Commander-in-Chief convinced in increased NATO presence in Baltics

Marian Võsumets
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Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces Riho Terras tells Postimees in live studio he is convinced the Warsaw summit in the beginning of July will decide to increase NATO presence in Baltics. He underlined that in run-up to such summits, presenting of dark scenarios in reports is the norm.

- International Centre for Defence Studies report reveals as dark scenario that Russia would block Baltics. How likely do you think this to be?  

All these dark scenarios brought by think-tanks recently are surely adequate. I believe it is, rather, vital to focus on how to avoid these situations. By nature, a dark scenario is of little likelihood.

- As the best solution, ICDS suggested boosting of deterrence and allied presence. Will this be heeded?

Since the war in Georgia, Estonian officials and servicemen have continuously followed such advice. Surely not easy, this, but we have come a very long way. 

Wales summit brought a vital change of direction in NATO thinking and developments, and today, in run-up to Warsaw summit, we are in a situation where these proposals will also be discussed.

- How large extra troops are we talking about, to achieve the needed level?

I have always stressed that it is not only allies that are vital. It is vital how we are able to defend ourselves, but being a small country, we have gaps in capability which must be paid attention to.

Whoever has evil intentions regarding us needs to realise that should something happen, this isn’t just between Russia and Estonia – it happens to NATO. Therefore, the multinational presence in Baltics is important. The size of the presence is always an issue for theories: what is the need, and what are the potential means; not always is this in balance.

By Commanders-in-Chief of the Defence Forces of the three Baltic States, a year ago, our stand was presented to chief NATO commander – a minimum of one battalion in battle-readiness in each three Baltics – and this is what the Warsaw summit should lead to.

On top of that, the existing air policing mission should turn into air defence mission and it is important that we be swiftly ready to receive the enlargement. Thus, there must be a detailed plan how troops will be boosted in case of crisis.

- NATO troops presence boosted takes consensus within alliance. Is agreement likely in a situation where allied nations have plenty of problems of their own?

Truly, Estonian history has proven that without allies, we are not making it alone. Maintaining relations with allies is a daily thing – they do have their concerns, but in a critical situation common decisions can be taken fast.

As Crimea was attacked, all 28 allies took swift decisions to increase NATO presence in the Baltics and this was during economic and financial crisis in Greece. I think European states are grown-up enough to be able to prioritize it even now while in older European democracies the main focus is on refugee crisis. I believe that the Warsaw summit will also show that.

- It is estimated that boosting troops costs the alliance $27bn a year. Do you believe that despite of that they will definitely be willing to increase the presence?

All such calculations are theoretical. Surely the level is lower than during war.

- Do you believe that the allies furthest from us see the problem around here just as we see it?

This is a matter of decision, but I believe the decision will be without major discussions. I saw that at the Wales summit and surely this time the discussions are bigger as Europe has other problems as well.

As a NATO member, Estonia has always taken all concerns of the allies seriously. We have been in Mali with the French when they asked us; with the Germans in Djibouti when they asked us; with the Italians in Kosovo. It is for this very reason that our peacekeepers have fulfilled this mission all over the world that when we have a need for help, we will be able to tell Italy or France that, friends, now’s the time.

- For the ordinary citizen, what does the ICDS advice mean talking about forceful military presence on the Baltic Sea?  

«Forceful presence» in the meaning of that report is vessels on the sea. Currently, navies are operating on Baltic Sea at mine countermeasures and other capability. Real major navy powers are Poland and Sweden, and naturally Russia.

The US military vessel USS Donald Cook, much talked about at the moment, carries a Tomahawk rocket and is able to project great military force to any part of the Baltic Sea region. The movement of such vessels and subs maintains the balance.

- Russia surely likes such movements not and the sceptics say we are provoking.

Russia cannot be provoked any stronger. They have increased their military force and exercises, continuous military presence in our immediate region to such an extent that I do not believe they will change anything if a battalion or more is added here.

- How does the alliance react anyway, to Russia’s nuclear rhetoric?

For themselves, the three NATO nations with nuclear capability have thought these things through. In the USA, they have clearly detected the nuclear threat and measures to deal with nuclear threat and deterrence are in place.  

The UK decision to acquire new nuclear carting subs clearly shows that allies do take the nuclear deterrence seriously.

- How to look at the concern in people that the superpowers actually want to wage the wars between them on territories of the smaller ones?

I’d call all to calm down. Bringing forth the dark scenarios before summits is the usual procedure. At the moment, though, a conflict in Estonia is of little likelihood, as we are a NATO member. But we need to do all on our part for it to also remain of little likelihood.

The more we calm down, the better the overall backdrop, and as crises subside, perhaps even in Russia they will realise that they need to calm down.

In Europe, there have been conflicts after every ten years – if we remain calm, we will be able to stay above them. Towards that, our soldiers do daily toil.