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Conscription and Reserve Duty


Summer and winter military exercises in Lapland
Courtesy General Headquarters, Finnish Defense Forces

All Finnish males were liable for military service between the ages of seventeen and sixty. The call-up for active duty normally occurred at the age of twenty, although students could postpone service until completion of their education. Over 90 percent of young men reaching military age actually entered the Defense Forces, a rate believed to be the highest of all Western countries. There had traditionally been three conscript contingents during the course of a year, in February, in June, and in October, but in 1989 these were to be reduced to five call-ups every two years, owing to the decline in the numbers coming of age. For the same reason, the normal age for entering the service was to be reduced to nineteen. About 38,000 conscripts were trained annually, although the decreased birth rate would result in as few as about 26,300 inductees by 1993, stabilizing at that level. As a consequence, the number of reservists of all categories, which had been maintained at about 700,000, would taper off to about 600,000 during the 1990s.

Prior to 1987, conscientious objectors had been permitted to serve in the military in a noncombatant capacity for eleven months, or in civilian social service for twelve months. Legislation enacted in that year, however, required a conscientious objector to serve in alternative civilian service for sixteen months, twice the length of minimum military service. A number of objectors, regarding the new law as a form of punishment, did not accept these conditions, and they were sentenced to prison terms.

Women were not accepted in the Defense Forces, although the tightened manpower situation had provoked discussion of measures to incorporate women into training programs on a voluntary basis to handle nonmilitary tasks in an emergency. About 7,000 women were employed by the Defense Forces, mainly in clerical positions and as nurses. A considerable number were used by the air force as radar monitors in remote areas. Women employees wore uniforms, but they did not receive military training or carry weapons and had little opportunity for career advancement.

Conscripts were assigned upon induction to a particular branch or corps of service, depending upon existing personnel requirements, although personal preferences were respected to the extent possible. The National Conscription Act of 1950 set the duration of service for ordinary conscripts at 240 days (8 months) and for reserve officers and NCOs at 330 days (11 months). Certain specialists and naval conscripts also served for 330 days. About 48 percent of the total intake of conscripts served for the longer period. In 1988 the military announced that a separate category of weapons specialists would be designated to serve for nine and one-half months.

Service in the reserves was obligatory after the completion of active duty. For officers and NCOs, active reserve duty continued until age sixty; and for others, until age fifty. Those who completed their active reserve obligation at age fifty were listed in class one of the auxiliary reserve until age sixty when all reserve obligations ended. Those exempted from active duty on grounds of disability were assigned to class two of the auxiliary reserve, and those aged seventeen to twenty without military training were listed in class three.

Until the late 1970s, annual training of reservists was neglected because of budgetary pressures. Efforts were underway in the 1980s to improve the situation in order to compensate for the declining intake of conscripts and to ensure that reservists acquired some familiarity with the new and more complex equipment being introduced. The number of reservists undergoing annual training increased from 30,000 in 1979 to nearly 50,000 in 1988. The relatively infrequent and brief periods of reserve training were still considered insufficient by some observers, however. They noted that Switzerland, although it required a shorter period of initial service, trained far more reservists each year by longer and more frequent refresher call-ups.

Troops assigned to the Fast Deployment Forces could expect to be called for refresher training at least every fifth year; those in some specialist categories were called up more often. Other reservists, generally those in higher age brackets, were not scheduled for training unless their assigned categories were changed. Call-ups were on a battalion basis, and reservists exercised their wartime tasks for a period of seven to ten days. The cumulative total period of active duty for reserve officers could not exceed 100 days; for reserve NCOs, 75 days; and for privates, 40 days.

Data as of December 1988

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