Kaarel Tarand: Anything for the general staff

Kaarel Tarand.
Kaarel Tarand. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Backyard bumpkins have levers with which to stand up to entrepreneurs, as demonstrated by the foiling of plans for a major pulp mill in Estonia from a few years ago. Security men, however, answer only to God, which no man or local government can do anything about, Kaarel Tarand finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

There are still politicians and entrepreneurs who keep repeating the old mantra that Estonia is a great place for business. Apparently, we offer an excellent business environment, tax and business laws, online registers etc. Nothing to it but to do it.

But in truth, enterprise has not held a prominent position in decision-makers' field of view for a long time as the political alphabet runs A to Z security these days.

A businessman is no one compared to a military man. Looming elections reveal the high value parties attach to military men, unlike entrepreneurs. Even retired ones. Parties that have managed to woo a retired general and convince them to run in the general elections are not shy about it. Only the small fish have to settle for retired colonels.

Every party's top retired soldier makes sure that security and national defense remain the most important chapter in the party program and are suitably represented in their person.

The influence active generals, who can formally merely advise the government and parliament, have on the country's political course is greater still. It would be more accurate to say that this influence goes beyond professional soldiers to everyone working in the field of security and national defense. Civilian officials, defense resources bean counters, the military industrial cluster – all inseparable parts of the system, like a mosquito sitting on an ox's horn when plowing.

The fact that military men top businessmen stands out when it comes to so-called special plans, which the Planning Act has facilitated since 2015. Things may also become clear even before planning starts, with security always prioritized over business and expenses to income. This even in cases where income is offered by state-owned companies, never mind private businesses. The old and half-blind guardian (air defense radar – ed.) at Kellavere easily bested a planned wind farm in Virumaa, while smaller radars nipped in the bud the idea of an offshore wind farm near Osmussaare.

The businessman has been diminished to a point where he can be bested even by ordinary people, local residents whose opinion matters more to politicians that developments. Backyard bumpkins, local residents adverse to seeing industrial and infrastructure megaprojects in their back yards, also have levers against businessmen, as revealed by the successful foiling of plans for a major pulp mill from a few years ago. But no man or local government can stand up to military men.

Recent news from that front tells us that Fermi Energia, looking to construct a nuclear power plant on the northern coast, wants to conduct geological surveys in Letipea but "forgot" to notify landowners in the village. In the south, the Ministry of Defense is planning the Nursipalu military training area and has been no clearer in telling locals how much private land has been marked for the purpose by greedy defense planners.

There is hope for the people of Letipea. First, because it will take the parliament a few more years to pass legislation necessary for a nuclear power plant; and secondly because private companies cannot just drive off owners and expropriate property no matter how badly they want to. A decent PR defense could be all that is needed to scare the potential reactor to the neighboring municipality.

The power of national defense is in another league altogether, with the final result decided the moment a defense planner's finger stops on the map. Should your property be under that finger, you will lose your ancestors' lands and houses for unfair compensation, and while the latter can at least theoretically be replaced somewhere else, how will the Defense Ministry make good for the 100-year-old oak tree your grandfather planted in the front yard or the apple orchard from the same period out back?

If the people of Letipea can hope for independent mediation from the state, locals are going against and being repressed by the government in Nursipalu and Soodla with no arbiter in sight. This means that a final decision gets made even before the public is notified and planning starts.

The Soodla training area was created by government order back in 2015, while the special plan was not put forward until this April. Let that serve as a warning for landowners in sparsely populated areas. National defenders' hunger for land will grow in step with budgets and length of barrels.

The Soodla training field was necessary because Estonia's own weapons have gotten more powerful, NATO deterrence posture was upped and more allies with heavy armor stationed in Estonia after Russia invaded the Donbas. The Nursipalu expansion was justified through the need to develop and armor a local brigade. All of it was included in plans when defense spending was 2 percent of GDP.

NATO's defensive purpose changed this year, with national defense allocated unprecedented funding and an agreement to maintain defense spending at 3 percent of GDP made. Estonia will be hosting more troops sporting more powerful weaponry, which automatically means that far larger chunks of land will be needed for defense purposes.

The military men say that Nursipalu needs to be expanded because "the main gun has a range of 7 kilometers." Once Estonia takes delivery of medium-range air defense systems with a range of 50 kilometers, the ministry will proceed to draw bubbles void of civilian life with the same kind of radius around where they will be stationed. And everyone will feel oh so safe then!


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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