More US soldiers and Baltic Sea Policing Mission among ICDS recommendations for NATO

How should the United States and NATO prioritize their resources to the Baltic States? That is the topic of this policy paper that Erik Marmei and Gabriel White have written for ICDS.

The policy paper outlines a series of weaknesses with the defense in the Baltic States. It is pointed out that despite the fact that all three Baltic States spend more that NATO’s 2 percent of GDP goal, there will not be enough local funding to create a credible defense against the threat from Russia. …Continue reading

A military reserve of cyber security experts

Monica M. Ruiz argues in War on the Rocks that the Estonian voluntary Cyber Defense Unit is a model that the United States should implement. I think this is a great idea for many countries, including other countries in the Baltic region.

The idea is that citizens who are specialists in cyber security or have other information technology skills can volunteer for the Estonian Defense League. When necessary, they can contribute to protect the online infrastructure of the country and participate in crisis management. …Continue reading

Knowledge increases support for women soldiers, says Estonian study

Andres Siplane in an ICDS report about Women in the Estonian Defense Forces:

“As an important observation, it has to be pointed out that support for women serving in the [Estonian Defense Forces] is much higher among active service personnel than in society in general.[…]
While in society in general almost half of the respondents were inclined to agree with the claim that women should serve in the EDF only in peacetime or that women are not suited to fighting a war, among active service personnel only under 30% held that view.[…]
It is interesting that the experience of instructing female conscripts significantly increases active servicemen’s support for the idea that women manage equally well compared to male conscripts.”

30 percent is still a large number, but it’s a lot better than 50. And women in Estonia have only since 2013 had the chance to volunteer for conscription, so many in the military still haven’t had the experience of working with female conscripts.

The Baltic nations would be hard to beat

One of the things that I didn’t touch on in my description about how a war between Russia and the West will play out was the resistance that the populations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania would muster after a Russian occupation. That was a deliberate omission because you just can’t fit everything into one piece, but to be fair this is indeed so important that it deserves attention. …Continue reading

Maybe former Soviet republics don’t like to be Russia’s “sphere of interest”

Mikhail Barabanov in Moscow Defense Brief:

Russia holds the Zapad drills along its western borders once every four years; the previous such event took place in 2013. This year, however, the reaction from some of Russia’s neighbors to the west has been nothing short of hysterical.
[…]
For all the Western concerns, the scenario of the main phase of the drills was purely defensive, and focused on defending an allied state (Belarus) from hostile actions and then a direct invasion by the West. In that sense, the scenario was fully in line with the Putin administration’s perception of the domestic and external threats facing Russia. The exercise was a fairly typical reflection of how Russia believes it should act in the former Soviet republics to protect its “sphere of interests” from any encroachment by foreigners. It did not imply any major military operations beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union. As with the famous “Gerasimov Doctrine” (which reflects Russian views of how the West operates, but which Western commentators choose to interpret as Russia’s own preferred course of action), the [Zapad] 2017 drills were not a simulation of a Russian act of aggression. Rather, they reflected the growing concern in the Russian military-political leadership about increasingly blatant Western meddling in former Soviet republics.

Gee, I wonder what caused the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to become so hysterical.

Estonia receives Javelin anti-tank missiles

Estonia has received the first delivery of Javelin Block 1 missiles. Javelin is a man-portable fire-and-forget anti-tank missile that is produced by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. That announces the Estonian Ministry of Defense. The missiles will replace the old MILAN system in both the army and the voluntary Estonian Defense League.

Last year Estonia received pre-owned missiles of the Javelin Block 0 type from the U.S. Army. The Block 1 missiles that have been received this time are brand new from the factory.

In 2014 Estonia signed the deal to purchase the Javelin system from USA for the sum of $55 million. However, $33 million of that is payed by the US government as part of the European Reassurance Initiative.

You have to practice being jammed

Estonian intelligence chief Kapo Rosin has an assessment of the Zapad exercise and Russian doctrine in Defense News:

The exercise basically [addressed] two factors. First, how to jam the enemy, which is logical; and second, how to operate [within those] conditions themselves. They of course know that an electronic field is both a challenge for them and a possibility, since Western militaries are very dependent on different electronic communications, reach back and so on.

They know that if they can attack it successfully, then they get the advantage in some fields; and they also know that the NATO is also technically advanced and has its own capabilities. So, the conclusion with Russians is they have to know how to operate under such conditions themselves. You need different skills, procedures and so on to conduct a successful war under those [circumstances]. You have to learn how to command your military with a paper map. So they did that, and I think they are definitely ahead of us [there].

