Estonia's consciption-based reservist model has served it well, but would come up short in terms of rapid response, considering how Russian military capability has increased in recent years, a paper published by the International Center for Defense Studies concludes.
The paper by deputy director Martin Hurt finds that "more radical measures" are called for if the country is to have a chance of staving off action similar to the one seen in Crimea, which was accomplished in 20-40 hours.
Three measures he mentions are establishing additional professional units parallel to the existing Scouts Battalion, creating elite units within the volunteer Defense League as well, and extending the duration of conscription so that conscripts who have learned to fight on the platoon and company level are not assigned immediately to reserve but remain on active duty for some time.
Estonia's national defense plan approved in 2013 calls for total primary response forces and reserves to reach 90,000 by 2022, with the home guard also to double, but Hurt argues it focuses too much on quantity, not quality.
"The large numbers do not necessarily ensure sufficient security in a situation where an enemy is acting in a rapid, well-thought-out manner. As illustrated by the events in the Crimea, an attacker may intentionally sow doubts as to whether the country has indeed fallen victim to aggression or whether it is merely a criminal group that has managed to occupy a building. This 'fog' may cause mobilization to be put off so long that the adversary has managed to occupy some key sites. This also makes mobilization much more complicated, if not impossible, to carry out."
Hurt credits the former commander-in-chief Gen. Ants Laaneots with focusing on mobilization, but says it mobilization is still a neglected aspect of the reserve system. Furthermore, Defense Forces stockpiles of materiel are not decentralized as they are in Scandinavia, but often in the same central locations that existed back in Soviet times and would be known to an enemy.
As has often happened this spring, events have got ahead of the think tank - NATO has since announced a set of deterrent measures, and yesterday the US said a small contingent of rotating ground units will be stationed in Estonia until at least year's end. Hurt also says an option besides a large standing military force would be for NATO to establish stockpiles of equipment in Estonia ahead of time.