Helsinki and North Carolina students explore global security challenges and professions

With Finland’s 2023 accession to NATO and the new global security environment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland now holds the defence alliance’s longest, 1340 km (about 832.64 mi), strategic border with its Russia. The Global Politics and Communication programme (GPC) working with the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki held a panel on Cybersecurity and Information Warfare: Status, Stakes, and Preparedness, with the keynote speaker Member of Parliament Jarno Limnéll. MP Limnéll, who graduated first in his class as a cadet at the National Defense University, argued that cybersecurity and physical security can no longer be treated as separate domains. Cyber threats, although not directly physical, can result in hostile attacks on material targets including people and critical infrastructure. 

MP Limnéll observed that, “Misinformation and disinformation are the biggest threats to world peace in the next two years.” He suggested an antidote is communicating information honestly and realistically to citizens. 

This panel was held with the generous support of the US Embassy in Finland which made possible the Women in Global Security exchange programme co-organized by GPC and UNC Chapel Hill Global Affairs. This was the second of the two-week student exchange, with the North Carolina students visiting the University of Helsinki from 13 May to 17 May, 2024. Helsinki students visited UNC in early April. The programme’s theme, initiated by the US Embassy, was to facilitate women’s knowledge of and involvement in security issues, from diplomacy and conflict resolution to military defense and intelligence. This initiative builds on research that shows that women’s physical and mental security, and their inclusion into political decision-making, are fundamental for the stability of democratic societies. 

In addition to this panel, the Helsinki portion of the exchange programme comprised of visits to the Finnish Defence University, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, the US Embassy, the CMI Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation, and the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia. The security-related themes explored during this week included the role of female actors in conflict resolution negotiations, female cadets’ experiences in the Finnish Defence Forces, the prevalence of cyber security in the contemporary Finnish and global security environment, and enhanced Finnish-US security cooperation following Finland’s accession to NATO. The week concluded with a roundtable mentoring discussion on women in careers of peace and security.  

“The Women in Security student exchange has been transformative in reminding us of the crucial role that women’s rights and women’s political participation plays in maintaining democratic societies,” GPC Programme Director, Adjunct Professor S.M. Amadae, noted. “Given the current international climate in which some nations challenge female rights, it is more important than ever to ensure women's inclusion in political decision making, and in the security professions.”  She added that, “the US Embassy support has made it possible to embody this message and initiative into our teaching, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with our UNC Chapel Hill Global Affairs counterparts, and working with Associate Director Tim Rose and Professor Erinn Whitaker.” 

Amadae initiated the Women in Global Security student exchange working closely with UNC Global Affairs and with the Faculty of Social Sciences Vice-Dean Hanna Wass.  The two had the opportunity to thank US Ambassador to Finland, Douglas Hickey, at the US Embassy’s American Independence Celebration held this year on 14 June.  Ambassador Hickey mentioned that he strongly supported the Women in Global Security program and hoped there may be a way to build on its successful implementation in the future. 

“The programme enabled the students to build the types of networks, combined with intellectual inspiration, self-esteem boost and lasting friendships, which will be highly valuable when entering the labor market as well as life in general. The Faculty is eagerly looking for the continuation of collaboration with the US Embassy and UNC”, Vice-Dean Hanna Wass noted.

The Helsinki portion of the exchange programme was set against the backdrop of Finland entering its second year in NATO and the European Parliament election season. Indeed, Finland’s accession to NATO played a prominent role in the events and discussions during the week. Senior research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Dr. Iro Särkkä, discussed her impressive career and the increased prominence her expertise on NATO has afforded her in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent transformations in Finnish security policy. Furthermore, the expanding Finnish-US security cooperation resulting from Finnish membership in NATO was emphasized during the discussion at the US Embassy in Helsinki, with Deputy Chief of Mission Christopher Krafft remarking that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Finland’s accession to NATO made his assignment at the embassy more eventful than he could have foreseen.  Helsinki student Elisa Leonoff, who has completed basic Finnish military service, observed that, "As the United States does not implement conscription, both the concept and the strong inclination towards national defense were not only new but also among the most intriguing aspects for our American visitors."