Survey: 90 percent of populace supports military conscription

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EDF conscripts' boots on the ground. Source: Karl Jakob Toplaan

Support for military conscription in Estonia stands at 90 percent, the Ministry of Defense says.

Estonia has conscription in place via two tiers of eight- or 11-month stints, depending on the , though exemptions can be obtained, including for those in higher education, whose conscription is deferred indefinitely.

"Draft dodging" is practically unheard-of in Estonia, though the country has or is currently participating in many major international military actions or missions, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the French-led Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region of Africa (Estonia sends an infantry platoon to Mali).

The poll, entitled the Public Opinion and National Defence Survey, also saw79 percent of Estonia's residents supporting the current system of a professional armed forces – the EDF - backed by a large reserve of former soldiers and conscripts, matched by the national volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit).

Given Estonia's size, there is little or no credible alternative to the reserve/conscription model in any case (neighboring Latvia phased-out conscription in 2007, while Lithuania reinstated it in 2015, having abolished it earlier, following the 2014 annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and the on-going insurgency war in eastern Ukraine - ed.).

Defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) says the defensive will of Estonia's residents – 77 percent of residents believe that Estonia must provide armed resistance in the event of an attack – is similarly high.

"More than half of the Estonian population is prepared to personally defend the country in the event of an attack," Laanet said, via a press release.

NATO membership continues to be largely supported, while the presence of NATO personnel in Estonia is also largely appreciated, the survey found.

Kalle Laanet said: "NATO's role in ensuring Estonia's security continues to be considered important – 52 percent believe that if a conflict breaks out, NATO will provide direct military assistance, while forty-five per cent believe that NATO membership will prevent military conflict."

These figures rise – to 75 percent – on those who support the allied presence in Estonia, which mostly covers the NATO Baltic Air Policing presence at Ämari, west of Tallinn, the U.K.-led Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup at Tapa, to the east of the capital, headquarters staff in Tallinn itself, and frequent visits and deployments by U.S. Air Force planes LINK, the loan of U.S. drones, artillery pieces and other materiel, and exercises involving U.S. special forces, often part of wider pan-Baltic or pan-northern European exercises.

Sixty-five percent of respondents said that such endeavors make Estonia, which borders with the Russian Federation, a safer place to live.

NATO membership is a symbiotic thing, Laanet went on, with two-thirds of respondents supporting EDF and other participation in international operations as a quid pro quo for both the presence of NATO forces in Estonia, and for Estonian personnel to get the necessary military experience.

Laanet also noted that readiness among young people of upper secondary school (Gümnaasium) age to participate in defense activities has risen to 63 percent, from 54 percent a year ago, while as much as 81 percent of the population as a whole sees a national defense education a necessary part of high school curricula.

"These numbers confirm that the national defense education programme must move forward," Laanet said.

Laanet also noted that support for women being involved in national defense has continued to rise in recent years, and now stands at 80 percent.

Defense includes cyber warfare, cyber defense and related activities; NATO's Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (NATO CCDCOE) (CCDCOE) has been headquartered in Tallinn since 2008, while the volunteer Defense League includes cyber defense aspects – often taking advantage of the fact that well-paid IT and related workers can afford to provide their services for free and in their free time, on a voluntary basis.

The EDF includes naval (Merevägi) and air (Õhuvägi) forces, which are not separate services, as well as the military police (Sõjaväepolitsei).

This Ministry of Defense website sets out Estonia's planned defense development, as well as its history since independence.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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