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Estonian MPs: New EDF commander needs to be good at communication

Defense Forces parade, February 24, 2023. Current EDF Commander Gen. Martin Herem in the middle.
Defense Forces parade, February 24, 2023. Current EDF Commander Gen. Martin Herem in the middle. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

While members of the Riigikogu National Defense Committee admit they have their preferences in terms of who should take over running the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) from Gen. Martin Herem, no one agreed to name any names.

The candidates for the position must certainly have a wealth of experience, and the prospective candidates definitely meet this criterion. "They are all experienced career military personnel," said Kalev Stoicescu, chairman of the National Defense Committee (Eesti 200), to ERR on Wednesday. "My personal opinion is that the new chief of defense must undoubtedly possess not only good communication skills but also public speaking skills," he added.

Committee member Enn Eesmaa (independent) also emphasized communication and public speaking skills: "They must communicate with society and speak in a way that is listened to and understood. In other words, they must also have oratorical abilities."

"Undoubtedly, what interests military personnel in the defense forces most are professional skills. But if a person has already reached the status of a general or commodore, then it means that this stage has been passed," he added.

Eesmaa acknowledged that he has his preferences for the defense chief position, but he would not disclose them: "We probably have five or six people who are a general or commodore, and likely one of them will be chosen. I definitely have my opinion on this, but of course, I won't say it publicly."

Another member of the Riigikogu National Defense Committee, Raimond Kaljulaid (Social Democratic Party), also did not want to speculate with names and explained why politicians should not do so: "I think politicians should not be too bold in throwing out these names or even less so in forming some kind of partisan preference. It would make the candidate's life significantly more difficult because inevitably connections or parallels would start to be drawn where there are none. Therefore, I think it should be avoided. The last thing we need is for parties, in addition to prime ministerial candidates or European Parliament candidates, to start confirming defense chief candidates in their boards. That is not a good idea."

Kaljulaid also highlighted communication skills as a prerequisite for a successful EDF commander.

"It's an exceptionally challenging position in that, on the one hand, it requires someone with very good knowledge and leadership skills in national defense. On the other, the chief of defense is also undoubtedly the most visible person in the EDF externally and the one who communicates most with both the political level and more broadly with society and the business community. Therefore, it's not enough just to be a good soldier; this person must also be capable of building bridges with various other sectors of society."

Kaljulaid also emphasized the need for the military leader to excel in foreign relations.

"The commander of the Estonian Defense Forces is significantly involved in international communication. This is not only with our allied countries, but we see that defense chiefs from countries like Asia, most recently Japan, also visit Estonia. So, it's a very, very complex job, perhaps more complex than most people imagine. The candidate must be very strong in many areas," he acknowledged.

Gen. Martin Herem, the current EDF commander, unexpectedly announced on Tuesday that he had decided to leave active service before the end of his term in December 2025 and will step down on June 30 this year.

The new EDF chief candidate will be proposed by Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur after discussions with potential candidates and consultation with the Riigikogu National Defense Committee, followed by submission for government approval. Pevkur hopes that by the Anniversary of the Republic (on February 24), the new chief of defense will be confirmed by the government.

In an interview with Eesti Päevaleht, Pevkur acknowledged that the names of Maj. Gen. Veiko-Vello Palm and the current head of the Defense Forces Academy, Brig. Gen. Vahur Karus, who have been suggested as possible successors to Herem, are credible.

"Surely, they are the most likely candidates, considering their service and current positions," Pevkur admitted. "But similarly, very strong candidates are [Air Force Commander Brig. Gen. Rauno] Sirk and [Deputy EDF head Maj. Gen. Indrek] Sirel, [Navy Commander] Cdre. [Jüri] Saska, and why not discuss the suitability of the commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade, Col. [Andrus] Merilo," added Pevkur.

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Editor: Mait Ots, Marcus Turovski

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