Day: August 25, 2008

MEP Tunne Kelam calls to boost NATO’s military presence in Estonia

MEP Tunne Kelam calls to boost NATO’s military presence in Estonia

10:33, 25. august 2008

TALLINN, Aug 25, BNS – Member of the European Parliament Tunne Kelam in his speech at a rally in Tallinn over the weekend called to beef up the military presence of NATO in Estonia because of military threat from Russia, SL Ohtuleht reported.

Against the backdrop of increased risk of aggression, Estonia should also increase defence spending, Kelam said at a meeting on Saturday to mark the passage of 21 years from the landmark 1987 Hirvepark rally in Tallinn held on the anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty and its secret protocols.

The remarks from Kelam, of the conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL), came on the same day when a prominent US military analyst called to increase NATO’s presence on the ground in the Baltic countries.

Kelam told SL Ohtuleht he didn’t know about Kagan’s article before his speech and the article came as a surprise for him. Such coincidences show that the situation’s ripe for change, he added.

Ain Seppik, vice chair of the opposition Center Party group in parliament and member of the parliamentary committee supervising the work of the country’s secret services, described Kelam’s idea as alien to him.

“I don’t like foreign troops in Estonia in principle,” he said.

Seppik said that Estonia can demonstrate its NATO member’s status also in other ways and that this is being done enough already in Afghanistan and Iraq. Seppik did agree, however, that NATO has done relatively little for Estonia for the time being.

“NATO should better supply our defence forces and thus boost Estonia’s military capabilities,” Seppik said.

Just like Kelam, Seppik underlined that Estonia’s expenditures for national defense must increase and no cuts must be made in them even under the austerity plan.
Senior Reform Party policymaker Jurgen Ligi, former minister of defense, said in his comments to the daily that first one must remember that Estonian military installations already are NATO bases and that the Amari air base, for instance, is a NATO air base.

Ligi said he considers Kelam’s line of thinking to be right, as it is namely in the framework of NATO that Estonia must build its security.

“Russia’s actions now are based on the logic of criminals — if you beat someone, you get respect,” Ligi said, adding that therefore it would not be bad if NATO showed its strength.
Fred Kagan, the intellectual author of the successful US “troop surge” plan in Iraq, believes NATO’s presence in the Baltics must be massively strengthened to pre-empt the risk of them being invaded in the same way as Georgia.

Kagan, an expert on the Russian military who has the ear of hawks within the US administration, said in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph that the West needs to match words with deeds if it is to stop Russia turning into an “intolerable, aggressive imperialistic” power.

“We need to help these countries develop sophisticated air defense and anti-tank capabilities that don’t pose any offensive threat to Russia, but promise the possibility of very high casualties were they to attempt what they did in Georgia,” said Kagan.

“NATO has to make a fundamental decision here about its legal and ethical obligations, and the only way we can really fulfil them is to help these countries defend themselves in advance of an attack,” he said.

At present, Kagan pointed out, there would be little to prevent Russia rolling across the border as they did into South Ossetia. Despite all the three Baltic countries now being members of NATO, the alliance has done little to help them build up robust anti-tank capabilities, sophisticated air defense systems, or large reserve armies.

Although any Russian action against a full NATO member would be a far greater act of aggression than its recent incursion into Georgia, Moscow might be tempted to try it in the Baltics as a way of testing NATO’s resolve, knowing that the alliance might dither about deploying even conventional forces straightaway. Turning each country into a defensive “porcupine”, Kagan argues, would make such a move almost unthinkable in the first place.

“I think that Russia does have designs on the Baltic states, and they have established a precedent in Georgia where they think they can use force to defend Russian minorities in other countries,” he said.

Alastair Cameron, head of the European Security Program at the Royal United Services Institute, agreed that the invasion of Georgia had caused “tremendous concern” within the Baltics as to whether existing defences were adequate, but doubted that there would be any dramatic ramping up straightaway.

“Had Lithuania or Estonia been the target of the recent Russian campaign, they would have been in a position to take ground in a very similar way to how they did in Georgia,” he said.
“I think we are still very much at the diplomatic level in terms of dealing with these kind of disputes at present, but I would think that something like might be on the table in terms of long-term defensive planning measures,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.

How the West ignored the warning signs

President Mikhaeil Saakashvili has made a long televised speech in which he blames the Georgia crisis both on Russia and on the West’s muted response to Russia’s aggression. In his comments, he notes:

“I suppose that Russia started thinking about the military intervention in Georgia sometime in 2007,” he said. “[In July, 2007] Russia announced about pulling out from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty limiting military forces in [Europe] and in Caucasus.”

Up to 3,000 Russian armored vehicles of various types rolled into Georgia, he said.

“We had only 200 tanks, because we had no right to have more according to the treaty; Russia brushed off its commitments by withdrawing from the treaty,” Saakashvili said.

He then once again criticized “western partners” for not paying enough attention to this move by Russia. 

The President is obviously right, as observers at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty were pointing out even back in April 2007 that Putin’s threat – later enacted – to suspend compliance with the amended 1999 CFE Treaty was obviously aimed against Georgia. Yet no action was taken by either the United States or European powers at the time.