New EDF commander favours extending conscription for some fields

Maj. Gen. Martin Herem took over command of the Estonian Defence Forces from Gen. Riho Terras on Tuesday. 4 December 2018.
Maj. Gen. Martin Herem took over command of the Estonian Defence Forces from Gen. Riho Terras on Tuesday. 4 December 2018. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Maj. Gen. Martin Herem, who took over as Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) this week, is in favour of extending the length of conscription service for some fields in order to increase the EDF's combat power.

Herem, who took over the position from Gen. Riho Terras, likewise finds that women's conscription should remain voluntary, and young men should consider the completion of military service beneficial for themselves and crucial to the state.

On the ETV programme Esimene stuudio, you said that conscription should be 12 months in length in lieu of the current eight or 11 months. What would the main reasons be for this change?

This is just one line of thought regarding the possible development of the modernisation and updating of conscription service that is not covered by any sort of document or development plan.

One of the EDF's primary issues in the development of new capabilities is the number of active servicemembers, of which there aren't enough. Which is why one option actually being discussed in certain fields, such as cyber security, communications, and air defence is the opportunity to extend conscription service to 12 months.

Following six months of training, certain conscripts would serve for six months as soldiers, fulfilling the duties of their wartime post. With this, we could significantly increase the speed of our combat readiness. If we plan to develop some new capability in the future, such as medium-range air defence or coastal defence, then such extended conscription would be one solution to the personnel issue.

At the same time, eight and 11 months of service would continue for the majority of conscripts. This would lead to an increased financial burden on the state, as the length of conscription would increase and we would have to consider paying a wage.

Women's compulsory conscription — how do you feel about this? Should Estonia with its shrinking population be prepared for this at some point?

Women's compulsory conscription would bring us an additional approximately 3,000 conscripts, for whom we currently lack the infrastructure, active servicemembers, subsistence expenditures and this would put an end to the critical need for a reserve with additional training to such an extent.

Another possibility would be to declare conscription compulsory for all, and select from among them only the number of citizens we need and according to our possibilities. This is how it is done in Norway today, where some one fifth of citizens complete compulsory conscription service. The choice is very simple there — they are all volunteers.

This is why I believe we have currently chosen the most reasonable option, where conscription is voluntary for women. As a result, we end up with more motivated citizens in conscription while also broadening the field of recruitment for the recruitment of active service members.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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