Pevkur: NATO would fight Russia from first meter under new defense plans

Allied Troops at Tapa Military Base.
Allied Troops at Tapa Military Base. Source: Oliver Turp

According to Estonian Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform), Estonia has three objectives for next month's NATO Summit in Vilnius, the most important of which are the alliance's new regional defense plans. According to those plans, which were finalized in spring, in the event of an attack, NATO will fight to defend its members' territory from the very first meter.

I understand that, in Vilnius, we would like the rotation of Baltic air defenses to be decided. At the same time, we have announced that we will be buying an Iris-T medium-range air defense system. Why, then, is this rotation still needed?

First of all, we currently have an agreement with Spain, whereby they have come to provide us with air defense in the form of their NASAMS (National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System). Second, if we take the capabilities that Estonia is acquiring as a whole, they will [still] not cover Estonia in their entirety. In the same way that no country in NATO has air defense capabilities that cover their entire country. Nor does Ukraine at present, no matter how much has been given to it.

So, in fact, our initiative to create an air defense model based on rotation, similar to the air security model, is now in its final stages. We hope that this approval will come. But of course, it is not only about the Baltic states. It is primarily about NATO's eastern flank, but also, in terms of the wording, about NATO as a whole.

For us, then, the aim in Vilnius is, that we want to see the continuation of the air security mission, the rotation of air defenses and for all three Baltic states to have framework nations linked to those three divisions. Do I understand that correctly?

In fact, the divisions, or our framework nations, are in place. The Lithuanians have Germany, the Latvians have Canada and we have Great Britain. They are in place.

We have the three big targets in Vilnius.

First, the approval of the regional plans. This will give us a real defense model, outlining how Estonia will be defended, along with our with allies, if necessary.

Second, the NATO Defense Investment Pledge, or what we are saying about that, is that it should actually be two and a half percent (of GDP – ed.), because two percent is not enough. However, we still have to be realistic and make sure that every member contributes at least two percent.

And at least 30-35 percent of that (total) would go on investments. Otherwise, you take those defense costs and pay them out in salaries, so you don't actually have very much money left for investments, or strengthening defense capabilities. So, defense investment is an important component. And the third component then is really the rotational air defense model.

These are the three main areas that we hope agreements will be reached on in Vilnius.

You talked about the new regional defense plans. What's different about them compared to those in place at the moment?

Obviously, we cannot go into too much detail because these are secret plans. All we can say, is that while the previous NATO defense model was based primarily on retaking territory - if an adversary occupies NATO territory, regardless of in which direction, NATO will win back that territory - now we have moved to a forward presence for defense. That means, NATO will not actually give up any of its territory. It will fight [to defend its territory] from the first meter, which has always been Estonia's defense plan.

We will defend our territory from the first meter, and we have now basically received that same position from Madrid (the 2022 NATO Madrid Summit -ed.) as a general political guideline.

Now, within a year, that political guideline has been backed up with a real military plan. This military plan outlines what amount of troops will be needed to defend this or that area, under whose command they will be, how they will be led and everything else necessary for the military defense of, for instance, Estonian territory.

I've heard in briefings that this is in fact NATO's first collective defense plan against Russia. Is this correct? Is it true that in Madrid the member states agreed that the greatest threat to NATO as an alliance was Russia? If Russia is the greatest threat, then it follows that these regional plans must also look at where that greatest threat comes from.

We understand that, because of our geographical location, the greatest threat to Estonia can only come from Russia. Therefore, of course, our defense plan focuses on how to protect Estonia from the threat of Russia, because we do not see a threat from Finland, Latvia, Sweden or anywhere else.

So, in fact, the only place where there could be a threat to our independence, to our freedom, is from Russia. That is why our defense plan is directed primarily or exclusively toward that.

But is the current NATO defense plan more of a logistical plan, concerning how the troops should move if, for example, Russia were to attack? That is, troops would move from one country to another, however, it is not clear exactly who should move. Is the plan up to now more logistical in nature?

I cannot comment on the details of the current plan or the details of the future plan.

The important thing is, that NATO's defense posture has fundamentally changed since Madrid. Indeed, the defense plans sent to the member states by SACEUR (NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe - ed.) on April 14, very precisely examine what amount of forces are needed in one region or another to maintain the independence of NATO members and the integrity of NATO.

Why I ask this is, that it has been said before that NATO has defense plans for the Baltic States. However, last year, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said, that under previous plans, Estonia would be destroyed if Russia attacked. Now it is said that there are new plans. How is the Estonian public supposed to understand that these new plans are better and that those previous plans constituted any kind of defense at all?

The public must understand, very simply, that: these defense plans, which are new, have been drawn up on the basis of calculations to which Estonia has communicated its needs.

SACEUR has reviewed all the regions together, including the fact that Finland has joined NATO. It has made these plans while looking at what is happening in Ukraine, looking at Russia's pattern of behavior and Russia's military actions, in order that these plans guarantee the independence of the Estonian state, the independence of our neighbors and the security of the alliance as a whole.

As I said, we cannot publicly address these plans, but we can confirm that, based on the military advice provided by the defense chiefs of each country to those at the political level in NATO, all these plans have been agreed on. And I, along with the chief of our defense forces, can confirm, that these plans guarantee the defense of the Estonian state.

Do the new plans ensure that, should Russia attack, a plan is in place to defend Estonia and the other Baltic states and to fight a war to a victorious end? Is everything clear in this chain of command?

Everything in this chain of command is clear on paper. What is important now is that these plans are implemented as quickly as possible, ideally by the end of this year or perhaps early next year.

This means, that all the countries in NATO have to implement the plans that SACEUR has laid out. Of course, the military leadership will then be able to ensure that those forces are assembled in ways which ensure the defense of every NATO territory in absolute terms.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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