Although Angela Merkel's hesitation on NATO bases unleashed a tempest in a teapot, the reaction says more about Estonians than it does about Germans and it's important to see it in perspective, said political observer Ahto Lobjakas. But he also said he discouraged people from overestimating the practical value of the current symbolic US troop presence.
It's a fallacy to think that NATO means automatic defense, Lobajakas said in a piece originally aired as an ERR radio opinion segment. "Estonia's defense has always had at least three different levels" - the 150 army airborne troops now in Estonia are an example.
Lobajakas says that while the defense adviser to the prime minister argued recently that this increases NATO response speed and not much more is even necessary, this is dead wrong.
NATO doesn't have its own forces under the command of its secretary general, he pointed out. The units based in Estonia would not become involved were Russia to attack, says Lobajakas. And all NATO members decide for themselves whether to go to war. The symbolic forces would probably merely be evacuated.
"The second level is actual resistance. As it stands now, this is Estonia's own job and concern. We have to get by ourselves until allies reach a decision."
The third level would be actual foreign presence that would allow Russian forces to be opposed. This can't be a "NATO base," because NATO isn't the one going to war but rather the individual member states, Lobjakas says.
"All that Merkel said was that Germany is not ready for the third level," said Lobjakas. "Mudslinging at Berlin doesn't help anyone. Germany is to be understood. It has its own traumatic history and its interests in Europe are different from those of the US."