Deploying Estonian forces in Africa - why is it necessary?
Arvamus 21 Jan 2014  EWR
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Martin Hurt, ICDS, 21 January 2014
A leading article published in Eesti Päevaleht on 17 January 2014 laid out many arguments against a possible Estonian military mission in the Central African Republic. As in the case of all international operations, public debate on the topic is extremely positive and necessary. Estonia’s security policy decisions should not be made behind closed doors without meaningful discussions. The Eesti Päevaleht leader raises the question of why Estonia should send its Defence Forces troops to Africa. Does Estonian security have any tie-in with the unrest in central Africa? It’s an intriguing question, and at first glance it does appear to have an easy “no” answer.

The conflict in the Central African Republic has forced about a million people to flee their homes, prompting intervention by the European Union and the African Union. France, which like Estonia is a member of the European Union and NATO, has asked for military assistance from its allies to restore stability in the country.

Estonia has no legal obligation to take part in such operations and lay the lives of its troops on the line. Even if it had such a duty, it could almost certainly be sidestepped. Indeed, many countries do act in precisely this way. Unexpectedly for many observers, the US decided not to take a lead role in the Libya military operation. Germany, too, has been known to keep its armed forces at home to save lives and politicians’ careers.

Still – how do people in Estonia usually act when a neighbour comes asking for assistance? Does your ordinary salt of the earth immediately start looking for a loophole to fit through or thinking up other pretexts to escape an unpleasant bit of exertion?

Two and a half months from now, Estonia will mark the 10th anniversary of NATO accession. With noteworthy support from the populace, politicians decided to join the world’s most powerful defence organization, cognizant of the fact that a small country of 1.3 million people cannot guarantee its own security while living next to an unpredictable larger nation. If Estonia should need military assistance, we trust that our allies will not ask, “What was the name of Estonia’s capital again?” or deliberating on whether it really is necessary to send their sons to fight for Sillamäe.

The fact that Sillamäe is on the territory of a NATO member and the Central African Republic is not a member is not important right now. For Estonia, support from more powerful allies is and will remain extremely important and we must be prepared to support them. The US, Germany and many other countries have showed a diminishing desire to take responsibility for European security. Yet France is a superb example of a country that acts in a contrary manner, showing initiative and contributing when necessary. France takes part regularly in the NATO airspace policing mission in the Baltic states, and sent more army units than the other allies to Steadfast Jazz 2013, the first NATO exercise in the Baltics.

Being located in Europe and as a member of both NATO and the European Union, Estonia must be ready to pitch in when it comes to ensuring security in our region and elsewhere, be it in Baghdad, Helmand or Africa. Naturally it is also important to discuss all of the possibilities and risks, and we must not be cavalier about putting Estonian lives in harm’s way.

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