Former Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) commander and current MEP Riho Terras (Isamaa) said that in the current critical security situation, the state should increase the defense budget instead of making any cuts and that one of the options could be a loan.
"In my assessment, cuts in the defense sector should not be made in this moment. The international situation is so critical and intense. Cuts in defense send the wrong message and weaken Estonia's defense capabilities," Terras told ERR.
"And if it is urgent then I do not see these cuts, since the EDF has focused on producing actual capabilities over the last few years and has tried to reduce all costs to a minimum. There is no more to take," he added.
Terras said the question is no longer about money, but instead the number of people in active service. "If we reduce that, it is no longer possible to develop new capabilities, because active servicemen have to go with all new capabilities and these have always been limited by the Minister of Defense," the MEP added.
He recommended the government look at how defense planning has been conducted over the last few years and draw from there how all that is not important has been cut. "My recommendation is to instead take out a national defense loan to prepare some capabilities quickly. I am not convinced that we have enough time to delay them for decades," Terras noted.
The former EDF commander emphasized that the Center for Defense Investment (Kaitseinvesteeringute keskus) has saved on concrete over the last years in order to invest in possible development.
Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet (Reform) has noted that the number of conscripts could be reduced. The minister did not specify last week if the defense forces could suspend the plan of increasing the number of conscripts from 3,500 to 4,000 in the coming years.
Terras said that would not be a smart thing to do. "The more young men of that age group go through conscription, the fairer it is to others, to those who have already done their service. The percentage must be higher. That is one of the goals why the number of conscripts has been increased. So that as many young men as possible would be in conscription," Terras commented.
"We can use almost every young person in Estonia, regardless of their certain medical disabilities," he noted.
The MEP noted that conscription requirements should be eased. "Health requirements have been too high. Now they have been eased. You do not have to run around the woods with a Carl-Gustav (grenade launcher - ed) if you have certain health issues, you can sit behind a computer or conduct reconnaissance. These conditions have already been changed and there was a desire to increase the number of conscripts and, by that, increase Estonia's defense capabilities," Terras explained.
He again emphasized that there should be more people in active service and conscription for capabilities to be developed.
Terras did not wish to comment on the laying off of the EDF orchestra, as it draws attention from the main issue. "The orchestra is one of many cuts, but cuts in this security situation are not reasonable," Terras noted.
Current commander of the EDF Lt. Gen. Martin Herem announced via press release two weeks ago that the EDF would be laying off its historic orchestra and chaplain's service in its entirety. Herem also noted that he will also present the defense minister with a proposal to reduce the number of active employees in the EDF by 200 - from 5,000.
Defense minister Kalle Laanet, in a proposal written on Tuesday, said the EDF orchestra and the Police and Border Guard Board's orchestra could be merged into one joint orchestra under the Estonian War Museum.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste