Security adviser to PM: We have never considered a plan B

Toomas Sildam's interview with Erkki Tori
Toomas Sildam's interview with Erkki Tori Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The prime minister's security adviser Erkki Tori just spent two days attending the NATO summit near London where the question of whether new defense plans for the Baltic countries are in place was answered.

Could we say that the recent NATO summit was like a gathering of paramedics around a brain dead patient?

Having been there and seen it first hand, I can say that rumors of the patient dying in agony have been exaggerated.

On the contrary, we saw all allies demonstrate solidarity and unity behind closed doors. The spirit of fellowship was greater coming out of the room than it was going in.

Was French President Emmanuel Macron forced to take back his scandalous words that 70-year-old NATO is brain dead?

He had previously said he used the expression also to provoke a greater exchange of ideas on NATO's political unity and the alliance's role in transatlantic relations, the future of Europe's defense and security policy and its role in NATO.

These are serious and relevant questions that deserve debate. For example, how we could do more in the fight against terrorism? After the events in Ukraine in 2014, NATO has two challenges – Russia and international terrorism that NATO has tackled to some extent in Iraq and to a greater extent in Afghanistan.

And U.S. President Donald Trump did not reiterate his thought that NATO is outdated?

No, he did not repeat that thought. On the contrary, there were signals to suggest he has come around.

Director of the International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS) Sven Sakkov said that surprise-surprise Trump has become a defender of NATO from impatient and foulmouthed politicians like Macron. Is that the case?

How heads of governments and states talk to each other in public and their countries' official positions are not one and the same. Trump left the impression he has become more pro-NATO. And I'll be honest, I was not left with an impression of USA and France or Trump and Macron being at odds.

Toomas Sildam's interview with Erkki Tori Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Immediately before the summit, Turkey's ultimatum not to approve new Polish and Baltic – northeastern flank – defense plans until, as put by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: "…our friends in NATO classify as terrorists the organizations that we are fighting." How unexpected was this political hostage situation?

It was definitely unexpected. Especially in how the matter of defense plans became a public one. Defense planning is usually classified both on the level of members and NATO. It is a process that is never finished – you move on to the next plan as soon as you finish the one you're working on because new circumstances have come to light in the meantime…

The other side, your opponent has taken steps you need to consider?

Precisely. The world is a dynamic place.

Such differences usually do not go beyond NATO offices, while they now became a top-level problem. Why is that?

That is a good question. If you happen to find an answer as a result of future conversations, you can also tell me.

It was not supposed to be on the summit agenda, but because it was made public, it needed to be addressed.

Was it really about Turkey's own updated defense plan that was blocked by the U.S. when they refused to classify Kurdish fighters, their long-time Syrian allies, as terrorist organizations, causing Turkey to block our defense plans in turn?

It is even more complicated than that. But yes, the Turks have their own security concern they are trying to explain to their allies, and our defense plan came up.

However, regarding a topic that should not have been on the leaders' agenda but ended up there after it became public, a solution was found that made it possible to approve our defense plans at the NATO Headquarters after various consultations where our PM Jüri Ratas actively participated.

How was this solution found?

(Pauses.) Different states actively communicated during the days of the summit.

Baltic and Polish leaders met with the Turkish president?

They talked. We cannot say there was a single dramatic meeting where a decision was made. There were other allies, the NATO secretary general and… That is all I would say.

Estonian Minister of Defense Jüri Luik said that it was necessary for everyone to take a step back before a solution was found. Was that the case?

(Pauses.) Yes… We could say that.

Where did we surrender ground?

Let us say it was not necessarily up to us to give something away. Nothing changes in terms of our [defense] plan, nothing was altered, we didn't lose anything. It is difficult for me to comment further.

Did Estonia acknowledge that Kurdish units Turkey is fighting in Syria constitute a terrorist organization?

What Estonia and our PM addressed only concerned our defense plan. We only looked after our own interests.

One can look after one's interests in different ways – either directly or indirectly.

If our PM had talking points – conditionally speaking – they only concerned a single topic that was our defense plan.

Toomas Sildam's interview with Erkki Tori Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The final declaration of the NATO summit reiterates promises that the alliance will ensure the defense of its territory and one billion citizens and that an attack against one ally will be interpreted as an attack against all of them. Can we now go about our lives in peace again?

Yes we can.

And we do not have to consider a plan B of how the Baltics could defend themselves independently?

