Conscription in Estonia should be renamed as a term, to reflect more accurately what an Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) soldier actually does during their training period, defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) says. Laanet was speaking after media reports said the Reform/Center government would be making defense spending cuts of up to €10 million, in line with its budgetary strategy.
"In my opinion, the term conscription (Estonian: "ajateenistus " - ed.) does not adequately express what actually happens during this time period, i.e. the young person does not deal with any time, but is engaged in training; learning to be entered on reserve lists after that particular time and be ready to defend the Estonian state," Laanet told ERR Tuesday.
Conscription is mandatory in Estonia, with exemptions including for those going on to higher education study, and for reasons of conscience. Around 3,500 people are drafted per annum and serve between eight and 11 months' national service, depending on which branch of the military they are drafted into – though the air force (Õhuvägi) does not make use of conscripts.
One option for reducing defense operating costs – in addition to reports yesterday that the EDF's orchestra might be disbanded or merged into another organization – would be retaining conscription levels as they are – plans were in place to increase numbers to about 4,000 per year in future years. Laanet said that claims about reducing the volume of conscripts, announced by Riigikogu state budget special committee chair Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), had been a misinterpretation of what he, Laanet, had said on the issue – in that he had not said anything specific.
After finishing this term, ex-conscripts are retained on reserve lists, which boost the size of the regular EDF considerably, and are liable for periodic training over the ensuing years. The volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) further bolsters the EDF's capacity.
Laanet told ERR he could not yet say exactly what terminology might replace conscription. "I can only hazard a guess as to whether it would be a type of civil service, a military service, or a third option. This is a further topic of discussion, where a more appropriate name should be found."
As to overall potential savings, Laanet told ERR that: "We could discuss in this session what opportunities savings could arise. However, I did not say anywhere and in a concrete way that something would have been decided or should be in the future," adding that he could not talk numbers yet, and that EDF commander Lt. Gen. Martin Herem had not submitted any figures to him yet either, nor had anything been discussed about reducing conscript service times.
"When this proposal comes to the Minister of Defense's table, we will discuss and consider it. Let's see what it is about, what it entails, and then we will make a decision," he said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte