Helme: With enough defence capability, Estonia can ignore allies' advice
Once Estonia possesses sufficient independent defence capability, it will no longer have to heed uncomfortable advice from its allies, Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) chairman Mart Helme said at an event introducing the party's positions on national defence on Wednesday.
EKRE's plan for national defence reform calls for developing an independent defence capability and closer cooperation with NATO, the party announced on Wednesday.
"If we have a strong and substantive capability that deters the enemy and ensures a sufficient independent ability to defend ourselves, nobody can tell us to do this, do that, or don't do this, don't do that because we don't like it that way," Helme said at an event in Tallinn at which the party introduced its positions on national defence. "Then we will do what we want."
For instance, he said, the receiving of refugees was something that Poland and Hungary could refuse as a result of having sufficient defence capability of their own.
"A state that hangs all its defence-related hopes on allies is also a toy in their allies' hands," Helme said. "The allies will say what can and what cannot be done in that country. Whether that country must accept refugees or can say that they refuse — like Hungary, which possesses independent defence capability, or Poland, which possesses independent defence capability."
According to the chairman, in EKRE's opinion, Estonia's national defence relies on the assistance of allies, yet independent defence capability must ensure that a state is able to maintain control of its key areas until the arrival of allies' primary forces.
"Our small country in our geopolitical neighbourhood must inevitably pay heed and appeal to allied relations, and absolutely everyone, especially our opponents in the Pro Patria Party, who claim that we want to withdraw from NATO are lying," Helme said. "We don't want to withdraw! On the contrary — we want for NATO to be efficient, for NATO member states such as Germany, whose potential is hundreds of times greater than ours, to employ this potential in the development of Europe's defence capability, their own defence capability and the defence capability of NATO. This is our goal — for allies to show solidarity and contribute to NATO on the basis of solidarity."
According to Helme, Estonia cannot count on allies alone, as each ally has its own problems, objectives and interests. Their bureaucratic mechanism may give rise to protraction, and some allies who do not want to enter into conflict with Estonia's eastern neighbour, may prolong things until protraction is no longer necessary, he said.
"The most important part of our national defence plan — developing our independent defence capability to the point that, first of all, we are very unattractive as a target of any attack — meaning that while we may be a small dog, our bite is very strong — and second, nobody is able to reckon with Tallinn being able to be taken within 48 hours, and then the problem will be solved and no interference will be necessary, and one will be able to start sorting things out in hindsight. Now this is the possibility that we do not want to provide for those that are our allies either — that they can sort things out in hindsight, when we have already effectively ceased to exist as a state."
Increase defence spending to 2.6%, seek more aid
EKRE also promised that, should it be elected to govern Estonia, it would increase the country's defence spending to 2.6% of the GDP in four years. In spite of its target to increase Estonia's independent defence capability, the opposition party also promised to ask "from our most important ally, the United States, for military aid in the amount of up to $1 billion for the upcoming governance period," adding that they would seek aid from Estonia's large European allies as well.
The party's positions on national defence foresee the development of medium-range air defence, minelaying, coast guard, armoured manoeuvering and night combat capabilities, and the implementation of unmanned aircraft and vehicles.
According to EKRE's plan, the volume of conscript service would be increased to 4,500 call-up selectees per year and the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) in time of war to up to 55,000 people, to which 40,000 people from the additional reserve would be added.
As a separate point, EKRE promised that if it should end up being part of the next government, it will exit or at least terminate Estonia's participation in the Ottawa Treaty, which prohibits the use of anti-personnel mines. "We will develop mine warfare capability in the EDF and the Estonian Defence League," the party said.
The program also foresees the restoration of a militarised border guard and the development of the Estonian defence industry.
The party promises to submit a proposal to amend the Constitution so that the prime minister would be made the supreme leader of national defence. EKRE also said that it wants the Government Office's capability as the organ managing broad-based national defence to be strengthened and developed, and for the leadership capability of the Ministry of the Interior to be developed as well. "We will also propose that a clause be introduced in the Constitution regarding the defence of Estonia in any event and however superior the enemy," the party added.
Promote Estonia's interests in NATO
Regarding NATO, EKRE has promised to do everything it can to promote Estonia's national interests in the alliance, attempting to achieve the drawing up of a new strategic concept for NATO that would focus on protecting member states' territory according to the principle of conflict prevention as well as the establishment of military balance. New army capability goals would be established for the Baltics as well, corresponding with the current security situation: two on-site infantry brigades each in Estonia and Latvia and three in Lithuania, while a headquarters for the army corps of allied forces would be established in the Baltics.
EKRE also wants to request that NATO deploy an allied brigade-sized mechanised infantry or armoured unit and an allied long-distance air defence unit to each of the Baltic countries. The party also wants for NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission to be reorganised as an air defence mission, which would mean that Lielvārde Air Base in Latvia would be brought into use and at least eight fighter jets would be deployed to each Baltic country, as well as a flotilla of allied military vessels, including anti-aircraft rocket cruisers and fighters, be located on the Baltic Sea.
Retired Lt. Col. Leo Kunnas, former head of the Operations Department of the Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF), was likewise announced on Wednesday as EKRE's candidate for Minister of Defence.
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Editor: Aili Vahtla