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Jüri Luik: how do we protect Estonia?

15. January 2018 - 10:03

The horizon for Estonia’s national defence planning is very long-term; more precisely, we are planning our activities for the next decade. At the same time, we are, of course, taking into consideration new information received, including everything we learned from Zapad, the large-scale Russian military exercise held last year. The scenario for the exercise was an attack against NATO, more precisely the Baltic States. As you recall, the exercise was organised with a blatant disregard for all OSCE and Vienna Document commitments. All of this will be taken into consideration in our actions during 2018.

Let me remind you that our national military defence relies on two pillars: these are our initial independent defence capability and, in cooperation with our allies, NATO collective defence. Over the past year we have made giant strides forward in both fields in terms of strengthening our defence readiness and deterrence posture. There is no reason to rest on our laurels: in order to stand still, we must run; in order to move forward, we must sprint.

For ten months, the NATO battle group led by Great Britain has been stationed in Estonia as part of our 1st Infantry Brigade, making the brigade, under the command of Col. Veiko-Vello Palm, Estonia’s strongest. It should be clear to everyone by now that there is no point in attacking Estonia, since an opponent would have to immediately deal, in addition to Estonian Defence Forces, with Allied forces. The continuous stationing of combat ready Allied units in Estonia has achieved a new level of deterrence and defence here along NATO’s border, and sent a clear message regarding the unity of the Allies.

The NATO battalion is now here, although this is only one piece of the puzzle, albeit an important one. A new target is the so-called reinforcement strategy, the goal of which is to ensure the rapid arrival of Allied forces in the Baltic states, even in a situation in which the enemy creates barriers to this, either through the use of threats or going so far as opening fire. This encompasses the designated forces on land, sea and air, as well as updated plans and command structures, and regular training exercises.

The NATO Alliance and the transatlantic link serving as its foundation will remain the cornerstones that ensure Europe’s security, and the world’s strongest armed forces, the United States military, will play a priceless role in our defence. At the same time, everyone has understood that the countries of Europe increase their efforts when it comes to ensuring the security of the continent. The result has been new impetus inserted into the defence cooperation within the framework of the European Union. As the holder of the presidency, Estonia contributed to the founding of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), as prescribed in the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon, as well as the creation of the European Defence Fund.

In 2018 Estonia will – following the completion of its presidency – continue with its efforts to develop defence cooperation within the European Union. Everything that we achieved in 2017 must be secured and reinforced; we bear a certain moral responsibility to do so. Our priority this year is to establish closer relationships between the projects of the European Union and the activities of NATO. The best example here is the military mobility project, which we are developing with Netherlands, Finland, Lithuania and other countries. Work has already begun within the European Union for supporting Allied forces by facilitating cross border movement, simplifying customs procedures and taking into consideration military requirements , for example, the weight of tanks, in transportation infrastructure projects (railways, highways, ports) which are being financed by the European Union.

The development of the Estonian Defence Forces is based on carefully developed and realistic plans. On the basis of the above, we will continue to develop forces that are fully manned, trained, armed, equipped and well supplied. To that end, the defence budget is clearly focused on developing military capabilities, in order to ensure the availability of combat ready units. If a crisis or even war should erupt, then the only things that matter are: how many soldiers, weapons and how much ammunition we have, and whether or not their training has been adequate. Everything else – impossible plans of every conceivable kind drawn up on paper – is thus irrelevant.

In 2018, Estonia’s national defence budget will, for the first time, exceed half a billion euros, reaching EUR 524 million. This mirrors national defence being a priority of the government and broader consensus within Estonian politics and society to set aside at least two per cent of our gross domestic product each year for the development of an independent defence capability. Supplementary to the main part of the budget are the costs incurred in hosting Allies (construction of barracks, warehouses, car parks, garages), and the government has initiated an additional defence investment programme. Should defence expenditures be increased? Definitely, and preferably for the long-term; doing so would also allow us to prepare long-term and comprehensive plans.

