According to an assessment recently published by the National Audit Office, the training of wartime units by the volunteer Estonian Defence League (EDL) from 2013-2017 as outlined in the national defence development programme was conducted mostly as planned, however this training was not conducted systematically due to insufficiently concrete goals.
The national defence development programme implemented since 2013 has entrusted the EDL with concrete tasks in the context of both the military defence of the state and domestic security, according to a National Audit Office press release.
One fourth of the armed forces trained for Estonian defence is the responsibility of the EDL. Furthermore, the EDL trains non-military units to support the formation of the units of the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF), guard national defence sites and assist the police and the border guard in maintaining public order in crisis situations. In 2018, the EDL has been allocated €33.5 million from the state budget. In addition, the EDL receives supplies from the EDF to be used for wartime unit training.
The audit conducted by the National Audit Office has revealed that training of land defence military units has been a priority of the EDL, with the manpower, supply and combat readiness aspects of these units and the special ops commands improving annually and the training process conducted largely on schedule.
One problem identified in this area, however, is the scarcity of participants who are in active service, which in the EDL directly affects both peacetime activities (including th training of military and non-military units) as well as the process of filling active servicemen vacancies in the wartime units. The jobs of the missing active servicemen in the EDL are performed by contractual employees and to some extent by volunteers, but this is not a sustainable situation and an alternative solution must be found in cooperation with the EDF. It is the opinion of the National Audit Office that an assessment must be made about whether some of the jobs have too high military training credential requirements.
The EDF inspect how the EDF trains wartime units, assessing their combat readiness. These inspections cover all vital aspects: unit manpower, training level, supplies and leadership. EDL combat readiness was checked in 2016 and 2017. In the course of the extensive Siil 2018 exercises, an inspection was conducted of what the EDL had achieved over the previous five years in development of military and non-military capabilities.
Defense development programme goals too vague
The National Audit Office deems it a serious problem that the national defence development programme for 2013-2022 and its updated version for 2017-2026 contains only generally phrased goals for the EDL's military and domestic defence auxiliary non-military units. According to the national defence development programme, the EDL's non-military tasks include providing support for the formation of EDF units, protecting national defence sites that are in the Ministry of Defence's sphere of responsibility and assisting the Police and Border Guard Board in maintaining public order.
Neither the Estonian government nor the Ministry of Defence (in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior), however, have set any measurable goals or a timeframe for the fulfilment of the EDL's non-military tasks. Thus, to a considerable extent, the EDL independently ensured non-military task readiness for 2013-2017. Various EDL districts understand non-military tasks differently, which is why the plans and preparation practice for such tasks as well as personnel training also differ from district to district. As no measurable goals, i.e. which units, what kind of training, supplies and so on, have been set, it is impossible to assess the level of training of the EDL's non-military units.
Ministry, Defence League lack reliable central database
Another concern cited is that the databases in the Ministry of Defence's sphere of responsibility and the EDL's volunteer registration database do not provide sufficient personnel information for EDL operations.
In the course of the audit, it became clear that there was no centralised source of reliable information about active member sof the EDL, such as their compliance with requirements, including health requirements, current mobilisation restrictions, training level, and the extent of their participation in training events.
The primary cause behind this issue is the insufficient functionality of existing databases, including the inability to cross-reference, and the poor quality of the data stored therein. According to the National Audit Office, it has been very difficult for the EDL to determine whether the list of active members contains deceased persons or persons with current criminal records, for example, or whether all active members are in fact Estonian citizens are required. Due to this lack of adequate inormation, it is impossible to ensure within a reasonably short period of time that essentially correct decisions are made regarding EDL members, leaving room for confusion to arise when units are to be deployed operationally.
For example, the current information systems do not provide a complete overview of active members holding positions with mobilisation restrictions, which is why it cannot be excluded that one person is encumbered with multiple national defence obligations. There is also no overview of EDL members who are simultaneously involved in another voluntary domestic security organisation, such as auxiliary police or volunteer land or maritime rescue. In practice, this means that a person that is supposed to be able to be relied upon in a particular situation may not actually be available when the need arises as they are busy fulfilling other tasks at another voluntary organisation.
One positive aspect is that the EDL's personnel registration system is already being updated, and as a result, both the availability and usability of the personnel details needed for EDL operation should improve. The new personnel information system should also facilitate the ascertainment of the actual number of active Defence League members who are contributing to national defence in a tangible manner. With regard to passive members, the new system should simplify the process of finding effective means of either engaging those people or dismissing them from the organisation. Recruitment of new members would be increased as well.
The auditors also assessed whether the EDL uses state-allocated funding expediently and legally. The National Audit Office is of the opinion that the financial control system in the EDL ensures expedient consumption of the funds allocated to the EDL from the state budget and the legality of its financial transactions.
The audit did not cover the EDL's women's and youth organisations — the Women's Voluntary Defence Organization (Naiskodukaitse), Home Daughters (Kodutütred) and Young Eagles (Noored Kotkad) — its cyberdefence unit or its school.
The Estonian Defence League is the largest volunteer organisation in Estonia, whose membership, including its women's and youth organisations, has exceeded 26,000, or about 2% of Estonia's total population.
The EDL's goal is to increase its membership to 30,000 by 2026.
Editor: Aili Vahtla