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10.11.2004 Margus Hanson, Viron puolustusministeri: Estonia's national defence from the vantage point of NATO membership - New Capabilities; New Possibilities, New Responsibilities

Estonian Defence Minister Margus Hanson1
To the Paasikivi Society
Estonia's national defence from the vantage point of NATO membership
- New Capabilities; New Possibilities, New Responsibilities
Helsinki, 10 November 2004

Dear Professor Viitasalo,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Military cooperation between Estonia and Finland is as old as are our nations. You sent volunteers to fight in our War of Independence. Estonian soldiers helped defend Finland's sovereignty in World War II. Between the two world wars our countries established a close military relationship, which culminated in the coordinated establishment of coastal artillery positions on both shores of the Gulf of Finland.

Our close ties continue today. We may have chosen - at least for the present - different paths to safeguard our national security. Finland is non-aligned; Estonia is a member of NATO. Yet our fundamental interest is the same, which is to preserve peace, security and stability in our region. We will continue to have lots to talk about and many things to do together despite - or perhaps just because of - our differences in alignment. And this time the cooperation will last for longer than twenty years!

Indeed I believe it is right to say that Estonia is militarily more secure today than she has ever been. We may not have NATO bases on our territory, but planes from allied nations are guarding our skies. Estonia's airspace surveillance is managed not from Tallinn, but from NATO's European military headquarters in Mons, Belgium.

Estonian representatives shape Alliance policy, whether it concerns restructuring plans or whether and how to deploy NATO forces. Only one month ago I attended the informal NATO defence ministers' meeting in Poiana Brassov, Romania. Who in this room would have believed ten years ago, let alone fifteen years ago, that an Estonian defence minister would be attending a NATO meeting in Romania and discuss NATO's role in Afghanistan?

Estonia is part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and our national security is no longer our concern alone. According to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty it is now the concern of all NATO nations, just as the security of our allies is our concern as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

So much in terms of an introduction. Let me now turn to the substance of my speech, Estonia's National Defence from the Vantage Point of NATO Membership. I will break my presentation into three parts:

1) New capabilities
2) New possibilities
3) New responsibilities

My first point, new capabilities. This is of course central for a member of a military organisation like NATO. NATO membership has accelerated the process of defence reform in Estonia.

During the past thirteen years we have worked hard at rebuilding our armed forces, with considerable help from our Finnish friends. Our military attaché here in Helsinki, Major Jaanus Elvre, is himself a ‘soomepoiss', as we say. It is not easy to build an army from nothing, but finally we are getting to the point where we are graduating from infantry to motorized infantry. Thus we are preparing for our first major purchase of armoured vehicles for our troops, which will make them both more mobile and better protected. We don't live in very peaceful times. Estonian soldiers have been on various international missions since the middle of the nineteen-nineties, they are deployed on several missions now and will be again in the future. Indeed we are presently finalizing our discussions on the participation of an Estonian sub-unit within the Finnish contingent in operation ALTHEA, the coming European Union mission in Bosnia. The purchase of armoured vehicles will strengthen our national defence and will make our troops more effective on missions abroad.

We will also procure short-range air defence weapons for our ground forces. This is an expensive proposition and will make the purchase of armoured vehicles seem cheap in comparison, but it is essential to increase the protection and fighting power of our troops.

The Estonian navy too is being upgraded. Our procurement plans until 2010 foresee the purchase of new minesweepers to replace our existing ones. This will be one more important step in the Estonian military's move away from donated equipment to new and modern weaponry that fits our plans and our circumstances.

The air force is a more long-term project. Training Estonia's future fighter pilots alone will take a considerable amount of time. However, together with Latvia and Lithuania we have committed ourselves to working out a solution for host nation support services for the allied aircraft that are patrolling our skies today. This is an important prelude to us assuming control of our airspace, which I believe will happen some time during the next ten years. The present government is committed to increasing our defence spending to 2% of GDP, which, taking into account our economic growth, means a significant increase in real terms and therefore also a larger budget to buy expensive equipment, such as airplanes.

But in addition to our own defence budget our capability in a sense is much bigger. One could argue that the money spent on Estonia's defence is not the 200 million dollars, which come from the Estonian taxpayer, but the 570 billion dollars, which is the combined defence expenditure of NATO's 26 members. Thus infrastructure projects that so far were the subject of theoretical discussions in Estonia have become building blocks of the new NATO and should be upgraded with NATO money. I mention here the military airfield at Ämari in North-West Estonia as an example.

However, NATO membership is not about getting something for nothing. Former Secretary General Lord Robertson introduced the usability target of 40/8, meaning that 40 percent of member states' armed forces should be deployable and 8 percent should be on missions at any one time. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has further emphasized the importance of allies meeting these targets.

For Estonia, this is a challenge, but with our upgraded armed forces we will meet it. For many older allies it is a serious exertion, because European armies were not constructed for ‘out of area' operations. Yet it is one that the Alliance must make collectively if we wish to avoid having the Secretary General go around at the start of each mission, cap in hand, to ask for contributions from allies. At Poiana Brassov last month several of my ministerial colleagues advocated having a capabilities' conference before the Alliance decides on a new mission. This would make sure that NATO is not again faced with the prospect of embarking on a mission with not enough resources at its disposal. Thus far the political decision has come before an accounting of available resources, but I believe that the idea that the practical planning should also be in place by the time a political decision is taken is a good, logical and necessary one.