Interesting concept to be ahead by being old fashioned.

Estonia enhances electronic surveillance of border

Estonia is projecting electronic surveillance of the Narva River with a bit of foreign funding, reports err.ee. The project includes a radar, cameras, electrical connections, a communications solution, and more. The idea is to improve the guarding of the border and increase the chance of detecting illegal border crossings.

Given Lithuania’s problems with keeping Russian and Belarusian border guards on the right side of the border, this may be a much needed improvement to the border security in Estonia. There may also be law enforcement advantages to better border control, as Estonia is struggling with smuggling of contraband from Russia. Recently the use of drones to cross the border has caused worries for public safety, and it has been speculated that Russia may actively use organized crime as a means to destabilize the region.

Danish admiral says submarines are flagrant waste of money

The Defense Commission of the Danish parliament yesterday conducted a hearing on the question of whether Denmark should reintroduce submarines and sea mines in the naval arsenal. Both were phased out in 2005 but especially the importance of submarines has been a question of intense debate ever since.

Rear admiral Nils Wang, commandant of the Danish Defence College, made some headlines in local newspapers with a statement from the hearing that an investment in submarines would be “a flagrant waste of money”. Wang’s argument was that a military conflict in the Baltic area would encompass a Russian invasion of the Baltic states and a subsequent Russian defensive posture in the Eastern part of the Baltic basin. Denmark would thus find itself in a position where the navy must play the offensive role in a mission to escort troops to the Baltic states under the support of allied forces counting several carrier strike groups located in the North Sea. In this scenario Wang primarily sees a need for area air defense, land attack strike missiles, a range of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) assets, and mine counter measures (MCM). However, Wang does not see a role for submarines in this scenario as, supposedly, they do not give any particular advantage in ASW in littoral areas.

Commodore Ulrich Reineke of the German Navy begged to disagree with his Danish colleague, saying that Germany finds submarines crucial for ASW and Read more

Compensation of reservists causes trouble for Estonia

Having a good reserve is complicated. The material and logistical requirements are obvious as a reserve is not worth much if you are not able to provide simple things like uniforms and weapons when the reservists show up for service. Denmark is a good example of a country with a large reserve of former conscripts but no clue whatsoever about how to equip the reservists if they should ever be called upon.1 But the logistical question is one of the simpler obstacles to a good force of reservists because the defense authorities can manage that alone given the necessary resources. A much more complex issue is how to create the societal support that makes it possible for reservists to combine a military commitment with their daily jobs and personal life.

A rather embarrassing display of the difficulties governments can face when trying to make favorable conditions for reservists can be found in Estonia where a story on delfi.ee uncovers problems with the financial compensation of soldiers during periods of military service.

In its efforts to guarantee the income of soldiers, Estonia has a system of compensation so that all reservists will receive at least something for their time. Since the government rates are lower than most people’s normal income and the prospect of losing money is a drag on potential reservists’ motivation for military service, the military authorities have engaged with employers’ organizations in joint efforts to make employers voluntarily pay the soldiers’ normal salary during the time of military reconvening. The government accompanied the efforts with a slogan saying that employers are not obligated to pay during service time but that a good employer would choose to do so anyway.

Well, turns out that the Estonian government is not a good employer by its own standards. The guidelines from the Ministry of Finance do not allow government managers to continue the payment of salaries to reservists, and indeed the computer system is set up in ways to prevent mistaken incidents of the government securing the income of employees who engage in the defense of the country.

Clearly the Estonian government should get its act together and fix this. The interesting part is that everyone quoted in the article seems to agree that this is unfortunate, but they come up with a series of bureaucratic excuses to explain the complicated nature of different parts of government having to coordinate and nobody really knowing whose responsibility it is. The article actually finishes with a representative from the Ministry of Defense saying that perhaps increasing the rates of compensation to a less painful level could be an alternative solution to the government fixing its administrative guidelines.

But no, increasing the rates of compensation is not a good solution because it still means that reservists will feel that they have to pay to be active in the military. And if the government can get away with not paying salaries for reservists, how will the government argue that private sector employers should do it? So the different branches of government must learn to work together with a common goal of having a robust reserve of soldiers to defend the government. Sure it takes some effort to harmonize the administrative guidelines to account for reservists, and the question of compensation will just be one issue out of many. But if you want a well functioning reserve, you have to invest the time to work out the kinks to make military an easy choice for the potential reservists and their employers.


  1. Denmark is looking into ways of improving conscription so the force is actually useful. Some solution is expected in the coming five-year political defense agreement that will be approved later this year.