Estonia's parties want to raise defense spending to 3-6 percent of GDP

Military exercise Okas 2022.
Military exercise Okas 2022. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

Estonia's defense spending should rise to between 3-6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the near future, political parties competing for Riigikogu seats at next year's election have said.

Thursday's "Aktuaalne kaamera" spoke to all parties expected to clear the 5 percent threshold at next March's election: Reform, EKRE, Center, SDE, Isamaa and Eesti 200, which according to current polling will win seats for the first time.

All parties believe the target should be 3 percent, with several calling for it to be higher.

Politicians want to follow through on promises made by the current and previous governments and to create long-term cross-party agreements.

Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform Party) said: "Three percent should be the new cross-party agreement in principle. In addition, of course, to the question of strengthening the defense forces."

Hanno Pevkur Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

He added the Estonian Defense League needs to swell to 20,000 and that the country's defense industry should strengthen and increase its export potential.

Raimond Kaljulaid (SDE), chairman of the Riigikogu's National Defense Committee, said: "In addition, we want to ensure that there is permanent funding for civil protection. This should be at least 0.5 percent of GDP."

EKRE's Leo Kunnas, an ex-serviceman, agrees with Kaljulaid.

"We will finish the reforms of the previous three governments. Increasing wartime defense capabilities, reinforcing artillery, and creating company-sized tank units in both brigades. And replenishing ammunition stocks," he said.

Riho Terras Autor/allikas: Priit Mürk/ERR

Isamaa's MEP Riho Terras, a former commander of the Estonian Defense Forces, believes it could be higher still.

"Spending on defense should be doubled in wartime for at least the next five years to do things that urgently need funding. We certainly need to think about civilians — we also need to deal with veterans, to create a situation where our companies encourage the participation of reservists in exercises," said Terras.

Neeme Väli (Center), former head of the Estonian Defense League, said emphasized the need for cross-party cooperation and a review of the services.

"To review the foundations of our defense. [To see] How the defense force operates today — is it adequate? Does it need to adapt to the situation we are in today? The 3 percent is in the manifesto, and with a clause that if there is a need, that percentage can be reviewed," said Väli.

Kalev Stoicescu. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Eesti 200 would double spending to 6 percent.

"A cross-party agreement would be concluded to allocate 6 percent of GDP to defense and security as a whole: 3 to military defense and 3 to non-military aspects," said party member and security expert Kalev Stoicescu.

He said Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) should also be allocated more money as part of this move.

Estonia's current defense budget totals 2.35 percent of GDP. The Ministry of Defense supports raising it to 3 percent.

The next election takes place on March 5, 2023.


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Editor: Marko Tooming, Helen Wright

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