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Kaljulaid stresses need to invest in conventional defense

President Kersti Kaljulaid.
President Kersti Kaljulaid. Source: (Siim Lõvi/ERR)

In her speech at the Annual Baltic Conference on Defence (ABCD) on Wednesday, President Kersti Kaljulaid said that beyond cyber and hybrid threats, conventional ones had recently been confirmed. “Sometimes it’s a piece of metal travelling at 700 m/s that makes the difference,” the president said.

Kaljulaid stressed the importance of the European Union’s core values. The EU wasn’t a union of giving and taking, but one based on the ideas of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the sanctity of life.

With this in mind, that religious extremism had indeed turned out to be an issue in the union’s approach to the migration crisis, at least to some degree, was a challenge. People had been treated well in Europe, but those who didn’t respect the very freedoms they were benefitting from had now made Europeans question the union’s attitude that cultural differences should be welcomed, Kaljulaid said.

The other great challenge facing Europe was the increasingly unpredictable behavior of Russia. The Zapad 2017 exercise was underway, large numbers of additional troops were moving to Russia’s western border. The military of a country moving closer to the EU’s own border that had recently used force against its neighbors was unsettling.

While Russia was calling Zapad 2017 an anti-terror exercise, there was more to it than that. Looking at the weapons involved, and also the nuclear forces exercises the country was running in parallel, the more likely scenario was Russia running an attack scenario on allied countries along NATO’s eastern flank, Kaljulaid said.

Russia was avoiding its obligation to inform other countries about its exercises by making Zapad a succession of small ones, while at the same time insisting that dialogue with NATO continue. And though the threat assessment remained low, there was a higher risk of incidents, the president pointed out. The lack of transparency meant Russia’s intentions were questionable.

The changing security situation had led to a new understanding that conventional threats still remained an issue. There were now three areas to keep track of, namely conventional threats, cyber threats, and hybrid threats. All this meant that the awareness of new threats in the EU was rising, which included the population, but also meant that the union could now go beyond declarations in its common defense policy.

Kaljulaid pointed out that there were areas where the EU’s common defense efforts could complement those of NATO, for example in the matter of defense spending. The EU’s best capacity was that of harmonization, and in the concerted use of funding. An example of possible cooperation regarding defense spending was that of Luxembourg, who had recently invested in Estonia’s efforts in cyber defense.

In this sense, defense spending could be implemented as an investment in the local industry as well. The developments in the area of security as well as the increased spending of NATO members on their defense budgets had already affected prices in the industry, the president said.

But no matter the format and the ways to do this, the need remained to invest more in conventional defense. Though hybrid and cyber threats were a fact, the continuing existence of conventional threats had recently been confirmed, and there were situations where it indeed was “a piece of metal travelling at 700 m/s that makes the difference,” Kaljulaid said.

She also pointed out that no matter what was decided, building up greater defensive capabilities would take years.

This year's Annual Baltic Conference on Defence (ABCD) concentrates on questions surrounding the European Union's common defense and security policy. The conference is taking place on Wednesday, Sept. 6 in Tallinn.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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