The EANC board recently coordinated with the Estonian Embassy on sending security-related questions to the Estonian Ministry of Defense (MoD) for official response. We were interested in knowing more about NATO, Estonia’s defense spending and the threats Estonia faces. After collectively drafting our list of questions, the Embassy’s Defense Counselor, Mr. Indrek Sirp, submitted the questions and forwarded the responses back to us. Our thanks go out to him and to his colleagues at the MoD who provided this interesting and insightful information. Here are the responses:
- What is your assessment of the NATO summit (held July 8-9, 2016)? What were your expectations and were they met? What are Estonia’s post-summit security priorities?
The Warsaw Summit was truly historic. While the Wales Summit two years ago focused on reassuring NATO members in the East, the Warsaw Summit was about deterrence. The Heads of State and Government decided at the Summit to deploy, for the first time in NATO’s history, battalion-sized battle groups to the three Baltic states and Poland. These battle groups form an enhanced forward presence to unambiguously demonstrate Allies’ solidarity, determination, and ability to act by triggering an immediate Allied response to any aggression.
Also, the Summit pushed forward the NATO cyber agenda. Cyberspace is now identified by NATO as the fifth war fighting domain in addition to traditional air, land, sea and space domains. Particularly important from the Estonia’s perspective was the decision to strengthen NATO Cyber Range’s capabilities. The Range is located in Estonia. NATO will provide significant common funding for further development of the Range.
The main priority now is to make sure that all the Summit decisions will be swiftly implemented. We expect to see NATO battle groups deployed during the first half of 2017.
Lt.Gen. Riho Terras, Chief of Defence of Estonia, Estonia’s Minister of Defence Hannes Hanso, and Minister of Defence of Finland Jussi Niinisto at the Warsaw Summit. Photo courtesy of NATO Flickr page.
- What support/cooperation are you pursuing beyond what the summit decided? How are you cooperating with your Baltic and Nordic (NATO and non-NATO) neighbors?
Besides cooperation within NATO, Estonia highly values defense and military cooperation with individual NATO allies and other partner countries, either on a bilateral or multilateral basis. One of the key relationships Estonia has is the one with the United States. We continue working with the US government to pursue rotational persistent US military presence in Estonia. US forces in Estonia, whether air, sea or land units, will provide great added value in terms of deterrence as well as practical military co-operation. Regional cooperation among the Baltic states historically spans for decades and is both vital and intense. Baltic Defense College, joint Baltic Battalions in NATO Response Force and cooperation in providing common air surveillance for NATO’s Air Policing mission are some of the significant examples of this cooperation. Also wider cooperation formats like Nordic-Baltic, will remain a priority for Estonia.
- Was there any clarification of the definition of the types of attack that would prompt an Article V response? If so, please provide a brief explanation.
Invoking Article V will always remain a political decision of the North Atlantic Council (NAC). NAC will make a decision to use Article V based on the request of a member country and the circumstances at hand regarding a particular situation. There are no prescriptions as to when and how to use Article V. This ambiguity is actually good. For example, the only time when Article V has been invoked was in response to 9/11. This kind of attack was totally unforeseen at the time, so whatever detailed prescriptions had been there in place would have most probably been redundant.
- How are you balancing resources and priorities between cyber security and more traditional security?
In today’s world traditional or conventional security and cyber security are often interlinked. We need both. Great majority of Estonia’s defense budget goes toward conventional capabilities like infantry, armor, fire support, ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance), command and control (C2) and alike. However, many of these capabilities are directly dependent on cyber security. Thus Estonia has increasingly invested also in cyber security (Defense League’s Cyber Unit, Cyber Range, NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, cyber exercises, etc.).
- What is your actual threat assessment of a conventional attack by Russia? Do you and NATO think it’s a real possibility or are there indications that the Kremlin has a boundary where NATO territory is concerned?
A military attack against Estonia is unlikely in the present and near future. Nevertheless one cannot exclude this possibility in the longer perspective. In recent years, the Russian leadership has used military force to change international borders in Georgia as well as Ukraine. Clearly, this is a threat that cannot be neglected. NATO would respond forcefully to any attempts by Russia to take military action against any of its member states. The Russian leadership knows that. However, our biggest concern is a possible miscalculation of the Russian leadership by underestimating NATO’s determination and unity. We need to show Moscow that our defense is credible and this is exactly what NATO is doing by putting up enhanced forward presence in the East.
- What kind of work is being done at your military bases to accommodate incoming deployed units and equipment?
Work is ongoing to expand facilities both in Ämari Air Base as well as Tapa Army Base. Ämari is a rotational home for a number of US and Allied aircraft, including NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission fighter jets. Operational tempo in Ämari has significantly increased since 2014. It needs more space for aircraft and crews. Tapa Army Base hosts Allied ground troops, including US Army companies. The NATO battalion will be located in Tapa, too. The Estonian government has provided additional funds on top of the 2% of GDP to build necessary barracks for Allied troops. The US government has provided generous support through European Reassurance Initiative to construct additional facilities in Ämari, Tapa as well as in EDF Central Training Area.
- What is the status of the deployment of F-35 fighters to the Baltics once they come online?
We would defer this question to US authorities.
- How can Estonian-Americans help advocate for support from the US? What specific cooperation are you looking for from our government that we can contact our legislators about?
Estonian-American community was very helpful throughout Cold War to promote Estonian independence and fight against Estonia’s occupation by the Soviet Union. Likewise, this community was paramount in supporting Estonian quest for NATO membership. Today Estonian-Americans can work with their representatives in US Congress first of all to ensure that US remains committed to the transatlantic alliance and provides necessary funding for US military presence in Europe and specifically in the Baltic states.
- It would be helpful as we advocate for the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) to know what Estonia has done with the funding they’ve received so far and what the plans are for any future allocations.
Estonia received about $68M from ERI 2015. Half of it ($34M) is being invested in the infrastructure projects in Ämari ($24M), Tapa Army Base and Central Training Area ($10M).
Projects in Ämari include for instance a dormitory, operations room, maintenance hangar etc. FY2017 may introduce another $6,5M for bulk fuel storage. In and around Tapa the ERI has provided funding for armored vehicles’ roads, shooting ranges, support facilities etc.
The other half ($33M) was used to fund acquisition of Javelin anti-tank systems through Foreign Military sales. Together with the US military assistance Estonia was able to more than double the amount of Javelin launchers and missiles being bought with its national funds.