The Defence Forces places particular emphasis on improving rapid reaction readiness. This requires ongoing work in improving mobilisation systems. A great deal of attention was earned in 2017 by the short notice training exercise (additional reservist training) Okas (Quill), which clearly demonstrated our readiness. We will continue to organise additional unannounced reservist trainings. The number must increase from one to two annually, with one of the call-ups being at the battalion scale. A major event for the Defence Forces in 2018 will be the large-scale spring exercise SIIL 2018, which includes the entire territorial defence structure manned by the Defence League, as well as other units belonging to the Defence Forces and our Allies.

The largest portion of the defence budget is comprised of various procurements of equipment and the armament for the Defence Forces. There are no plans to purchase submarines or fighter aircraft, as our purchases are strictly dictated by the needs of our units. The goals for 2018 are to replace firearms, continue the mechanisation of the Scouts Battalion, acquire K9 self-propelled howitzers, and fully complement our large calibre ammunition stores. Part of the investment will go to Tapa, for the construction of infrastructure necessary for our own military equipment as well as that of our allies. Since one must be ready to act quickly in the changing security situation of today’s world, one of our priorities will continue to be the strengthening of Estonia’s intelligence and early warning capabilities. Naturally, this is not a topic for discussion in a public text…

The Defence Forces will continue to participate in international military operations and in NATO as well as international response forces. International operations today are actual activities in defence of Estonia, the combatants and veterans of which should be considered Estonian heroes. Foreign missions are important both in providing practical experience for our servicemen as well as strengthening our alliance relationships. It is not a coincidence that the countries which are currently participating in NATO battle group stationed in Estonia have previously been our very good partners on foreign missions.

When it comes to national defence, the most invaluable resource is the people. Our goal is to increase the number of active servicemen as well as conscripts in accordance with the objectives set forth in the national defence capability development plan. The number of active servicemen should reach at least 3400 by the end of 2018. It is our goal to increase the number of conscripts to 4000, by 2022. To do so, it will be necessary to build additional barracks as well as amend legislation, which would make it more difficult to avoid conscript service. We are continuing in a very important direction: the inclusion of women in national military defence. Plans to do so include increasing the number of servicewomen among conscripts as well as active servicewomen.

The principles of conscript service and the reserve army – the cornerstones of Estonia’s national defence – ensure that national defence is associated with the whole of society. Societal appreciation of conscript service, conscripts, and reservists must become a natural part of Estonia's cultural identity. A Defence League based patriotic youth education programme is important in order to ensure the inclusion of future generations.

The as-yet small-scale domestic defence industry, focused on innovative solutions, is currently experiencing strong growth in Estonia. The Ministry of Defence will continue to help the defence industry sector to develop in a stable manner. To do so, we have, among other things, prepared legislation permitting the production and handling of military weapons in Estonia. We support companies in their search for export opportunities.

Estonia has played a leading role in everything related to cyber security over the last decade in NATO as well as the European Union. The topic is one of critical importance to Estonia due to the fact that as an e-country we are dependent to a much greater extent on the functioning of digital solutions. We are amending the structures of the Defence Forces in such a way that cyber related topics will be better managed and coordinated. A national cyber defence command is being established. Our goal is to achieve initial operational capability of this command in 2018.

The key to cyber defence is international cooperation – especially now that NATO officially recognised cyberspace as a domain of operations at the Warsaw Summit. This means accepting what is already taking place: that attacks and defence in cyberspace, along with dedicated cyber weapons, are already an unavoidable part of warfare. The flagship of international cooperation between allies is NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, located in Tallinn, which 20 NATO and EU Member States have already joined. Taking into consideration NATO’s new policies, the tasks of the Centre must also be expanded. For example, the Centre in Tallinn can serve as an excellent platform for developing cooperation in the field of cyber defence between NATO and EU Member States.

The original column in daily Postimees, in Estonian

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