Military industry falling behind technological development

Evelyn Kaldoja
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Kersti Kaljulaid at Munich Security Conference.
Kersti Kaljulaid at Munich Security Conference. Photo: Vabariigi Presidendi Kantselei

President Kersti Kaljulaid’s highlights from this year’s Munich Security Conference include a feeling of sisterhood created during her breakfast with Advisor to the U.S. President Ivanka Trump and the new leader of Germany’s conservatives Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, as well as concerns that national military industrial complexes are being outpaced by technological development.

Allow me to repeat a question asked by a member of your delegation on Friday: what did you and Ivanka Trump discuss?

She is interested in empowering women. I am the vice president of a UN working group called Every Woman, Every Child. The group is headed by Secretary General Antonia Guterres, and I am in turn helped by former president [of Finland] Tarja Halonen.

I’ve spent some time looking for a way to be of use there. I asked what my predecessor did. They organized a conference. I felt it was not something I would like to do. I thought of how Estonia pursues a lot of cooperation with developing countries in the field of e-solutions.

I met with the president of the International Telecommunication Union when I visited the African Union a week ago, and we discussed doing something together. Estonia is small, our capacity is modest, and we make use of other structures to achieve amplification. They were quite willing to do something along the lines of our Digigirls initiative (an event introducing girls to the world of IT – ed.).

I also told Ivanka Trump about the idea. I had already convinced the president of Ethiopia who believed they could be their country’s digigirls’ patron. This has the makings of a small project of using e-solutions to empower girls in the modern world – including the developing world.

To what extent did your meeting serve as one between countries?

We also talked about traditional NATO things. Everyone knows Estonia spends 2 percent on defense. We also talked about regional risks – all these ordinary discussions were there.

What I found delightful was yesterday morning’s women’s breakfast that was held here in Munich for the ninth time. With Ivanka Trump, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbaurer and Foreign Minister of Canada Chrystia Freeland.

Kramp-Karrenbauer started by sharing personal stories of how it has been for her as a woman in politics.

It was a pleasant event of sharing experiences and creating a feeling of sisterhood. So that women in politics would be active and effective. It is nice to see more of them.

Which seemed like a bigger concern in the context of this year’s conference: China or Russia?

The collapse of the INF Treaty is definitely a concern.

The assembly room was almost empty for this discussion, and those present tended to be politicians from the era when the INF was signed. Mary Robinson and Javier Solana are part of the generation that still remembers fear of nuclear war and how attempts to manage that fear culminated in these treaties.

Our generation of politicians has not done its homework in this matter. It is not a part of their DNA because we have been protected under these treaties.

The general feeling is one of being at a loss, because we have not had to think about these things for a long time. We need to learn how to once more take small steps toward ensuring security and managing risks.

You say that the room was almost empty for the INF discussion. [Former NATO secretary general] Jaap de Hoop Scheffer voiced his concern, during the future of NATO discussion you also participated in, over a generation of millennials that does not recognize any threats. How to explain nuclear threat and deterrence to them?

That’s the question. Also, how new technology brings new dangers. It is not a case of existing threats being canceled out by new ones in defense and security. It all piles up. We still have traditional nuclear threat on top of which we are seeing increasingly complex devices and eventually artificial intelligence. We have not thought this chain through.

This is where the wisdom of the older generations and young techies should meet. It is a problem that we are playing catch-up with new technology in the field of defense. The state must ask the private sector what is going on. Major countries that have always spearheaded technological process through development of military technology are not used to that.

Some are saying that in a situation where the Americans sent their biggest ever delegation to Munich this year, Europe was virtually absent.

I believe the reason is that in order to attract presidents and prime ministers, you need to offer them a big stage, while people capable of maintaining a high level of debate often aren’t natural born debaters. In order to get those people, you need to have them on the main stage that can then result in long panels by important people.

That said, we have seen some truly inspiring main stage talks by [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel, [former U.S. vice president] Joe Biden and also [U.S. Vice President] Mike Pence.

Merkel’s speech was her best yet among those I have had the honor of listening to. It seems that not having to run the party has given her new energy and that she wants to tackle more philosophical matters now.

What were your feelings when Merkel talked about Nordstream and defense spending?

She spoke sincerely. About her political reality and where she has managed to take it. I respect her in that regard.

Of course, my view is that despite claims that “we are spending a lot as it is and perhaps 2 percent would be too much”, there are things we need to spend on. These discussions need to continue.

What bothers me is that we need to start paying more attention to competition in the European defense industry. Estonian Defense Forces are also sending signals that firing a weapon today costs two or three times more than it did three years ago. This suggest that price advance in an oligopolistic situation (where the market is controlled by just a few bidders – ed.) inevitably hikes the cost of defense – hurts our capacity for investment.

This begs two tasks. Firstly, that perhaps we need redistribution of [EU level defense] funding. Secondly, that we must not understand closer European defense cooperation as something that unifies the system and takes it toward a situation where we have a single system and a single tenderer. What matters is the ability to work together, not uniformity. European defense cooperation should contribute to depth in the sector; for it to function more like a market economy than it perhaps does today.

Translation by BNS.