The annexation of Crimea in late February 2014 raises a number of questions about whether Estonia’s own national defence system is adequate. It took very little time for Russian Federation forces to occupy strategic sites in Crimea. According to the national defence development plan approved in 2013, Estonia has shortcomings in its rapid response capability. The planned solutions will not eliminate the main problem: if aggression does break out, the Defence Forces may not be capable of responding with sufficient rapidity and in the needed extent, as mobilizing reserve forces is time-consuming.
The main question is about where the emphasis should be placed: the Defence Forces’ reaction time versus quantity. Estonia will be unable to win a war of sheer numbers against its eastern neighbour, so it must focus on quality. The events in Crimea show that rapid response forces should be a priority.
There are a number of possibilities for developing rapid-response capability. To some extent, the situation could be improved by distributing the number of conscripts more evenly over the year, so that they could be used at any point in time. Undoubtedly more radical measures should be considered, such as increasing the number of units manned with active duty personnel, with a corresponding decrease in the number of reserve units. Another possibility is to extend the duration of conscription so that the units that are trained during compulsory military service are not immediately assigned to the reserves but instead left on active duty for a time. Kaitseliit, too, should include sub-units at a high state of readiness, with a training level and equipment that allows them to be used against an opponent’s elite units.