Second, new possibilities. The fact that Estonia has a seat in the North Atlantic Council means that we now have the possibility to influence NATO's decision-making process and NATO's political priorities. Whether and to what extent we are effective is another question, whose answer is determined by our own administrative capacity and political skill. But this is about much more than politics: NATO membership provides extensive possibilities for cooperation in armaments development and in science more generally. On this practical front Estonian innovators and entrepreneurs have already taken important steps to take advantage of what is on offer. But here I believe that the Ministry of Defence can do much more to support our scientists and businessmen. We still do far too little; both in terms of helping our businessmen and scientists get contacts abroad - in this case within NATO structures - and in terms of supporting the development of our defence industry at home. Possibilities only become realities if you actively make use of them.

The same goes for the political side of things. We are now one of 26 around the table. How much we are able to influence the development of NATO depends on the extent to which we are able to clearly define our priorities and to provide positive inputs into the discussions on NATO's future. So far we have not been as effective as we could have been, because our mindset is still largely that of a candidate. We still mostly react to proposals rather than making some ourselves.

Yet this is changing rapidly. I believe that Estonia has unique experiences and insights to offer into NATO's development in general and NATO's relations with the organisation's eastern neighbours in particular. Indeed our status has gradually been shifting over the past several years from that of a recipient to that of a country that is providing assistance itself. We have a unique knowledge of the difficult process of building up defence structures from scratch. We are therefore eager to offer our experiences of NATO accession, the Membership Action Process (MAP) and defence reforms to the countries that have expressed a clear interest in joining the Euro-Atlantic security structures. That is why we advocate that while it is important that NATO prepare for military missions abroad, such as the ones in Bosnia or Afghanistan, we must also not neglect the important stabilizing role that the Alliance's politico-military initiatives have had. We will continue to push for a strong commitment on the part of NATO for the development of the special relationship with Ukraine, as well as for support to Georgia, where Estonia today has one adviser in the defence ministry in Tbilisi. Both of these nations are important for Europe's security and both deserve the Alliance's strong support.

My third point, new responsibilities. This goes with the territory and ties into what I said earlier. If you want to be a member of the most successful military alliance in history you have to be willing to assume the responsibilities that come with that. And I don't only mean the fact that we may one day have to send troops to protect another ally from attack, to fulfil our duty as allies. The other allies have, by accepting us as new members, undertaken to defend Estonia as well, if necessary.

In fact the question of new responsibilities is much larger than that; NATO has an implicit responsibility to provide military assistance where it can, because simply no-one else is able to do so. That is why NATO is in Bosnia and Kosovo today and why we are and will stay for some time in Afghanistan. That is also why NATO, as an alliance, has agreed to train Iraqi officers. Because we are the only organisation capable of doing this.

However, I would even go one step further - and I know that some of my colleagues and perhaps even some of you may disagree - I believe that membership of an alliance also means helping a friend in need. That is why our troops are in Baghdad today, even though Iraq is not a NATO military mission. But we are there because an ally asked us for our help and because we believe that the goal - a safe, stable and democratic Iraq - is important. This is not something that we undertake lightly, and two Estonian soldiers have died for this goal. But Estonia's national security no longer starts or ends on our border, if it ever did. Our national security nowadays depends on developments much further afield, which is why we have committed our forces to Iraq and also to Afghanistan, before Afghanistan became a ‘NATO' mission.

Ladies and gentlemen.

I have not at all mentioned the European Union, except in my reference to operation ALTHEA, where we hope to participate in the Finnish contingent. This in no way means that we consider the EU's Security and Defence Policy unimportant. It is more a reflection of the fact that the topic of my speech, after all, is Estonia and NATO.

We believe that the ESDP is important and we fully supported the formal launch of the European Defence Agency last month. Europe needs to have more military capabilities, because we have to be able to address security challenges on our doorstep ourselves, without always having to ask for support from the United States. This does not however mean that we should compete with the US. Indeed we should not and we must not. Europe and the United States share a common commitment to an open and tolerant society. This constitutes the bedrock of our nations and the reason why we must, despite all disagreements that may at times arise, work together to safeguard our common values.

Therefore Estonia is committed to the principle of complementarity; the EU should not duplicate NATO's resources, but should complement them. None of our countries has funds to spare, which is why it is essential that the development of European military capabilities proceed rationally and efficiently, by making the most use of resources that are already available. This is why Estonia, when committing troops to EU battlegroups starting in 2007, will commit the same single set of forces that we will have committed to NATO as well.

To conclude, NATO membership for Estonia means both a continuation of the process of strengthening our armed forces, which we have been doing for the past ten years, and a qualitative jump in their role and in the support we receive for our national defence. It has meant new capabilities, new possibilities, but also new responsibilities. But the bottom line is that I believe that the fact that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are members of NATO is good for our region as a whole.

Where does this leave Finland? I am not here to say whether Finland should or should not join NATO. However, I believe that also Finland is safer because Estonia joined NATO this year. The fact that fighter aircraft from Great Britain are today patrolling Estonia's sky is a significant qualitative change from just eight months ago, when the airspace of your southern neighbour was for all intents defenceless. What that will mean as far as Finland's ultimate decision to join or not to join NATO, I don't know. That is for you to decide.

But whatever you do, I don't believe that Estonia and the Estonian military would be where we are today without great help we have received from Finland. For this you have earned our eternal gratitude.

Thank you.

1 Presented by Mr. Toivo Klaar, Advisor