TALLINN – We need a credible military capability that can be rapidly deployed to any alliance member in case of attack, commander of the Estonian defense forces Lt. Gen. Martin Herem writes in a Financial Times (FT) opinion piece.
According to Herem, by invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has demonstrated beyond all doubt that he is prepared to use military force -- including the threat of nuclear weapons -- to attain his geostrategic aims.
"The inevitable conclusion is that for the people of Ukraine, deterrence has not worked. Attacking them was clearly a crazy thing to do, but Putin still went ahead. From now on, only one thing matters: we need to be militarily prepared for any scenario. Strong defense is the only way to change the Russian calculus," Herem writes in FT.
"In the days and weeks leading up to the invasion, the threat of economic sanctions and diplomatic efforts of Ukraine’s supporters failed to prevent Putin from sending his troops over the border. Russia’s threat to the European security order has led to a new political and military reality, where aggression against NATO allies cannot be ruled out," the Estonian defense chief says.
Herem stresses that it is not that the West has necessarily done something wrong. "We assumed that Russia, while having an aggressive stance towards its neighbors, had entered the 21st century and accepted the autonomy of other countries and the free will of their citizens. We had assumed that if we talked to Putin and demonstrated a certain level of military strength, Moscow would consider the price of invasion to be too high," Herem writes.
According to him, many NATO allies, including the US, Canada, UK, and Estonia were engaged in training of Ukrainian forces in the years before the invasion. "A wider effort might not have succeeded in preventing the war, but it could have halted the invasion in its earliest stages and thus saved many Ukrainian lives," Herem writes.
In his opinion piece, the Estonian defense chief explains that it seems that with every Russian military engagement over the past 30 years, the Kremlin’s threshold for aggression has fallen ever lower. As Moscow’s desire for self-assertion has increased, the West’s response has often been too soft or accommodating.
"For NATO allies, deterrence has worked so far and we have not experienced military aggression. But since Putin is not prepared to play by the same rules as the rest of us, we have no guarantees," Herem writes.
According to him, a fundamental shift in approach is needed: to move from deterrence by punishment to deterrence by denial. "In other words, we me must be ready to prevent Russia taking a single inch of NATO territory, rather than simply trying to reconquer occupied enclaves. We need to rethink our objectives -- first and foremost, we must prepare stronger defenses," Herem writes.
In the opinion piece, the commander of the Estonian defense forces highlights three main lines of action. First, governments must trust military personnel to build readiness. Second, states must invest wisely. "There is no point in acquiring the most modern technology if you don’t have the people, the skills or the funds to sustain it, or enough ammunition to use it, in case of a conflict," Herem writes.
Third, NATO and its allies need to prepare much more comprehensively for swift and viable deployments at the first signs of aggression. "We must deny Russia any military success anywhere on the alliance’s territory," Herem stresses in the opinion piece.
"Finally, we must demonstrate our military readiness, not through rhetoric, but through actions, with a clear explanation of what we are doing and why. Real defense capabilities would speak to the Kremlin far louder than our words have done," the Estonian defense chief notes.