Ott Tammik, ERR News
Speaking on the last day of a four-day plenary meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Tallinn on Monday, President Ilves said he is worried about the health of the transatlantic partnership.
“The partnership in which one half looks increasingly frail or simply disengaged and the other is looking elsewhere. Where one more or less dislikes military power and is more comfortable talking about other forms of power and the other, who, I would say, sees the world in all its shades and challenges,” Ilves said in a speech.
It is the first time since Estonia joined the alliance eight years ago that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has held its plenary session in Estonia.
Protesters were also on hand to show their disapproval of the alliance, but Ilves was more than welcoming of the assembly.
“[…] your presence here raises NATO’s visibility, makes NATO less an abstraction and reinforces the commitment we share in the Alliance,” said Ilves.
“NATO has an overwhelmingly positive image here, it is regarded highly and seen as one of the most relevant of international organizations. That is not necessarily the case in many other Allied capitals […] For Estonians, NATO is […] seen as a vital element of security in an insecure and unpredictable world.”
But Ilves warned that Europe has adopted a trend of disarmament, which he said was in contrast with the rest of the world. When the economic crisis hit Europe in 2008, defense expenditure was often cut disproportionately, he said. The increasing unpopularity of military power, he said, is “wishful thinking.”
Ilves took the opportunity to reiterate a much-promoted pat on the back for Estonia, which joins an elite minority of alliance members this year by making good on the pledge to allocate 2 percent of its GDP to defense expenditure.
“Still a relatively poor country by Western European standards, yet a country that bails out countries richer than we, Estonia also could have found any number of reasons to prioritize spending in areas other than defense. Yet we did not because there is (enough) political will,” Ilves said.
The remedy for strengthening NATO, Ilves said, is “interoperability” in logistics, medical and intelligence cooperation, etc.
Ilves also expressed concerns over waning interest in cyber-defense and cheered the recent decision to make the Baltic Air Policing mission permanent.
“Besides its undisputed military and political value, your participation in air policing has immense symbolic value. In a region where there are no collective NATO facilities or headquarters or warehouses, air policing means to the people of the Baltic countries - and beyond - that NATO really is here,” Ilves said.
Ilves Expresses Concern Over Weakening NATO