We never have.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are the most threatened NATO allies today, an analysis by the Atlantic Council, copies of which were handed out to journalists before the summit, warns. Do you agree?

Think tanks put out quite a lot… Looking at geography and troop numbers, reading threat-based planning reports, it is true that the balance of powers [between NATO and Russia] and the speed of troop movement in our region is among the most pressing concerns. However, allied troops have been stationed here since 2017.

The next step is to think about how allies could get here quickly for the purposes of deterrence or addressing a crisis. That is why it is important NATO publicly announced at the summit its Readiness Initiative or the 30-30-30-30 plan to have 30 land battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 naval combat vessels standing by for rapid deployment.

The allies have a lot of troops, but when the security focus shifted away from direct military threats and onto foreign missions in the 1990s, troop readiness became less critical. There have been attempts to change that since 2014 to have more rapid response troops that could be used to avert conflict.

Estonia's contribution to the 30+30+30+30 initiative is a single infantry company?

Yes, over 100 men.

The final declaration of the NATO leaders' summit states that the alliance will respond to Russia's new medium-range nuclear missiles in a moderate and responsible way. What will that response be?

It is important to note that we [NATO] will not be mirroring Russia. We do not plan on developing similar systems and stationing them in Europe, which is what happened in the 1980s and caused tensions to escalate. We will handle it differently – we'll go over our defensive systems and exercise plans, take into account new Russian weapons systems in our planning and doctrine and place new emphasis on intelligence to have early warning.

Russia's aggressive actions are a threat to transatlantic security, the final declaration reads, while it also promises NATO will remain open to dialogue and a constructive relationship with Russia if Russian actions allow. What is NATO's expectation of Russia?

We need to look at the relationship NATO as an organization has with Russia and at individual countries' relationships with Russia. The declaration hardly included anything that was new. It reiterated our Russia policy…

NATO's Russia policy will continue to be based on deterrence and dialogue…


… and this dialogue is based on the alliance's protection?

Absolutely. Nothing has changed there.

Do you know who said: "If we want to have peace in Europe, restore Europe's strategic autonomy, we need to review our attitude toward Russia"?

I think I have an idea, but tell me.

It was President Macron in his famous "NATO brain dead" interview to The Economist. Is there a conflict between what he said and the final declaration of the summit?

He later said that France is not naive when it comes to Russia and takes the security concerns of allies – especially in Eastern and Central Europe – seriously. I do not want to speculate that France has made an about-turn from everything in the past six years. We should not expect anything to change in terms of their participation in the NATO battle group after 2021. They will participate.

Toomas Sildam's interview with Erkki Tori Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

What to do with Macron's idea of Europe's military and technological sovereignty?

He is not looking to overturn or question everything that has been done to strengthen the defense dimension in the EU since 2017. The French president's call for Europeans to think more and be ready to do more is something we could get behind. It coincides with wanting Europeans to contribute more to defense to improve readiness. A better preparedness means a stronger will to deploy troops if necessary because you've given it some thought…

None of it is surprising. The main question is whether it somehow sets Europe in contrast to NATO.

Macron also believes Europe is capable of defending itself.

That depends on what it would be defending against.

It is a complicated matter, how to strengthen Europe without weakening NATO from the inside.

It is complicated. States have the same forces, you don't develop different capacities for Europe and NATO. But it is not necessarily a conflict. Look at the breadth of NATO today; it in no way stops Europeans from pursuing closer defense cooperation if we can align what we do here with NATO efforts. The question is not whether we should develop [defense cooperation] in Europe – the question is how.

President Trump said before the NATO summit held near London that allied defense spending should be at 4 percent of GDP. The final declaration still only mentions the 2 percent goal. Therefore, Estonia contributes enough.

Looking at NATO criteria, we are doing what we've promised. We have been spending 2 percent since 2015.

As concerns 4 percent… we're not there yet. We're still talking about allies reaching 2 percent of GDP by 2024 as we agreed in Wales four years ago.

Will they?

Most NATO allies have made the pledge in their planning documents. Time will tell whether we'll get there. Recent years have seen European defense spending grow. The Germans also said they aim for 2 percent of GDP, while they plan to get there by 2031. These are significant utterances.

Therefore, we can be sure that the principle of "an attack against one is an attack against all" will be honored should something happen?


… and our allies will come to our aid…

Without a doubt.

… and they have the political will, military capacity and up-to-date defense plans?


And NATO remains the most powerful military organization in the world?

I agree wholeheartedly.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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