Meelis Oidsalu: Baltics' defense spending should be 4 to 4.5 percent of GDP

Meelis Oidsalu.
Meelis Oidsalu. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Meelis Oidsalu, a security expert, criticized the NATO summit's decision on Ukraine and the alliance's failure to begin contributing more to Ukraine's defense. Oidsalu was also rather critical of Estonia's defensive capabilities.

"When I listened to yesterday's press conference of NATO Secretary General Jens Soltenberg and especially his responses to the confused Ukrainian journalists' questions about what was actually said to Ukraine, I would say that the general secretary had a panic attack, on a purely human level; the talk that Ukraine's place is in NATO, but we're not starting the formal accession process yet — this is essentially what has been said — this talk seems a too raw or ill-considered, both in terms of language and diplomacy," Oidsalu said.

"Stoltenberg may have believed that the United States, Germany and a handful of other countries would reach some sort of agreement, but this was obviously not the case, and no better talking point could be devised than to not begin the accession process, although we will skip part of this process in the future," he added. Oidsalu referred to the Membership Action Plan (MAP - ed.), which was not needed for Finland and Sweden prior to their accession; therefore, abandoning it is neither a precedent nor an advantage for Ukraine.

"Apologies for being so war bureaucratic, but this Vilnius coffee drinking was exactly such war-nerdy cup of coffee. There was talk of approving documents that had been agreed a year ago (Oidsalu is probably referring to the regional defense plans - ed.) and then they could not even agree on the talking points regarding Ukraine.

Ukraine is not doing well

Oidsalu said, in response to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's Tuesday criticism of NATO's decision, that conveying offense and discontent was necessary to keep the issue on the agenda.

"I believe we should be discussing the deteriorating economic situation in Ukraine rather than the NATO summit in Vilnius. During this conflict, [NATO has] not played a significant role for Ukraine, as it has remained ostensibly in the background, so as to deny Putin the opportunity to claim that he is at war with NATO," he went on to say.

In addition, he suggested reading a Wednesday Eesti Ekspress article about the diminishing arms and ammunition stockpiles of European nations and how Estonia's initiative to provide one million projectiles to Ukraine fits into this context.

"This proposition is fundamentally opposed to the European nations' current production and manufacturing sluggishness. If there are no significant advances on the front line by the end of the summer, the West will be unable to supply Ukraine with arms. And if the territories have not been retaken by then, Ukraine's NATO membership may be discussed as a possible exchange for a territorial cession or a temporary approval of the current situation," he reasoned.

"Thus, the situation in Ukraine remains difficult, and Zelenskyy's emotions may be an expression of that," Oidsalu said.

Meelis Oidsalu. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

What is the European course?

Oidsalu said that, in his opinion, NATO nations have become weakened since Russia's invasion of Ukraine because they have surrendered so many of their armaments.

"On the battlefield itself, NATO is weaker than it was a year ago because we have given away a great deal of ammunition and equipment, it has not been produced back, and there is currently no indication of a desire to produce it back and there is still a huge void in the ammunition depots, larger than we might be talking about," he said.

As long as the commitment to spend two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense made at the NATO defense ministers' meeting in 2006 is not met, "there is no point in referring to this plan as an expression of good faith," Oidsalu emphasized.

"But what is NATO? Is it a type of insurance company to figure out how losses will be shared in the event of war?" he asked.

"If we only consider the requirements of the current situation and the actions or inaction of the world's richest bloc of nations in relation to regional national defenses, then there are major unanswered questions. So what is this course, and where exactly are we?" he asked.

In this context, Oidsalu also mentioned Sweden, which will be admitted to NATO, but whose defense expenditure is only 1.4 percent of GDP this year and may not reach 2 percent for another five years.

"Why did we not demand that Sweden increase its defense spending to two percent, as it surely has the means to do so? On the one hand, we are making these incomprehensible demands of Ukraine, and on the other, absurdly disregarding the issue of resources that are the continent's most vital, existential concerns for the coming decades," he said.

Baltic states should contribute at least 4 percent of GDP to defense

Oidsalu, commenting on the situation in Estonia, said that the chief of the Estonian Defense Forces, Martin Herem, could be pleased with NATO's decision to endorse regional defense plans, as he had long advocated for it.

At the same time, Oidsalu argued that the claim by Kalev Stoicescu, chair of the defense committee, that there is a specific defense plan for the Baltic states for the first time ever is untrue.

"No, the previous defense plan was also quite specific about what would happen and which forces would be involved. It's just that there are more soldiers now, and the biggest difference is that we now know for the first time which NATO brigade will assist us. In 2025, the 12th Brigade of the United Kingdom will assemble here for its first exercise. The inertia of the systems is so great that change cannot occur immediately. It is a long, uncertain and complex procedure," he said.

Oidsalu also said that Latvia and Lithuania's respective defense contributions of 2.2 percent and 2.5 percent of GDP are still insufficient.

"In the Baltics, 3 percent should be the minimum rate for the next decade and 4 to 4.5 percent would be adequate, so that in seven or eight years, Russia will have recovered and will be doing its next thing, and we won't have to worry as much about the upcoming US elections and whether or not we will be helped," he said.

When asked if the average Estonian radio listener should be worried, Oidsalu responded, "We don't need to be any more anxious than we have been for the past three decades. If people had a realistic understanding of our current level of security, I believe that most of them would have left within the last three decades," he said.

He pointed out that Estonia has received NATO defense plans 19 years after joining the alliance. "This could have been in place immediately; and 2 percent has still not been reached even 16 or 17 years after that pledge. So, pardon the expression, we are screwing up," Oidsalu said.

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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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