Defense Ministry officials find it hard to overstate the importance of NATO's decision on Wednesday to make the Baltic air policing mission permanent.
"I don't think it is an exaggeration to call this the biggest international victory [for Estonia] in recent years,” said the ministry's secretary general, Mikk Marran.
The Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian airspace has been guarded by NATO fighters since 2004. The mission has been renewed every four years, and was due for review again in 2014 before NATO's decision this week.
"After several years of consultations the allies found that the existing solution is the most reasonable, and there is no point in coming together every four years and making the same decision," Marran told ETV. “The decision is the outcome of several years of intense work by Estonian politicians, officials, diplomats and military leaders."
The Baltic countries together pay 2.2 million euros per year to cover travel and accommodation expenses for the fighter crews and support teams, which man up to four jets and consist of 50 to 100 members. Marran said the Baltic countries plan to begin paying for the fuel and increase the contribution to 3.5 million euros by 2015.
But that is still a very good deal for Estonia and the other Baltic states because the cost of establishing their own fighter jet program has been estimated to be around 1.5 billion euros.
Estonia has focused on other areas of defense to compensate for the costs to NATO, such as providing manpower in Afghanistan.