Estonia to Engage More Women in Military
Eestlased Eestis 22 Oct 2016  EWR
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As the Baltic states build military capacity, Estonia hopes to recruit women for its defense forces. 20 October 2016
Estonia intends to triple the number of women serving in the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) by 2018, public broadcaster ERR reports. Current regulations allow a maximum intake of 30 women per year, able to serve only in two of the EDF’s armed services.

Defense Minister Hannes Hanso hopes that the envisaged engagement of up to 108 women annually will change the position of women. They will be able to sign up during any of the EDF recruitment drives and for any of the armed services. “Today they’re an exception, but if we reach that critical mass, they will become a normal part of our national defense,” he said.

The move coincides with the National Defense Development Plan 2017-2026, released on 14 October, which foresees increasing the annual number of conscripts from the current 3,200 to 4,000. The decreasing population makes it necessary to broaden the recruitment pool in order to reach the goals.

Estonia has already reached NATO’s informal target of 2 percent of GDP spent on the military, and Latvia and Lithuania have agreed to follow suit. An IHS Marki report states that spending on military equipment has already doubled since 2014 in the region. By 2020 the combined defense budgets of the Baltic states are expected to be over $2 billion, more than double that of 2004 when the countries joined NATO. “This growth is faster than any other region globally,” said Craig Caffrey, principal analyst at IHS Jane’s.

Recent years have also seen an increase of deployment of NATO troops to the Baltic countries. Experts attribute the growth in spending to the growing confrontation between Russia and the West and potential threats to the Baltics.

Latvian Ambassador to NATO Indulis Berzins told Latvian TV that Latvians can feel as safe as any other NATO member state in terms of possible military intervention by Russia. He rather sees energy dependence on Russia as the greater threat.

Out of the three Baltic states, only Latvia has a professional, contract-based army. Both Latvia and Lithuania abolished conscription in 2007 and 2008, but Lithuania temporarily reinstated compulsory military service in 2015 as the tensions in Ukraine were escalating.

* About one third of Estonian conscripts enter service voluntarily, immediately after high school.

* Russia recently moved nuclear capable Iskander-M missiles to Kaliningrad, causing worries among the Russian exclave’s neighbors and other NATO member states.

* arlier this year, Norway announced an extension of compulsory military service to women.

(Compiled by Liga Rudzite)
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