Estonian mandatory conscription here to stay

Baltic Reports, 12 July 2010

TALLINN — While Sweden’s decision last week to join the list of those Baltic Sea nations to forgo military conscription shows less worry about regional security threats, Estonia’s conscription policy is unlikely to change.

In the beginning of July, Sweden ceased mandatory military service for reserve forces in case of an attack by a foreign country. The same was done in Latvia in 2006 and in Lithuania in 2008, leaving Estonia the only Baltic state where conscription is still used (nearby Finland also still has conscription). Estonian defense minister Jaak Aaviksoo told the press last Monday that “military service is the matter of honor,” where young men “learn to share values that tie our whole nation.”

“In addition, military service at the defense forces makes stronger and teaches independence,” said Aaviksoo.

Mandatory military service is also supported by most Estonian people, according to the study by defense ministry that showed 94 percent of the questioned considered conscription necessary.

Mandatory military service for young men lasts eight to 11 months, and its purpose is to prepare necessary reserve forces for the protection of the country by teaching the basic knowledge about state defense and teamwork. It involves boot camp, basic training and participation in war games. The defense ministry said approximately 2,700 young people will attend military service this year and 1,600 were enrolled last week.

Aaviksoo told the Estonian Public Broadcasting news program that Sweden’s decision will not change Estonian’s opinion on conscription, and military service in Estonia is unlikely to end for the next century.

“Our role models have been Finland and Switzerland rather than those countries who have only a paid army,” Aaviksoo said. “In foreseeable future we’d like to continue with the reserve army.”

Sven Mikser, a member of the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica and former defense minister told the Postimees newspaper that Sweden’s decision was derived from the small possibility of attack by foreign forces.

However, Mikser said that Estonia would have a more difficult time replenishing its ranks with paid volunteers, as Estonian defense forces has had difficulty over the past few years with this.

The Estonian reserve army is deployed only for the direct defense of the country, never abroad. The Estonian contingent serving in Afghanistan is made up of paid volunteer troops.