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On Estonian Victory Day at the Song Festival Grounds in Tallinn

Võidupüha paraad Tallinnas.
Victory Day Parade in Tallinn.
© Kaitseliit

23.06.2018

Dear members of the Estonian Defence League! My fellow people of Estonia here in Tallinn or in your homes throughout the country! Dear allies!

Today, at this parade organised by the Defence League here at the Song Festival Grounds, we can see the Estonian people’s will to defend their country. We can see our commitment, will, and readiness. Not only see, but demonstrate. This parade boosts our self-confidence as we see and show that the whole nation will be involved in our defence, if necessary. To our allies, this parade demonstrates that Estonians are prepared to stand up for themselves if needed. To our opponents, it demonstrates that Estonia’s power is not merely limited to professional soldiers or even trained reservists. Estonia’s power lies in the readiness of the entire nation to stand up for itself and support one another in hardship.

Our own power and will is the greatest guarantee of our security. Our response to crises, such as this dry summer’s forest fires, involves the entire nation. People show up alongside professional rescue workers, and the professionals know how to work with the volunteers.

Accidents happen. They cannot be prevented entirely. Unfortunately, we must admit that these fires are also sparked by our own actions. There is much more to be done before everyone realises their responsibility to act pre-emptively and at least keep avoidable accidents from happening. In this endeavour, rescuers and volunteers are also working side-by-side.

I would like to thank all rescue-service volunteers, a contingent that has always included many Defence League members. Every challenge that we resolve jointly shows yet again that we would also act in concert in the case of a serious security crisis. This readiness is the best kind of prevention: those who want with all their hearts to protect themselves are indeed protected. The nation’s own commitment is what gives real value to our readiness, skills, knowledge, and equipment.

My fellow people of Estonia!

We live in a world of paradoxes. On the one hand, Estonia is better protected today than ever before. We have developed our independent defence capability with determination while establishing strong alliances with friends who share the same values we do.

However, the world around us is restless, creating a feeling that our security has become more fragile. War is raging in Ukraine and the Middle East, and people are dying or fleeing as refugees. Attempts to replace international law, values, and national sovereignty with the right of the powerful have not gone away.

Every week brings news of differences of opinion within our own ranks, among Western democratic countries. These differing opinions do not actually extend to the roots of our alliances: to democratic values and the international legal environment.

Nevertheless, an imprudent quarrel may still harm these roots if we forget, even for a second, that the roots, while robust, still require constant care from everyone to whom these values matter. Carelessness will be exploited by those who are at odds with our values and who would prefer a system where might makes right.

In a complicated world, we have only one compass. The needle of this compass positions itself according to a magnetic field of universal values: freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. As a small nation, we must not deviate from these values, not even once. We must not choose sides in particular disputes, but rather stay true to our compass. This will ensure that our decisions are always understandable to our friends, even when their own compass is tilted due to their own personal interests. Because, to quote Lennart Meri: ‘A principle, once betrayed, will unleash a domino effect, and stopping it will be more difficult and costly than remaining true to principles.’

Besides being actively engaged in international organisations, we must also develop bilateral relations. Here, today, we are joined by allied soldiers from the United Kingdom, Denmark, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and the United States of America, as well as by our Finnish and Swedish partners. We have a bilateral allied relationship with France both here in Estonia and in distant Africa. Aircrafts from nearly all of our NATO allies have been policing the Baltic airspace. The European Union is focused on the defensive capabilities of its members. Thus, we can be confident that Estonia’s security does not depend on any one person, state, or organisation. We know that we stand together with all whose compass is positioned in a field of common values.

Distinguished members of the Estonian Defence Forces and Defence League!

There are few countries left in the world that can mobilize more than one percent of their population. Estonia can. In May, at the military exercise titled Hedgehog, you showed us and the whole world this capability. The exercise was not without certain similarities to Estonia’s song festivals. It included a 16,000-strong ‘joint choir’ and tens of thousands of spectators cheering on the roadsides. It was something that people celebrated instead of just tolerating. I’d like to thank all the participants and express just as much thanks to the Estonian people for their understanding!

This year’s Hedgehog exercise had a wider scope than merely practicing military defence: internal security institutions also played a part. We are gaining an ever-better understanding that military defence – the aspect that Estonia’s Defence Forces and Defence League are responsible for ensuring – is just one of six fields that make up comprehensive national defence. Military defence cannot answer the question of how our hospital network will manage a national crisis with skyrocketing patient numbers. Or how we can avoid chaos when vital services are disrupted.

As a national contract, we set up our Defence Forces to have real capabilities and high combat readiness. We are prepared to defend ourselves against the enemy. However, we should probably also assume that well-developed capabilities and rapid response rates are essential in other national defence fields as well.

This is necessary in domestic crises, it is necessary in natural disasters, and it is necessary, of course, in the case of a military crisis. However, whereas we can avoid the latter through deterrence, there is no way to deter natural disasters. As I already said, accidents do happen.

Estonia finally has a comprehensive national defence development plan, civilian ministries are drafting crisis plans, and a number of concepts have already been put in place. But in the modern world, we will not get very far merely with smart documents, volunteer initiatives, and crisis-time improvisation. So, in light of this, can we really be satisfied with a situation where for every 73 euros invested in the Defence Forces, the investment planned for all other fields of national defence averages at only one euro? Can we possibly add to that one euro without reducing the 73 euros?

My fellow citizens!

The general election will be held eight months from now. We will decide how life in Estonia will be advanced over the coming four years. It’s good that security topics will likely be a central issue again in the 2019 elections.

I’d like the discussion about national defence and security to be very substantive this time around. In this election season, where there is renewed talk about the importance of comprehensive national defence, let us ask what this specifically means and how much funding is planned for any given national defence programme. Also, should we invest today, or only during the next national budget strategy period? Accidents will not wait: they can happen today or tomorrow. If we notice that an election platform contains keywords regarding new military capabilities or weapons systems, then let us consider whether defence spending should be raised to 2.5%, 3%, or even to a higher percentage of the GDP in that case. Another option is to be content with the current size and capabilities of the Estonian Defence Forces and accept that comprehensive national defence exists primarily on paper. This, too, is a choice. But if we choose the latter, it must be a conscious decision that is negotiated with the voters. The Defence Forces’ current capabilities are clearly the best Estonia has ever had. Thanks to EU funding, the Rescue Service today has access to very good equipment. Volunteers are enthusiastic on both fronts and ready to pitch in. Now, we must all think about how to move forward from here. Summer is a nice time to let one’s thoughts roam more freely. People may often lose track of time resting on the long summer evenings, but there’s no reason to let the political season go to waste. How well-defended an Estonia do we need?

Let us cherish Estonia!

Long live the Estonian Defence League!