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Minister: EDF thinks defense spending should be 4.5% GDP – but there is a limit

Hanno Pevkur
Hanno Pevkur Source: ERR

The head of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) thinks defense spending could rise to around 4.5 percent of GDP, but this is not possible and a "reasonable limit" must be drawn somewhere as other investments need to be made, Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) said.

ERR asked Pevkur during an end-of-year interview if Estonia's defense spending should rise above the projected 3.2 percent for 2024 – already one of the highest levels in the EU – to 5 percent or even 10 percent of GDP, for example.

The minister said, as Russia's defense spending is currently approximately 30 percent of its GDP, Gen. Martin Herem would like Estonia's spending to be higher.

"But we have to take into account what the taxpayer's capacity is, and we also have other areas of life that need to be developed, be it health, be it social or education. We all know about teachers' salary problems. A reasonable limit has to be drawn somewhere," he said, referencing an upcoming strike over pay later this month.

General Martin Herem. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The minister added that defense cooperation also supports Estonia's spending.

"The plans we have made together with the chief of the defense forces here at the Ministry of Defense give us the knowledge, and the best knowledge, that in addition to our own 3 percent, we also have allies, and the cooperation steps we have taken with the British or the Baltic states give us the knowledge that Estonia is protected," the minister said.   

Asked by ERR about areas of concern in defense and where money could be invested fastest, Pevkur said there are "many".

"If I take only the military advice of the head of the defense forces, military defense spending could be somewhere around 4.5 percent. If we look not only at Estonia, but at Europe more broadly, the most critical issue at the moment is ammunition. We have sent a lot to Ukraine and Estonia is buying a lot, but the European defense industry is not yet at the level to fill all the gaps that need to be filled. So if I had to pick out one thing, it is definitely ammunition," he said.

Ammunition (photo is illustrative). Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

Pevkur said residents of Estonia can feel safe at the moment because Russia's military is still busy in Ukraine and is nowhere near Estonia's borders. However, looking at the wider world, things are more complicated due to the Israel-Hamas war and delays in sending aid to Ukraine.

He also highlighted that the EDF is in better condition than ever and territorial defense has doubled in size since 2022.

The minister could not give any more details about the damage to the Balticconnector gas pipeline.

"The investigation is unfortunately still ongoing. We are in contact with the Chinese side, people are in China. It is difficult to say at the moment what information they will come back with. And we do not know how the Chinese side wants to deal with this whole case," he said.

Estonian-Russian border. Source: Dmitri Fedotkin/ERR

Estonia is still prepared to close its border to Russia if it starts increasing migration pressure on the border, Pevkur said.

"Russia is aggressive and will continue to be aggressive, that must be the first determinant that we understand. The threat from Russia has not diminished in any way. Migratory pressure and other hybrid forms such as cyberattacks or something else, are a clear signal to all of us that we must be ready to respond to migratory pressure from the first meter, so to speak," he said.

Pevkur said he strongly believes the West will help Estonia quickly if something happens in the region. He cited the "different layers": Nordic-Baltic cooperation, the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), and "of course" NATO and its new regional defense plans agreed upon at the Vilnius summit last year.

"I believe very seriously in the NATO umbrella," the minister said.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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