Minister of Defence Jüri Luik’s speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on international security situation and Estonian expectations for NATO summit.
Ahead of the 2018 NATO summit, it is good to take a moment to evaluate whether the decisions taken at the previous summits, i.e. in Wales in 2014 and in Warsaw in 2016, have been implemented and what kind of work still lies ahead in strengthening Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture.
There are different ways to evaluate our current posture. If we compare the size of our forces, their readiness and our overall posture to the Cold War period, we are obviously a much changed Alliance than we were several decades ago.
However, if we compare the situation with the Alliance four years ago at the start of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, we can see a lot of progress. Since 2014, the Alliance has renewed its focus on collective defence. A mental change has taken place among the Allies and defence spending is now on the rise.
In Estonia, we have a political consensus that funding for national defence is a priority. In 2017 we spent 2.15 per cent of our GDP on defence. It enables to develop our own initial self-defence capabilities and provide Host Nation Support to allied forces operating in Estonia. We are doing our part in building our capabilities to resist armed attack, but as a small nation we will remain dependent on NATO’s collective defence under the United States leadership.
Therefore, we are very grateful for the steadfast US commitments to the European security. The increase of American military presence in Europe and the growth of the European Deterrence Initiative funding are crucial for ensuring effective deterrence in Europe.
On NATO’s eastern flank, we now have allied boots on the ground with the multinational NATO battlegroups or the enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in the Baltics and Poland. They send a clear message of Allied unity and resolve and thereby reduce the risk of miscalculation by our opponent.
The eFP deployments have also had a clear practical value for the Alliance as a whole. In Estonia, the British, Danish and French troops training together with their Estonian counterparts have had a unique chance to work on increasing interoperability. The lessons they learn together in the “cold jungle”, as a French colonel referred to the Estonian terrain, actually benefit the entire Alliance. Our Estonian soldiers who will soon go to Afghanistan to operate alongside the American, British and Danish troops or those going to Mali to work together with the French will benefit from this experience. Thus, eFP is in a way an Alliance-wide test lab for improving our skills and interoperability.
The implementation of the enhanced forward presence has been a true success story. But the work on making it as effective as possible is not completed. We need to keep on working to ensure coherence of all battlegroups and on joint enablement of the eFP.
But is it enough? If we look at Russia’s abilities – it has a clear advantage of time and speed in our region. Today Russia is able to initiate a conflict in our direction much faster than NATO is able to reinforce. In addition, it has developed capabilities to block Allied activity in the Baltic region, thus it is able to seriously hinder any reinforcement.
When we created the eFP, we agreed that it is just one part of our deterrence posture.
Taking this into account, Estonia’s clear priority at the upcoming Brussels Summit is rapid reinforcement. With a realistic reinforcement strategy, we can ensure both the credibility of the trigger function of the enhanced Forward Presence and the effectiveness of the Alliance’s deterrence posture as a whole.
Speed is the key here, but also are the numbers. Without having sufficient number of forces that are ready to rapidly react in case of crises, our deterrence and defence posture will not suffice.
In addition, considering that in the past decades the Alliance has lost a lot of knowhow on how to rapidly move forces, we should exercise moving large amounts of troops and equipment. Our priority should be to ensure the most rapid deployment of forces in case of crisis.
That is why we would support committing to a military mobility pledge at the Summit to have Allies shorten their diplomatic clearance procedures by pledging to provide a permission for border crossings by Allied forces within five days. This is something we have already done in the Baltics with our Simplified Allied Movement pledge.
Our success will ultimately depend upon adequate command and control and our political will to act. The Alliance has started to adapt the NATO Command Structure for it to be fit-for-purpose, including for most demanding collective defence tasks. We welcome the US decision to take the lead with the new Joint Force Command that will help strengthen also our maritime posture in the North Atlantic.
We are also taking steps to speed up and improve decision-making. This requires improving both our national and NATO procedures, but also communicating to our public that, if needed, the Alliance will act as one.
Furthermore, there is now a new momentum in defence co-operation in the European Union framework. During Estonia’s recent EU presidency defence matters became more central and new initiatives – such as the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund – were launched.
I would like to stress that we would never have worked with these initiatives if we would have believed that they would undermine NATO. It is crystal clear that NATO will remain bed-rock of European security architecture and crucial in ensuring effective deterrence in Europe. European Union will not replace it, not now nor in the future.
But we should not leave European Union to remain passively observing European defence efforts. Instead by developing defence co-operation within European Union we can use the strengths of the EU to strengthen the European pillar of NATO. These strengths are for example in areas where civilian and military issues meld together or in the possibility to use common EU funding.
An example here is the issue of military mobility. A lot of work related to ensuring seamless movement of units and supplies across national borders with minimal red tape is linked to procedures. This is an area there the problem is best tackled within EU, but it benefits mostly NATO.
Military mobility is a prime area for deepening NATO-EU cooperation. Other areas for such enhanced partnership between two organisations are fields like cyber security and joint exercises.
I am confident that we can use both formats – NATO and EU – to motivate countries to do more. By this we can contribute to collective defence and increase European and transatlantic security.