material preparedness and operational continuity management in a crisis situation. “You fight the war on the frontlines,” Stubb argued, “you win it by keeping society running.”

As a second example, President Stubb told the audience about Finland’s national defence courses. These courses, offered four times a year for the last 60 years, bring together diverse groups of professionals from across Finnish society. In three weeks, these groups receive a crash course on Finland’s comprehensive security system, which fosters a widespread understanding of how the system works and “engraves a sense of duty in people”.
Finally, President Stubb touted Finland’s civil defence shelters. With more than 50,000 shelters across the country, Finland is prepared to shelter 4.8 million people if the need arises. In peacetime, these shelters serve as metro stations, parking garages and storage space. “We don’t want to use those shelters, but it’s quite good to have them,” Stubb noted.

“Now that I’ve had the opportunity to be briefed [on Finnish defence] …I’m calmer than ever.”

President Stubb concluded his speech by emphasising that to defend democracy and open societies, comprehensive security must be taken seriously by Finland’s partners as well.

In the discussion afterwards, President Stubb explained Finland’s position on an array of foreign policy questions. He reiterated support for Ukraine while rejecting the idea of boots on the ground and addressed the potential for comprehensive security in the Baltic region. Turning to US politics, Stubb expressed scepticism that Donald Trump would take the United States out of NATO. He also explored mistakes Finland had made in its past relationship with Russia, noted his concern about Europe’s approach to data, and voiced support for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Read Finnish President Alexander Stubb’s speech here, and watch the full speech below.

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