War in Georgia proved that conscription, reserve are necessary - Estonian minister

Vahipataljoni ajateenija.

PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu

The war in Georgia put an end to the dispute in Estonia over the necessity of conscript service and a reserve army, Estonian Defense Minister Urmas Reinsalu said in his speech at a conference at the Estonian War Museum on Friday.

Reinsalu said that although heated debates have been held in the process of restoration of the system of national defense in Estonia, never has one doubted in the necessity of a functioning and credible national defense. Three debates of fundamental nature have shaped the present-day system of national defense, he said.

"The first debate was held in the 1990s and it was about collective defense and allied relationships. The question was, shall we count on ourselves alone as a neutral country or shall we develop our national defense within the framework of collective defense in collaboration with allies," the minister said at the conference titled "Inventing national defense 1990-2004."

At that time by far not everyone thought of NATO membership as necessary and possible. "It is only in the action program of the government that won the elections of 1999 that we can find clear and practical guidelines for gaining entry to NATO," the minister and chairman of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) said.

The second debate, which culminated in 2003-2004, was over whether a defense force based on a reserve army trained in conscript service or a professional military is more suitable for Estonia. "After the 2008 war in Georgia in particular, a broad based consensus has been achieved: the Estonian defense forces shall be made up of professional and reserve personnel and conscript service will be preserved as the main tool for manning reserve units and as recruitment field for finding new professional members of the defense forces," Reinsalu said.

Unlike the two first debates, which involved the whole society, the third debate has taken place mainly within the defense forces. "It's been about a very practical issue: does Estonia need real, fully manned and equipped units or can we count also on an unmanned, unequipped structure provided that it looks better on paper," said the minister.

This question, he said, is answered in the ten-year national defense development plan endorsed at the beginning of this year. "According to the development plan we need real, rapidly responding, fully equipped and armed units."

By now Estonia has a long-term plan ready that is realistic and ambitious at the same time, said the minister. "In ten years we will fully develop two highly efficient brigades with the most state-of-the-art antitank weaponry, one of which will feature also infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery. We will go on developing our mine warfare capability, strengthen national guard, ensure modern air surveillance capability, develop the Amari air base, a small but capable special operations unit, and much else," said the minister.

The topic of the two-day annual conference of the Estonian War Museum this time is building up of Estonia's national defense after the restoration of independence.