Finnish Defence Forces

National defence

Comprehensive security is a joint operating model for Finnish preparedness, whereby vital societal functions are secured in collaboration between the authorities, businesses, associations and citizens (the Security Committee). 

The security of supply safeguards the livelihoods of the population, the country’s economy and essential production, services and infrastructure with regard to national defence in the event of various disturbances and emergencies. The aim is to keep vital societal functions running as close as possible to normal conditions in times of disturbances and emergencies.

The EU Member States are responsible for their national security. However, in addition to external operations, attention is also paid to the security of Europe, and strengthening of the defence capacity of the Member States is supported extensively. The EU treaties include a mutual assistance clause, which requires the Member States to be prepared to provide concrete assistance, as well as supporting their efforts to prevent threats. The long-term goal of the common security and defence policy is the EU’s common defence, to which Finland is committed. In Finland, the government prepares the Security Strategy for Society and the Finnish Security and Defence Policy, which define the guidelines for the maintenance, development and use of Finland’s defence capacity, as well as for overall security and the security of supply as part of overall security. 

However, the specific needs for national defence have been identified and considered in EU legislation. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive provides a framework for measures necessary to achieve and maintain a good status of the marine environment. The directive does not apply to operations intended solely for the purpose of defence or national security (article 2, paragraph 2). However, the Member States must seek to ensure that such operations are implemented in a manner consistent with the goals of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

Act on the Defence Forces

At the national level, the Act on the Defence Forces determines the role of the Defence Forces in ensuring the military defence of Finland, which includes the surveillance of the land area, the water area and airspace, as well as safeguarding territorial integrity. In addition, for military reasons or to protect outsiders, under the law unauthorised persons may be prohibited from accessing an area or property being used by the Defence Forces or moving about in such an area or property may be restricted. In accordance with what is provided on maritime spatial planning in the Land Use and Building Act, attention must be paid to national defence needs, in addition to many other forms of use.

Territorial Surveillance Act

The Territorial Surveillance Act provides for the monitoring and safeguarding of the territorial integrity of Finland. According to the Act, the following operations are prohibited in Finnish territorial waters without permission: geological or geophysical studies to examine the seabed or its internal shape, structure or composition and the systematic measurement and recording of the topographic shape of the seabed. In addition, sections of Finnish territorial waters that are important for security and the organisation of territorial surveillance, and that have precisely defined boundaries, can be determined by means of a Government Decree as restricted areas where moving about and other activities are restricted. A restricted area must not be larger than is necessary for national security and the organisation of territorial surveillance. For example, the following activities are prohibited in the restricted area without permission: scuba diving and fishing with fishing tackle dragged along the bottom or heavy tackle anchored at the bottom, such as a seine, trawl or large bow net. Permission for the examination of the seabed is granted by the Defence Command, and by the Navy Command Finland concerning restricted areas. 

In the exclusive economic zone outside the boundaries of the territorial waters, the government may give permission to exploit the seabed and its internal natural resources and carry out research to this effect, or carry out other operations in the exclusive economic zone that aim for the economic exploitation of the zone (right of exploitation). In addition, in the exclusive economic zone, the government may give permission to build artificial islands and other structures, as well as for energy projects concerning the common interest of the European Union. Aspects related to overall security and national defence are taken into account when granting a right of exploitation concerning the exclusive economic zone. The same applies to the permit process for maritime scientific projects, which is managed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

Border Guard Act and Maritime search and rescue

In accordance with the Border Guard Act, the Finnish Border Guard maintains border security in cooperation with other authorities and with communities and residents. The Border Guard carries out police and customs duties, as well as search, rescue and emergency care duties, and participates in military national defence. Based on the Border Guard Act, a border zone can be determined that extends no further than three kilometres on land and four kilometres at sea from the Finnish national border as referred to in international agreements binding on Finland. In accordance with the Maritime Search and Rescue Act, the Border Guard is the leading sea rescue authority in Finland and is responsible for the organisation of sea rescue operations. 

In addition to the Finnish Border Guard, other authorities and volunteers are involved in maritime search and rescue activities. Maritime search and rescue activities are based on international agreements, and they are guided on a national level by legislation and the Maritime Search and Rescue Manual. Bilateral agreements have been made concerning responsibilities and concerted practices with the countries with which we share a maritime border. Maritime search and rescue means saving and safeguarding human lives in the event of emergencies and hazards in sea areas, and it encompasses many different duties. However, rescuing property (such as ships and boats) is not within the scope of maritime search and rescue; commercial operators generally handle such rescue missions.


The EU’s common security and defence policy and defence cooperation.

The EU’s common security and defence policy.

Government’s Defence Report. Prime Minister’s Office Publications 5/2017. Prime Minister’s Office, Helsinki 2017.

Security Strategy for Society 2017. Government Resolution, 2 November 2017. Security Committee.

Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC), article 2, paragraph 2.

Act on the Defence Forces (551/2007)

Territorial Surveillance Act (755/2000)

Act on the Exclusive Economic Zone of Finland (1058/2004) 

Border Guard Act (578/2005)

Maritime Search and Rescue Act (1145/2001)

Land Use and Building Act (132/1999), section 4a (467/2019)