Women in Global Security: North Carolina students visit Helsinki

Women in Global Security students reflect on their week long programme hosting UNC Chapel Hill students from North Carolina. Programme highlights included a visit to the US Embassy and a visit to the Finnish National Defense University.

In May of 2024, six students from UNC-Chapel Hill visited Helsinki to complete the two-week Women in Global Security student exchange programme, which was initiated by Global Politics and Communication Programme Director, Adjunct Professor S.M. Amadae, in collaboration with the Faculty of Social Sciences Vice-Dean Hanna Wass, both of the University of Helsinki, and the UNC Global Affairs programme. Tim Rose, UNC-Chapel Hill's Associate Director for Exchange and Sponsored Programs, and Erinn Whitaker, Professor of Practice in UNC-Chapel Hill's Peace, War and Defense Curriculum, helped organize the student exchange programme and accompanied the North Carolina students during their visit to Finland.  Amadae, Wass and six University of Helsinki students had travelled to North Carolina in early April. The programme was funded by the US Embassy in Helsinki, which also determined the programme's theme of facilitating women's involvement in global security issues. The programme served as a reminder of the importance of women's inclusion in political decision-making and security professions in maintaining stable democratic civil societies.

This article is a reflection written by the University of Helsinki Women in Global Security students on the week-long programme for which they served as Finnish cultural ambassadors hosting the US visitors.



Finnish Defence University visit: May 13th 


On our first full day, we visited the National Defence University in Santahamina. We engaged in discussions with female cadets about their studies and work in the Finnish Defence Forces, focusing on how their experiences differ from those of their male counterparts. According to the cadets, working as a woman in the Finnish Defence Forces is relatively egalitarian, and they had not encountered discrimination. Teemu Tallberg, Professor of Military Sociology, delivered a lecture on conscription in Finland and its equality aspects. Currently, conscription is mandatory for men and voluntary for women. This difference of treatment by law results in the practical outcome that traditionally in Finland male voices are more respected on security matters. 

Katri Pyynnönniemi, Associate Professor of Russian Security Policy delivered a lecture on Russian studies at the National Defence University. The group dedicated to Russian studies is small, comprised by a few civilians, military personnel, and conscripts. The primary aim of the research is to stay informed about the Russian mindset and perspectives. The research materials are in Russian, which is why Professor Pynnönniemi emphasized the importance of studying languages.  


CMI - Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation: May 14th

On Tuesday, Project Manager Marina Danoyan and Project Manager Laura Hendry hosted us at the headquarters of Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation Crisis Management Iniative (CMI) and introduced us to their work and their Women in Peacemaking program. We discussed conflict resolution in the context of the changing Finnish and global security. We held a roundtable discussion about how to achieve meaningful participation in peace processes in situations wherein conflicts are layered and their nature is dynamic. We currently see that the traditional role of peace mediators is eroding. CMI offers actors from conflict zones, or who have needs for conflict resolution, a safe space to hold conversations and explore peaceful solutions.  Trust building is crucial in order to lay the foundation for sustainable conflict resolution.  CMI provides on the ground support for regional, national and local stakeholders to help them to develop sustainable solutions for their disputes. CMI is active globally with programmes that have operated in Asia, (including Afghanistan and Myanmar), Eurasia (including Ukraine), the Middle East, and North Africa. The Peace Foundation’s work in Ukraine has encompassed building resilience and social cohesion, as well as addressing trauma from war.  CMI’s Women in Peacemaking initiative is dedicated to including female actors in conflict resolution negotiation processes in diverse roles from leadership to having their voices heard at the table.  This initiative is motivated by research showing that the status of women and women’s security is a fundamental pillar of building democratic civil society and promoting peaceful relations among actors.


 FIIA visit: May 15th


On Wednesday, we had the chance to visit the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, where we met senior research fellow Dr. Iro Särkkä. Särkkä’s areas of expertise include NATO and Nordic security. During our visit, we got to hear about her inspiring career and especially how she became an expert in her field as well as an active figure in public debate on Finland, NATO, and global security issues in both national and international media. The war in Ukraine and recent developments in security policy in Finland have created an exceptionally high demand for Särkkä’s research and expertise on NATO. In her presentation at FIIA, Särkkä gave insightful advice on working in global security, which will be very invaluable to us when we start shaping our own careers. One critical piece of advice she gave was to really consider what you want to do regarding your career and find your passion while also remembering how to live a wholesome and balanced life.


Think Corner panel: May 15th


On May 15th, we attended an insightful public panel at Think Corner titled "Cybersecurity and Information Warfare: Status, Stakes, and Preparedness," moderated by Adj. Professor S. M. Amadae. The speakers, Member of Parliament Jarno Limnéll, Dr. Saara Jantunen-Paju, and Dr. Catharina Candolin, offered a comprehensive look into the evolving landscape of cybersecurity. 

Jarno Limnéll began by discussing the comprehensive security model, emphasizing the interconnectedness of cyber and physical security. He highlighted the need for future insights and adaptability, noting the significance of generative AI in creating sophisticated tools for information influence. Limnéll also challenged traditional dichotomies like war-peace, suggesting that moving beyond these distinctions is crucial for genuine security. 

Saara Jantunen-Paju then explored the use of future scenarios in information warfare, particularly focusing on Russia's revisionist history and threat narratives. She explained how these narratives, especially in the context of the Ukraine conflict, affect Western support for Ukraine and public resilience. Jantunen-Paju stressed the importance of questioning the psychological warfare at play and not solely focusing on misinformation. 

