MEELIS OIDSALU What does the Kremlin think of Estonia's generals?

Meelis Oidsalu
, editor of the «Power and Security» section of Fookus
Copy
Camouflage uniforms deserve respect! In addition to developing military capabilities, General Martin Herem has also addressed style issues.
Camouflage uniforms deserve respect! In addition to developing military capabilities, General Martin Herem has also addressed style issues. Photo: Tairo Lutter
  • General Herem's presentation at the Academy of Sciences has once again stirred Estonia.
  • We have often excessively judged our military leaders on their style rather than their results.
  • It is crucial to assess our military leadership from our enemy's perspective.

General Martin Herem, known for his straightforward military demeanor, has once again addressed the looming military threats and how the defense forces can preempt or, if prevention fails, overcome these threats. Editor Meelis Oidsalu discusses how the outgoing defense chief's messages and their delivery have influenced NATO and Estonia.

After General Herem's presentation at the Estonian Academy of Sciences general assembly on April 17, I sought feedback from an attending academic. «It was good. I largely agreed, although I would have been less forceful,» the academic remarked, also noting unfamiliarity with the new defense chief but expressing hope for continuity in style.

In a prominent newsroom, the general's digitally broadcast presentation to academics sparked extensive debate. «The chief of defense, due to his role, is several steps ahead in his thought process compared to the public. His frank discussions can induce undue anxiety and an exaggerated perception of threat among viewers,» a renowned journalist said.

A few years ago, Herem awakened his colleagues, NATO generals, who had been viewing collective defense warfare merely as a theoretical possibility, with his startlingly candid style.

A few years ago, Herem awakened his colleagues, NATO generals, who had been viewing collective defense warfare merely as a theoretical possibility, with his startlingly candid style.

Herem's role as a relentless wake-up call carries a tragicomic note. «We speak of threats but struggle to believe in them,» he succinctly captures the essence of his predicament.

The general says there is too much dreaming about future resources and technologies in national defense and not enough readiness to reach for an axe when the situation calls for it. Extremely secure and thus very expensive communication systems are being built, which are never completed, although the war in Ukraine shows that simpler solutions are possible. We are driven by emotion and politics, not science. «I have not been able to change this,» says the man who will hand over the leadership of the defense forces to Brigadier General Andrus Merilo on July 1.

Recently, Herem discussed with Merilo whether and how much the military operational principles should be changed due to the war in Ukraine. «Most of what is seen in Ukraine involves forgotten old tactics or technological solutions,» the chief of defense said.

Over the past two decades, Estonia has somewhat retreated from its own established combat principles, according to Herem. «Some have never truly grasped these fundamentals,» says Estonia's foremost pragmatist in public service, who has always valued function over form but has occasionally faltered on stylistic issues, notably during the 2021 reorganization involving the defense forces' orchestra and the presidential guard uniforms.

Quoting the classics: «The style is the man.» Andrus Merilo is not Martin Herem, nor does he need to be. What matters is that our defense forces' actual rate of development should continue to deter Russia effectively.

Looking back, General Herem's earlier culture skirmish may seem like a comic incident. However, recalling that period, his «emphatic» style of expression betrays a note of injury. This human vulnerability makes him appear less intimidating, as well as his «ugly» yet highly effective defense strategy. «Zelenskyy saved me with his ugly outfit,» the general jests.

Quoting the classics: «The style is the man.» Andrus Merilo is not Martin Herem, nor does he need to be. What matters is that our defense forces' actual rate of development should continue to deter Russia effectively even after the departures of General Herem and Major General Veiko-Vello Palm, and that the leadership of the defense forces is assessed in the future based more on their results, not just their style.

We need to learn to view our generals from our adversary's perspective. While the Kremlin might show some interest in the style of our military leaders, only genuine military effectiveness serves as a deterrent.

Top