Defenders of Estonia to be paid better

Oliver Kund
, reporter
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Photo: Sander Ilvest / Postimees

Though precious little was left in coalition treaty of what parties promised the voters during elections, the plan to raise salaries and benefits is so costly that part of activities may have to be postponed, admits defence minister Sven Mikser (Soc Dems).

What you actually wanted was to be foreign minister. Why did Reform not grant that to you?

For soc dems, many issues were of importance and when it comes to my personal ambitions, I begin by submitting these to the preferences of the party. Foreign minister, naturally, is an ambitious post. On the other hand, it is easier to lead the party as defence minister, because that means a little bit less travelling. Compromises are needed, and as these could not be overly painful in any direction, this time the choice was such.  

What do you feel when President Toomas Hendrik Ilves talks in foreign media about Estonia being conquered in four hours?

Probably, this comes with a slight journalistic twist, but well we need to admit the statement was not the brightest. This is surely not true. It is impossible to occupy Estonia in four hours, days, months or years, as we have dome a remarkably good job investing in national defence and been good at the diplomatic level.

When even metaphorically saying something like what echoed from the words of the President, this surely would be to scare the people needlessly. And not only the people in Estonia, but the potential foreign investors.

When it comes to national defence – never has a coalition treaty been as vague and general as this time. Was it only at the table that it dawned on you that the money just wasn’t there to execute what was advertised... or was it a bluff from the start?  

Those that promised to create tank units in four years, or large-scale coast guard, were either ignorant of national defence planning or went intentionally populist. Regarding national defence budget of two percent of GDP plus the costs of accommodating the allies and going by development plan when it comes to development of capacities – in all that we agreed remarkably fast. No party around the table demanded that something should be quickly added to the development plan.

While national defence costs percentage of GDP was not raised, still you promise to lift salaries for servicemen, and benefits for conscripts and reservists. What activities or procurements will you cut to do that?

Raising the salaries for conscripts and the so-called defence wages were indeed something that Reform stood for very stiffly. If we had the money, the initiatives as such would be thankworthy, but you are absolutely right: money is not laying around idly.  

When it comes to reservist training, for instance, requires a totally different concept. This will definitely not happen starting January 1st 2016, but later. As the concept is completed, we will be able to fasten the precise price tag. Then we will have to see what needs to be dropped or postponed for this to happen.

These definite points were not the preferences of my party. Meanwhile, Reform did get more seats at the parliament than us, and just as the social protection minister will have to execute the child benefit raise important for us, I will have to execute what we agreed in my domain. Also, we will definitely be discussing in the government if money might be allotted for that outside of the two percent.

You are raising salaries for servicemen even though Commander of the Defence Forces has said that they were already satisfied with the raise in 2013. 

In the coalition treaty, neither servicemen, teachers nor domestic security staff were marked by numbers. Meanwhile, obviously with a zero raise none in these professions will be able to survive in the four years to come. We will definitely be raising the salaries, but the extent of that will depend on the overall budget situation.

International Centre for Defence and Security has just finished analysing the treaty and found that, instead of sowing salaries, we ought to focus on usability of units during short advance notice. They advise to cut the numbers of conscripts for a period of time and, using the money that is spared, to at long last secure complete equipment of real units headed for the battle areas. Agree?

These things are not mutually exclusive at all. Actually, our capacity developments do focus on creation of strike units. Regarding this, even the former government ratified specific legislation.

The amounts of people recruited is based on a very thorough analysis. Still thus far, the number of conscripts is a little less than the overall amount available, allowing for some choice. 

A bone of contention between Soc Dems and Reform was what method to use to compensate reservists summonsed for trainings the missed wages – the so-called defence salary. And as we now see, the ones at trainings will not be receiving full wages...

Indeed, Reform wanted those at reservist trainings to continue drawing their current salary; but I think we should also consider the wartime post of a reservist. It does not make sense that a very highly paid employee in his civil life, while at a post of lowest responsibility, would be compensated much more than his commander. 

This 50–50 is somewhat indicative: it will definitely not be that, nominally, 50 percent will come from civil salary and the rest from the salary related to the post. This requires a new concept. Competent people in my house will get to work, to figure this out.

Will Estonia get self-propelled guns during your term in office?

For that recourses have been prescribed, but surely the utilisation of the capacity will come after 2019.

By what time will national defence studies be compulsory in gymnasiums?

The work schedule is still being compiled. In reality, we are not too far from that – even now, in lion’s share of gymnasiums national defence studies are available. Even so, I will definitely want to discuss with the new education minister (Jürgen Ligi – O. K.) how the curricula can be remade from the educational point of view, as curricula are heavily overburdened as it is.

Not only will the load get heavier for pupils. In the coalition treaty, you say that in addition to their work, servicemen and Defence League members will have to be teaching the classes.

I do not believe this would become a mandatory part of career model for all servicemen. For that, Defence Forces are big enough.

A promise by the government is the creation of a mobilisation plan and information system encompassing the entire society. What it that about?

National Defence Act has been passed, but a whole lot of implementing provisions are missing – including such as relate to civil support to reservist army and mandatory duties. This, surely, is one of the main tasks for the parliament when it comes to national defence. In order for mobilisation of people in crisis situations would happen fast, the state needs to have a very clear picture who these people are, where they are, and how to reach them. How will they be notified when the situation demands that they appear for reservist training or to be mobilised into a unit.

In four years, will everyone know where he belongs and what he needs to do in case of crisis?

I am definitely unable to guarantee that, but I do hope that awareness will be significantly better than today. We are not planning to stir unnecessary panic, handing out study materials for the time of occupation. But we will definitely be forwarding needed information that any person on a post related to national defence must know. Yes, in needed, we will also organise information campaigns.

A pillar for Estonian determent is permanent presence of allies. It’s no secret that, in addition to Americans, it is Germans first of all that we hope to see here. Last week, the German defence minister paid us a visit but she didn’t tell us yes.

I got confirmation regarding that Germany is dedicated to guaranteeing our security and that, in the future, we will see German units here in a greater measure. But with every allied nation the solution is different: surely it will not be the same as the rotating presence of the American company. For instance, throughout the history, Germans have been the leading contributors into Baltic air policing.

And yet – why don’t the allies want to stay here permanently?

«Permanent» is a word somewhat sensitive. Evidently, a «permanent base» for many allies conjures up images of the Cold War and a large territory surrounded with walls and barbed wire where they live for years with their families. We are not talking about a presence like that.

Contemporary determent does still mean rotation, more often. I think that speaking a year from now, the presence will be remarkably greater yet. 

On May 12th, 37 Estonian peacekeepers will be headed for a mission in Lebanon. Among the reasons is Estonia’s desire to become a non-permanent UN Security Council Member in 2020. Will that mean that the mission will be prolonged for at least five years?

Not necessarily. We’ll see what the experience will be like for us. It cannot be excluded that some EU or NATO operation will be launched which for us may prove a higher priority. Then, what will matter is that we are a small country with limited resources. The end of ISAF (the NATO led international forces in Afghanistan – O. K.) was surely a welcome time of rest, but Estonian Defence Forces need real experience.


Born on November 8th 1973, in Tartu

University of Tartu, Bachelor’s degree in English philology

Since 2014, defence minister

Since 2005, chairman of Social Democratic Party

2003–2014, member of Riigikogu

2002–2003, defence minister

1999–2002, member of Riigikogu

1998–1999, Centre Party political secretary

1996–1999, assistant at University of Tartu German-Romance philology department