Coalition-to-be vows Defence League will swim in money

Oliver Kund
, reporter
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Photo: Mati Hiis / Õhtuleht

Whatever the coalition after the elections, next four years for security seem to be as good as set in stone. In national defence, the parties are unanimous regarding Defence League’s preferred development; in public defence, they stand as one to raise wages for policemen and rescuers.

Judging by election platforms, a major spotlight is to shine on Defence League which, by last year’s structural reform was awarded territorial defence tasks and whose ability to rise to occasion is at times doubted.

While other parties promise equipment to Defence League as such, IRL takes the personal approach. The party wants each DL member to possess personal equipment, and they’d balloon the membership from current 23,000 to 30,000 – fast.

According to International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS) senior research fellow Jaan Murumets, three more common chords strike the ear in national defence promises, in the application whereof the voter might as well rest easy.

Firstly, all parties underline the need to invest in strike capacity of the Defence Forces i.e. the professional units at Scoutsbattalion, equally important to fight the «little green men» and to participate in NATO strike teams.

Secondly, reserve units will be fully equipped and prepositioning warehouses will be created for allies’ equipment. The money left over from that might, according to the promises, go to a broad-based development of national defence – for instance, they want to involve the population in national defence to a greater degree.

New weapons coming

In public defence, the election platforms smell of a bona-fide wage bonanza and the issue is where it all finds its balance. Soc dems, the native party of former cop turned justice minister Andres Anvelt, vow policemen will have €1,000 for minimum wages and rescuers, prison guards and customs officials to see minimal wage rise of 12 percent.

With all aforementioned, future wage rises would be linked to average salary. To the wage rise also agrees the current prime ministerial Reform Party who is wiser than to shout out figures. As for the Centre Party, they would skyrocket the minimum police pay to no less than €1,500.

As for the recent months hot topic of separation of police and border guards, only Centre Party has hoisted this on its bandwagon. For those outside the Riigikogu, this is important for Party of People’s Unity (RÜE) and Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE).

On the Defence Forces, any future coalition will probably lavish foreign missions mandates, for on top of participation in NATO strike teams the parties think Estonian soldiers might more often don the blue helmets of UN peacekeepers.

There’s also a measure of party unity regarding the creation of coast guard units – which, due to lack of funds, dropped out of the last national defence development plan. Now, Reform Party would throw this on Defence League shoulders; the soc dems would only consider coastal guards if budget so permits. 

IRL and EKRE would buy largest quantities of new armaments for Defence Forces; the former would have one tank battalion at Tapa by 2019, the other thinks two are better. Mid-range anti-aircraft systems are desired by both.

ICDS deputy director Martin Hurt says tanks and anti-aircraft are easy indeed as bandwagon items, but people forget about the purchase and fixed costs attached. «To buy tanks, even for 2023 no money has been planned. These are the times regarding which the next Riigikogu has no decision power over,» he said.

The squirrels-reformers, however, foresee the smallest armaments buys, making mention of anti tank stuff and armoured vehicles. Their promises do come with a measure of hot air as the purchase agreements with Americans and Dutch have already been signed by two previous defence ministers.

The ICDS senior fellow Mr Murumets says all parties’ defence platforms are plagued by chronic underestimation of costs thereof. «None of their packages are realistic within this defence budget, as the activities of the current national defence development plan are already using up all the resources available,» he said.

Squirrels got crafty

With election promises not fitting into the 2 percent of GDP, the question arises: to carry these out, what do we cut, or where do we get extra money. Only Estonian Free Party (Vabaerakond) would apply for defence costs to be raised to 3 percent. Just half a year ago, IRL was contemplating 2.5 percent, but has by now given this up. Several parties are after fast-track development of capabilities, but none suggests assuming a loan to get it done.

According to think-tank Praxis head Annika Uudelepp, security is obviously set to be a key issue at the elections; even so, it will not amount to a defining confrontation where Estonia’s right defence options would surface. «In defence matters, there’s consensus in party programmes,» she explained.

A reason for that if the step by Reform Party a couple of months ago when they lifted national security strategy to centre stage of their platform. According to University of Tartu Baltics policy professor Andres Kasekamp, they therewith somewhat annulled the chances of IRL, the former defence ministerial party, to set the debate.  

«Now, Reform Party snatched that topic from them. Naturally, they have therewith also deleted the public memory regarding what Reform Party has earlier said regarding national defence – like creation a professional paid army. And also rather successfully, they have deleted from the picture the soc dem defence minister,» he observed.