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Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: its impact on civil-military relations in Britain.

As Victory Day was commemorated on Monday in Moscow, in London the Defence Secretary reminded us that ‘freedom is not free’.

The words are carved into the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, the three-year conflict which began in 1950 under the auspices of the United Nations.

More than 90,000 British troops served in Korea, among them National Servicemen, alongside Americans and personnel from 20 other nations. The Battle of Imjin River was surely the hardest fought by the British Army in the second half of the century.

Last November, Boris Johnson sent a message to the annual gathering at the UN Memorial Cemetery in the port city of Busan, where the recently discovered remains of three unidentified British soldiers were buried with military honours:

“On the banks of the Imjin River, 70 years ago, British and South Korean troops fought side by side against the forces of tyranny. And today, just as we did then, the United Kingdom stands with you for peace, prosperity, and the stability of the Korean Peninsula.”

Among the allies killed in action were more than 40,000 Americans and 1,100 British servicemen. Korea was the first major armed conflict of the Cold War, the great ideological stand-off between the communist East and the capitalist, liberal and democratic West.

Or was it?

At Monday’s Defence of Europe conference, organised by King’s College London’s School of Security Studies and Reaction, historian Niall Ferguson suggested that Cold War Two is underway. Once again, it is a struggle between the world’s two superpowers – this time, between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

‘In this second Cold War, China is the senior partner and Russia is the junior partner.’ According to Ferguson’s framing, the conflict in Ukraine is the mirror image of Korea: the first hot war of our new Cold War. If this thesis holds true, these are dangerous times.

In recent weeks, Sweden and Finland’s membership of NATO has gone from possible to probable to almost definite, a seismic shift from both countries’ traditional non-alignment.

With an 800-mile land border with Russia, Finland is especially vulnerable to any aggression by Moscow. A poll for national broadcaster YLE this week found that 76 per cent of Finns now want to join the alliance, up from 60 per cent in March. Until recently, support for membership rarely reached 30 per cent.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister signed new security agreements with Stockholm and Helsinki, promising Britain’s assistance in the event of conventional, cyber or hybrid attack. Enhanced intelligence sharing is planned as part of a “step-change in defence and security co-operation”. Moscow will no doubt be mindful that the United Kingdom retains the nuclear deterrent.

Given their first-rate defence capabilities, both Sweden and Finland will be warmly welcomed by NATO. Both already have close ties with the alliance, participating in joint military exercises, training and operations, leading to their forces being inter-operable with other members.

Cooperation was intensified following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and was then given renewed impetus after the invasion of Ukraine in February.

In retaining conscription, Finland is unusual in a Europe that has moved towards all-volunteer forces. Ostensibly, the Finnish Defence Forces seem small, with fewer than 20,000 personnel.

However, three-quarters of all men undertake military service and afterwards become reservists, which requires refresher training of a minimum of 80 days a year. Consequently, there is a Reserve of 238,000.

Military Balance 2022, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies suggests that, while Finland’s army comprises 13,400 soldiers – or just 4,400 if the 9,000 conscripts are excluded – it maintains a mobilisation strength of 285,000. There is also a Border Guard of 2,700, with 12,000 reservists on standby.

“You are the best person to defend our country”. In Conscript 2020, sent out to young people about to undertake national service, Finland is clear about collective responsibility:

“Independence and safe conditions for our citizens must be maintained – they are what Finland has fought for in previous wars. As a conscript, you are an important part of our national defence.”

In 2020, more than 80 per cent of Finns aged under 25 supported conscription, according to the annual survey by the Finnish Parliament’s Advisory Board for Defence Information. International terrorism and the refugee crisis were then primary concerns.

More men than women backed national service, which remains voluntary for women. Last year, however, a record number applied to serve their country. This number will surely increase with images of grandmothers in Ukraine taking up arms.

By invoking previous wars, Finland is tapping into the sentiment expressed by the Immortal Regiment, the families of those Russians who perished in the Great Patriotic War and other conflicts. It underlines the power of war and sacrifice in shaping a nation and forging a collective identity.

Coinciding with the Victory Day Parade in Red Square, Ben Wallace was speaking at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. He accused the Kremlin of hijacking history and exploiting the heroic sacrifice made during the Great Patriotic War to justify the attack on Ukraine.

The former Scots Guards officer gave an insightful critique of Russian military performance in Ukraine, highlighting the dereliction of duty by the officer corps, in particular the absence of leadership among the General Staff.

While the Russian forces evinced “moral decay”, the Ukrainian forces – including militias, women and minorities – showed the power of the “moral component”, which includes not just weaponry and leadership, but the will to fight and to win.

Today, those defending Ukraine, like those Russians who fought the Nazis in the 1940s and all those who stand ready to defend Finland, are a reminder that every British citizen might one day have a role to play in this country’s defence – and that freedom and security are not free.