Mr. Jason Hansa is a retired U.S. Army officer that served in Germany, Korea, and CONUS, with two deployments each to OIF and OEF. He currently works as a military contractor at CASCOM on Fort Lee, Virginia. His twitter address is @HauptmannHansa. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
Title: Alternative Futures: An Assessment of Ongoing North Korean Troop Rotations to Finland
Date Originally Written: July 12, 2018.
Date Originally Published: September 24, 2018.
Summary: Finland is a fiercely independent country that has suffered the yoke of Russian occupation twice in its short history as a sovereign nation. Unaligned with but reluctant to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Finland is very concerned of their vulnerability to a sudden Russian annexation attempt. In this alternative future, Finland arrived at an out-of-the-box solution, to accept North Korean troops deploying to its border with Russia.
Text: Mr. President, as we enter 2025 Finland stands ready to welcome the arrival of the fifth rotational North Korean infantry division since we formalized our mutual defense treaty in 2020. As you recall, five years ago, we were in a very difficult situation. Russian invaded the Ukraine to seize the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and was rotating units through Syria to both gain deployment experience and test new equipment or doctrine under combat conditions. NATO saw the weaknesses of their Baltic flank and began stationing troops and conducting rotational operations to shore up the defense of their member states.
It is no secret Russia craves warm-water access ports, and our lack of membership in NATO put us at risk of a Russian annexation. Our nation is still young but proud, achieving independence in the nineteenth century from Sweden that lead to almost immediate occupation by the Russians. Independence in the twentieth century led to reoccupation in World War 2 and a failure to prepare may well have invited Moscow to occupy us again.
Five years ago, our military strength was approximately 32,000 military members on active duty, with 23,500 of them in the Army. Our nation has compulsorily conscription and maintains a robust reservist infrastructure, with approximately 900,000 personnel available under full mobilization. The danger to our nation—then and now—lies in a sudden Russian offensive. If the Russians strike before we can fully mobilize, our nation is at risk of a quick overrun.
The mutual defense treaty of 2020 recognized we are one of the few nations with semi-open diplomatic channels to North Korea, a famously isolationist nation who, at that time, were looking to expand trade around the world. North Korea had promised to make good on debts they owe us from the 1970s—ones we long ago wrote off—hoping proof of fiscal responsibility would lead to global investment and the lifting of sanctions.
In 2020 we moved carefully, knowing that others would react with surprise, anger, and possibly disgust if we struck a formal agreement with North Korea. It took months of quiet diplomacy with our Nordic partners and NATO neighbors ahead of the announcement for them to understand our reasoning. We understood that we would also receive “guilt by association,” and possibly even get blamed for “not doing more” during any North Korean-created diplomatic incident.
We knew that with the North Koreans being an isolationist regime, who treated their citizens with brutality, any treaty would result in our citizens demanding immediate and real humanitarian reform in the North Korean political re-education work camps. We prepared for that reaction, working with the North Korean embassy on what to do once the agreement became public.
The gains were worth the risks. Militarily, the size of our ground combat forces almost doubled with the deployment of a North Korean division to our border with Russia. With over twenty-five divisions in the North Korea People’s Army and over 5 million reservists, North Korea assumes very little risk to the defense of their nation, and can maintain rotations in Finland for decades without repeating units. The presence of our North Korean friends forces the Russian Army to increase the size of any potential invasion force, an action that would not go unnoticed by intelligence agencies and give us time to mobilize. There’s an expression gaining in popularity that Finland and North Korea are two nations only separated by one country, and it’s accurate. In the event of a Russian invasion of North Korea, our mutual defense treaty ensures Russia must worry about war on a second front – the border they share with North Korea.
The most dangerous phase of the treaty negotiations were the months between announcing it and receiving the final North Korean reinforcements: we were concerned that tensions with Russia could spark the very invasion we were hoping to avoid. However, our gambit took the world so completely by surprise that Russia didn’t have time to do more than issue a sputtering, angry speech at the United Nations. Since then, the North Korean deployments have gone off smoothly, leaving their equipment in-place and simply rotating the 10,000 personnel annually.
As we expected, our people demanded humanitarian changes, and the North Koreans opened their borders to us. It was at first a very grudging admission by North Korea, the nation leery of putting their past on display to the world. But our persistence enabled access to their now-shuttered political prisons and we provided blankets and food by the container-full during that first, harsh winter. The North Koreans eventually agreed to our offers of asylum to their prisoners, and we moved the last of them to our nation eighteen months ago. This mutually benefited both nations, as they showed progress to the world in shutting down their gulags, while we received an infusion of fresh blood into our nation. We gained thousands of refugees willing to work hard for their new home and—on a side note—helping arrest our declining birth-rate.
Accepting the North Korean prisoners was the catalyst for the significant changes we are now seeing in that nation. It was inevitable, the rotation of divisions through our lands showing the North Korean troops a world outside their borders and sparking the desire for a better life back home. But our cultural influences have been wildly successful, the North Koreans laying down the initial plans to slowly convert their monolithic realm into something akin to the British model, a democracy with the Kim family as symbolic royalty. Their introversion is turning into a fierce independence that matches ours in a kinship they’ve never had before; they are asking for our help in economic and legal domains, assistance our populace has eagerly given back.
I must point out that our economic sector isn’t completely reaching out to the North Koreans for altruistic reasons. While our tourism industry and globally renowned businesses did lose sales in the first couple years because of our political decision, they worked overtime to show investors that our nation did not lose our values in reaching such an accord. Now, our businesses and banks are eagerly investing in North Korea, taking advantage of an untapped labor market next-door to over one-billion Chinese consumers.
In closing, I assess that our mutual-defense agreement with North Korea has succeeded. Not only has it helped prevent an invasion by Russia, it has let our people help the needy of another nation, let our businesses expand into a new market, and has allowed our nation to maintain and display our values while guiding another onto the path of recovery.
 European Defense Information, Finnish Defense Forces. Retrieved 14 June 2018. http://www.armedforces.co.uk/Europeandefence/edcountries/countryfinland.htm
 Yle, (2017, April 30). North Korea owes Finland millions in decades-old debt. Retrieved 14 June 2018. https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/north_korea_owes_finland_millions_in_decades-old_debt/9588973
 Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, (May 1997). North Korea Country Handbook, page 122.
 Smith, L. (2017, September 20). Finland’s birth rate plummets to its lowest level in nearly 150 years. Retrieved 12 July 2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/finland-birth-rate-drop-lowest-level-150-years-children-welfare-state-annika-saarikko-a7957166.html