Inevitable guarantee of independence

  • 2004-03-11
With just three weeks left before the signing of the historic NATO enlargement treaty, Estonian Defense Minister Margus Hanson is busy ensuring that all the requirements are met and accession goes smoothly.

In the meantime he is trying to transform the country's miniscule defense forces into several niche units that will able to make a positive contribution to alliance security. He met with Aleksei Gunter this week to discuss these and other issues in the countdown to one of the most important days in Baltic history.
How has the death of Andres Nuiamae affected the morale of Estonian troops in Iraq, and will there be any changes in their mission profile?
This tragic event - the death of Sergeant Andres Nuiamae - marked the first time since the 1920s when a soldier wearing the Estonian uniform was killed in action. Because of it, this tragic event is extraordinary - it will definitely affect our attitude toward the defense forces and the missions they take part in. In this case, if we are talking about the concrete mission in Iraq, the morale of Estonian soldiers there is high, and the operative tasks are being carried out in the same area and in the same way as before.

Speaking about future missions, will the Nuiamae case change anything in the way Estonian peacekeepers are trained?
Like many soldiers have said, such missions require, in addition to the training, support from fellow soldiers - and a little luck, too. In this case [with Nuiamae] the training cannot be reproached whatsoever. [However], the experience received during these missions will be taken into account when training for new ones.

What are the key things your ministry is working on in the weeks before accession?
First of all, the Defense Forces Development Program for 2005 - 2010. Its goal is to ensure that Estonia is able to contribute to collective security of its units - that is, rapid reaction, mobile units compatible with others. Second, air space surveillance and security. The third thing, which is almost finished, is the minesweeping unit.

What will be the defense forces' strategy according to the development plan?
Last November the government mandated the development program and a new military defense strategy. Both these documents were worked out together. I have to say that NATO accession has given substance to the concept of total defense. Total defense, after all, is not only about the military; it is also linked to civil services and their connection to the military. Although civil defense is under the authority of the Interior Ministry, after NATO accession the ministry will coordinate this with NATO. The Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and others will also be involved.
The total defense concept in the future will require many activities.

What will be the main topics of your meeting with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on March 12?
Above all we will discuss the commitments needed to be fulfilled before the [NATO] accession treaty is signed. They are either done or will be done promptly; out of the 80 obligations laid out in the timetable of reforms, most have been fulfilled. The most important of them is the update of the Defense Forces Development Program [for 2005 - 2010] in accordance with the new [NATO] requirements, and this is close to being finished.
Today [March 8] we had a meeting of the government's NATO commission where the document was presented. We want to have this document approved at the March 25 government session in time for accession.
Air-policing solutions will also be discussed [with Scheffer], in addition to the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Will there be more AWACS flights in Baltic air space, particularly in Estonia's?
If any such flights are planned, the general public will be informed about them.

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, said Russia was worried about the potential accommodation of NATO arms on the territory of the Baltic states and Slovenia after alliance enlargement.
In the sense of air-defense it will only be natural. If we join NATO we become a part of NATO's air space, which must be secured according to NATO regulations. NATO is looking for a solution to the problem that Slovenia and the Baltic states do not have the ability to police their air space. Otherwise, I do not consider it possible [that NATO bases will appear in Estonia].
Certainly military bases would create economic opportunities and security guarantees, but setting NATO bases in Estonia was never discussed, and neither was an allocation of nuclear weapons in Estonia.

Is voluntary military service popular among Estonian women?
Our ministry supports the national defense classes at schools. Last year a special textbook was published, and now the national defense classes are held in 70 high schools and vocational schools and girls can also attend those. In connection with that the interest toward military service among girls has increased.
This is not a part of NATO integration. It is rather our own initiative to boost the youth's desire to defend their country and to explain the defense forces' structure, national security and civil society in general to students.

Apart from air security, are there any other military cooperation projects between the Baltic states?
Cooperation between the Baltic states has been very robust. That can be seen from the days of the joint infantry battalion BaltBat, which was the first step to the development of our ability to carry out peacekeeping missions abroad. That cooperation in turn has stimulated our integration into NATO.
Take the current air-policing project, or the minesweeping naval force Baltron. BalfDefCol is also important: Our future generals and commanders are trained there, and they receive very modern, NATO-standard training at the college.
In less than a month we will be members of NATO, the most powerful military organization. Five or 10 years ago nobody would have even taken seriously that the three Baltic states could even dream about this. But today we can say that joining the alliance is an inevitable guarantee of our independence.