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Women in high places Defense minister: Finland's 44-year-old Anneli Taina oversees huge modernization drive.


SCANDINAVIAN governments have a solid record in promoting women to high places. Iceland's president is a woman, so is Norway's prime minister. As for Finland, that country along the Russian border has twice in recent years entrusted the defense minister's post to women.

By all accounts, Elisabeth Rehn, the world's first woman defense minister, did a good job. She impressed Soviet generals and was almost elected Finland's first female president. Anneli Taina, 44, who succeeded her last year, has had a rougher time.

Although Mrs. Taina is overseeing a multi-billion-dollar defense modernization program, she was unprepared to discuss technical details and costs in an early nationwide television interview. She subsequently explained her performance, saying: "I have a feeling that more is demanded of women than of men."

That Mrs. Taina is now on an official visit to the United States shows how fundamentally Finland's political position has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. A World War II peace treaty which prohibited Finland from operating most state-of-the-art armaments -- including missiles and submarines -- has been junked. U.S.-made F-18 fighters now form the backbone of Finland's air force, instead of Russian MiGs. In Bosnia, a battalion of Finnish peacekeepers serves in the U.S. division.

Mrs. Taina says Finland does not want to become a member of an expanded North Atlantic Treaty Organization but feels any other country is entitled to its own decision. This caution is understandable: Finland still shares a long land-border with Russia, where political conditions are unsettled and NATO expansion plans are viewed with hostility.

Finland now often signals its freedom from Moscow. It recently agreed to help reorganize and train the armed forces of independent Estonia, a decision that just a few years ago would have been totally unthinkable.

Pub Date: 4/15/96

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