Estonia aligns defense priorities with NATO's

  • 2002-09-26
  • Aleksei Gunter

In its annual plan to prepare for NATO membership, which Estonia presented this week, it prioritized NATO needs such as rapid reaction forces, anti-aircraft systems and mine sweeping vessels.

The plan, along the lines of those produced by neighboring Latvia and Lithuania, is considered particularly important coming ahead of a summit in November in the Czech capital Prague where NATO leaders will decide on enlarging the alliance.

Of 10 East European hopefuls the three Baltic countries are thought to have excellent chances of being invited to join.

The emphasis of all three countries in their latest plans is to make their systems compatible with those already in place in the NATO countries and to try to provide niche skills which are not available throughout the alliance's member countries.

Estonia's annual national program, sent to Brussels on Sept. 23, consists of five parts scripted by the Defense and Foreign Affairs ministries setting out immediate tasks for the coming year and longer term aims up to 2008.

The plan also outlines positive developments in the last 18 months, including closure of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission to Estonia, participation by Estonian unexploded ordinance disposal teams in the United States' Enduring Freedom Mission in Afghanistan, cooperation on military reform with Ukraine and Georgia, and increased public support for joining the defensive alliance, said Harri Tiido, deputy chancellor of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

"The June polls tell us 69 percent of the Estonian population support NATO membership. That number is the all-time highest," said Tiido.

The latest plan contains a number of concrete proposals which contrast with the more conceptual nature of previous plans, which brought about new laws on national defense and mobilization.

Projects to be undertaken include installation of one long-range and one medium-range radar to be integrated in a single network, creation of a second company of the Reconnaissance Battalion and development of host nation support capacity to enable future NATO partners to deploy their assets in Estonian territory.

The plan which was drawn up in consultation with NATO members also envisages greater emphasis on equipment purchases rather than infrastructure projects, noted Defense Ministry Deputy Chancellor Margus Kolga.

"Construction of two training camps and a base for radars will be complete by the end of this year. Next year we plan to buy 155 millimeter howitzers and other equipment," said Kolga.

As of this year Estonia has been committed to spending at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense annually, a figure that in 2003 will equal around 2 billion kroons (12.79 million euros), said Tiido.

Lithuania has also had defense spending at the 2 percent of GDP level this year, while Latvia has said it will reach 2 percent in 2003.

If Estonia is invited to join NATO in November accession talks could be finished by May of 2003, said Tiido. Having gone through the ratification process membership itself could occur in early 2004.

"We are not going to commit collective suicide if we do not receive an invitation (at the Prague summit). We will carry on with our preparation work," said Tiido.