MARTIN HEREM Politicians in this and previous governments cannot claim ammunition shortage came as surprise

Martin Herem
, chief of defense
Commander of the defense forces, Gen. Martin Herem.
Commander of the defense forces, Gen. Martin Herem. Photo: Madis Veltman

It is certainly not accurate to say that the Estonian defense forces currently have no ammunition. Nor can it be said that unprecedented steps have not been taken to improve the situation, Martin Herem writes.

In recent days, the public debate over ammunition has become emotional and political. In my view, some of the facts are being overlooked, and the topic itself is being used as a tool.

For at least three years, I have publicly argued that every NATO country, and definitely Estonia, should invest at least five percent of its GDP solely in ammunition. Unfortunately, this amount is enormous and at the same time abstract, and governments generally consider it unfeasible, so they remain within the bounds of what is «reasonable» or «doable». Previous governments have done the same.

2022 was an exception as the government allocated additional funds through three decisions to develop specific capabilities. In January 2022, funds were allocated for ammunition; in March, for anti-tank and short-range air defense, and indirect fire; and in September, for medium-range air defense. In total, it was well over one billion euros. This was based on the military advice of the commander of the defense forces. The impetus for bringing this to the government came from the secretary general of the Defense Ministry. Without the prime minister, these decisions probably would not have been made.

Based mainly on the decisions from 2022, I can still claim today that even after supporting Ukraine, we currently have more indirect fire, naval, anti-tank, and air defense ammunition than we did in January 2022. However, these quantities and their resulting effect on the battlefield still do not meet the NATO defense plan requirements or our needs. Given the immense actual need, we decided in the defense forces to calculate a critical minimum relevant to the combat scenario, which is estimated to cost 1.6 billion euros.

We decided to make an understandable and publicly usable calculation, outlining the type and quantity of ammunition that would allow us to avoid the situation in Ukraine, possibly deter Russia, and set an example for our allies. I have been discussing these calculations with a number of politicians since February 2024, and more publicly in detail since June of this year.

It is certainly not true to say that the Estonian defense forces currently have no ammunition. Nor can it be said that unprecedented steps have not been taken to improve the situation. However, it is also not true for politicians involved in the relevant areas in this and previous governments to claim that the ammunition shortage came as a surprise in 2024. This is especially untrue for the defense personnel who have joined the reserve in recent years. Any security expert claiming that the deficits identified in the defense chief's military advice should impersonally be filled by NATO needs to significantly improve their expertise.

I cannot dictate to the defense minister and the government how much money to invest. However, the defense forces need decisions, and «no» is a decision, too.