Catharina Candolin provided a historical perspective on the evolution of information warfare, from its early days as a hobbyist activity to its current status as a vital component of national defence. She discussed the role of cyber defence within NATO, the importance of situational awareness, and the necessity of a defined chain of command in responding to cyber threats. Candolin emphasized the need for international cooperation and updated national security doctrines. 

The panel concluded with a discussion on resilience and education. The speakers agreed on the importance of mental resilience, strategic partnerships, and maintaining a balance between security and freedom. Limnéll highlighted the need for realistic communication and strategic cooperation, Jantunen-Paju advocated for critical thinking and privacy protection, and Candolin focused on effective risk management. You can read more about the event here.

NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence: May 16th


We took the ferry to Tallinn, Estonia, in order to visit the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, abbreviated as CCDCOE. This Centre investigates cybersecurity-related topics and threats, offers training sessions, and disseminates expertise to its member nations. A pivotal aspect of the Centre’s activities involves organizing cyber warfare simulation exercises, which are designed to scrutinize and enhance cyber defense from technological, strategic, operational, and legal perspectives. During our visit, Dr. Agnes Kasper elaborated on the operations of the CCDCOE, particularly focusing on its orchestrated simulations. Notably, “Locked Shields” is an annual cyber defense exercise where a 'red team' emulates a hostile attack, and 'blue teams' from participating nations coordinate their defense strategies.

Another significant exercise, "Crossed Swords", trains penetration testers, digital forensics experts, and situational awareness experts in a complex environment that also includes leadership training for command elements, legal training, and joint cyber-kinetic operations. This exercise also serves as a practical training ground for the Red Team members who oppose the Blue Teams in the Locked Shields exercise. Additionally, our discussions touched upon the Tallinn Manual, an academic handbook on the application of international law, particularly jus ad bellum and international humanitarian law, to cyber conflicts and cyber warfare. A new edition of the Tallinn Manual is scheduled for publication in 2027. The visit was enlightening and opened new horizons in the realms of cybersecurity and legal studies. Dr. Kasper observed that a PhD degree addressing concerns at the intersection of clarifying the legality of actions and potential cybersecurity operation tactics and goals offers a clear pathway to a security position.

US Embassy and women’s mentorship meeting: May 17th 


Friday, the last day of the exchange program, brought about two exciting events. In the morning we visited the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki where we met Deputy Chief of Mission Christopher Krafft, Military Attaché Colonel John A. Kent, Senior Economic Officer Colleen Rakowsky, and Operations Coordinator Paula Barkhaue who engaged us in a panel discussion. We learned about their work and perspectives on Finland-US cooperation. Krafft told us about his experience during this posting and how the war in Ukraine and Finland’s NATO membership had turned the usually calm and relatively small embassy into a busy and hectic posting. In addition to discussing how Finland’s and the US’s relationship has strengthened due to Finland’s NATO accession. We learned about how foreign service training works in the US. The panelists shared their tips on how to get accepted into the US diplomat programme. The advice included the importance of internships and learning a difficult language. In regard to languages, we also learned that the US State Department no longer teaches Finnish, which means that most US diplomats stationed in Finland do not speak Finnish. Although it is easy to get by with English in Finland as a diplomat, knowing the language opens the possibility to integrate into the culture in a deeper way, which is why it is a shame the US State Department currently does not support Finnish teaching. Visiting the US Embassy that inspired and sponsored this exchange programme gave fitting closure to the week.


Our final impactful event of the programme was a mentoring panel discussion led by four inspiring Finnish women professionals: Vice President of Sustainability and Public Affairs at Fiskars Group, Kati Ihamäki; Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation CMI, Hanna Klinge; Head of World News and Current Affairs at Yle, Krista Taubert; and Senior Advisor at Miltton, Katri Makkonen. The discussion was heartfelt and personal as we freely discussed hardships and aspirations, as well as changes across the generations of women’s experiences and potential career opportunities. One theme was women’s challenges in balancing work and family commitments, without any guaranteed easy answers. Another topic was impostor syndrome, which refers to feeling that one is playing a role that one is insufficiently prepared for, that had been a common experience among panelists. This subject resonated with the insights gained from the women security professionals whom we met while in North Carolina. Overcoming the potential for self-doubt requires taking advantage of opportunities that arise, despite such anxieties. The women’s stories and advice sparked motivation and excitement towards our future plans and endeavors.


The US Embassy support of the Women in Global Security exchange programme resonates with NATO’s commitment to the theme of Women, Peace, and Security. NATO’s article on this topic (7 March 2024) observes, “NATO recognises the disproportionate impact that conflict has on women and girls, the vital roles women play in peace and security, and the importance of incorporating gender perspectives in all that the Alliance does.” 

Pekka Toveri, Member Elect to the European Parliament, current Member of Parliament in Finland, and Major General emeritus, supported the original Women in Global Security student exchange programme proposal submitted to the US Embassy.  MP Toveri observed that given that women’s participation in the Finnish military is voluntary, they tend to be more dedicated to continuing in military and leadership roles after basic military service than their male counterparts who were conscripted.


Overall, participants in the exchange programme found it to be successful in offering valuable insights into women's role in security, facilitating professional networking, and forging new friendships. The Faculty of Social Sciences looks forward to continued co-operation with the UNC and the US Embassy in Helsinki. US Ambassador to Finland, Douglas Hickey, has expressed his hope that we can build on the success of the exchange programme in the future.