Estonia’s defence minister on what he expects from the US, a Belgian-Dutch embassy design conference and China sells missile defence to Serbia.
Jüri Luik (pictured) is serving his third stint as Estonia’s minister of defence. He has also been Estonia’s minister of foreign affairs and ambassador to Russia, the US, Belgium and Nato. Following Washington’s decision to reduce its military presence in Germany, he tells monocle why Estonia still depends on the US and its western allies for support.
You described the US decision to draw down its troop presence in Europe as, with a diplomat’s tact, ‘not a positive development’. How ‘not positive’ for Estonia is it?
We believe that US troops have helped maintain security in Europe from the cold war onwards. It’s important to note that, while some troops are leaving Europe, others will be repositioned to central and eastern-European countries, which is an important thing to do because we don’t want Russia to come away with the misconception that the withdrawal somehow makes the Nato deterrent less credible.
Is there a role for Estonia, and the other Baltic states that share a border with Russia, in reminding Nato of its core purpose?
We are using our platforms to make the point that Nato is relevant in today’s world and is a tool of stability and peace. For Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Nato membership is an existential issue. Think about what would happen to us in a situation like Ukraine’s when it was attacked. If we were not in Nato, with people such as President Putin in power in Russia, we would be under serious threat.
“We are using our platforms to make the point that Nato is relevant in today’s world”
Do you aspire to having a permanent Nato presence in Estonia or perhaps an actual US military base?
We basically have that. We have roughly 1,200 men – mainly British with some Danish and French – stationed in Estonia, roughly 120km from the Russian border. And the Americans often come here on exercises. We have had a number of air-force exercises, including American b-1 and b-52 bombers. Their presence is a strong message of US commitment.
In 2007, Estonia was the target of a major cyber attack. How have you taken the lead in that battle since?
We have cyber-conscription, where we take a young person as a conscript; their best ability might not be running around in the forest but they might be very good with computers. We give them an opportunity and that helps us to find a pool of professional officers for our cyber command. We also have something called the Defence League, for people who are older. They might work as engineers at an IT company or a bank – people we could never hire because they earn far more than we can pay them. But they volunteer so whenever we need them, we send a signal. Estonia runs the biggest Nato-wide cyber-defence exercises.
Who’s buying and who’s selling? We keep you abreast of significant defence deals.
In the basket: Three fk-3 surface-to-air missile defence batteries
Who’s buying: Serbia
Who’s selling: China
Price: Part of a €521m budget
Delivery date: To be confirmed
This is not Serbia’s first defence purchase from China: it recently took delivery of the first Chinese-built drones to be operated by a European country – six ch-92As. The purchase of the fk-3 system does, however, demonstrate that the defence relationship between the two countries is strengthening. China clearly sees Serbia, still a candidate for EU membership, as a potential bridgehead for its Belt and Road Initiative – and Serbia, though a member of Nato’s Partnership for Peace programme, seems keen on demonstrating its independence.
The embassies of Belgium and the Netherlands have long stood out for their designs. For more than half a century the missions of these two small nations have helped them to punch above their weight globally; they even worked together to co-locate their diplomats at a recently completed joint embassy in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa.
On 29 October the Egmont Palace in Brussels, home to the Belgian foreign ministry, plays host to a symposium on embassy design, with its Dutch counterpart. “Belgian embassies have long been flagships of the nation,” says Bram De Maeyer, the co-event organiser whose own phd research helped to inspire it. With such focused attention and international backing, the Low Countries are demonstrating their high ambitions in architectural diplomacy.
Photographer: Marek Metslaid