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Laar Ponders How to Make Most of Defense Capability

Source: Photo: Postimees/Scanpix

Defence Minister Mart Laar has emphasized the need for Scandinavian-style total defense, in which all of society participates in countering security threats. 

His remarks came at the opening of the ABCD defense policy conference in Tallinn on September 29.

The Nordic model is not incompatible with NATO, which, as Laar also said in an opinion piece in Postimees on September 27, will remain one of the two pillars of defense, the other being the reserves based on general compulsory military service.

At the conference, Laar said the Nordics "realized long ago" that military forces alone were not enough but that the entire civilian sector should participate in national defense.

"Globalization has united the world but made countries more vulnerable, and trenches and defensive lines are not enough to repel cyber attacks, terrorism and information warfare," Laar said. "Instead we need 21st century total defense - a truly broad-based approach to security, where government agencies, private sector and civic society engage in cooperation for national defense."

Held since 2006, the Annual Baltic Conference on Defence is organized by the Defense Ministry and the Estonian think tank International Center for Defense Studies.

Total defense has been a hallmark of Estonian defense policy. A more specific ten-year strategy is currently being prepared at the Defense Ministry, and despite Laar's focus on intangible and asymmetric threats at the conference, there is a good deal of thinking going on about concrete military scenarios.  

With an increase in Russian forces along the western borders and a reported dropoff in military capability in Estonia's southern neighbors, military topics have been more prominent recently. Head of Laar's advisory board, retired Lt. Col. Leo Kunnas minced no words, saying that the priority for the next ten years is to increase combat capability in light of developments in Russia. He said the three gaps that must be closed are coastal defense, medium range air defense, and armored maneuvering capability.

Defense spending has risen to a promised 2 percent in next year's budget, but with the recession having slightly shrunk the economy, Laar has voiced concern about how to make that money go further.

In his Postimees policy article, Laar presented a four-point plan: reducing bureaucracy, reducing the number of staffs, tearing down walls between ministry "fiefdoms", and working more closely with the private sector.

Kunnas has proposed that the Defense Resources Board could be scrapped in favor of more staffs in the Defense Forces and Defense League, although he and Laar do not yet agree on the exact details.

Kristopher Rikken

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