World News

Finland to increase troop levels, defence spending amid heightened tensions

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland said on Thursday it plans to increase military troop levels by about 20 percent to 280,000 and raise defence spending because of the heightened tensions in the Baltic Sea region.

The measures are part of a defence policy report which the government will present to parliament next month.

Militarily non-aligned Finland is worried about increased East-West tensions in the Baltic Sea and it has stepped up military cooperation with its neighbour Sweden following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“The early-warning period for military crises has become shorter and the threshold for using force has lowered (in the region),” the report stated.

Finland - which is not a NATO member but has compulsory service - cut its army from 350,000 to 230,000 in 2012, but now plans to boost it with 50,000 troops .

The government wants to increase annual defence spending by 150 million euros (£128 million) from 2021 onwards and an additional 55 million euros would be used yearly to improve troop readiness from next year.

The current defence budget is around 2.9 billion euros, or 1.4 percent of gross domestic product.

On top of that, Finland is preparing to replace its 62 F/A-18 Hornet jets with multi-role fighter aircraft in a procurement estimated at 7-10 billion euros, but the final decision is expected not until next decade.

Reporting by Tuomas Forsell, editing by Jussi Rosendahl