Estonian Defense Minister "German Forces Need to Get Into Better Shape"
Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur receives his visitor in his country's Brussels representation on Tuesday, immediately after having taken part in a meeting with his EU counterparts. It has been a successful week for the 45-year-old and his country: The EU reached an agreement to supply Ukraine with one million artillery shells as soon as possible and to jointly buy ammunition for Kyiv in the future. Both came as a result of proposal initiated by Estonia.
With just 1.3 million inhabitants, the country is the fourth smallest in the EU, but its political weight is far greater. The government in Tallinn warned early on of Russian aggression and is now one of Ukraine's staunchest supporters.
DER SPIEGEL: Minister Pevkur, the EU has agreed to deliver one million 155 millimeter shells to Ukraine over the next 12 months. According to EU experts and Estonia’s own numbers, that amount could be used up within five months, perhaps even in three. What will happen then?
Hanno Pevkur, born in April 1977, has been Estonia's minister of defense since July 2022. From 2009 to 2016, he held numerous other cabinet portfolios, including social affairs, justice and the interior. He belongs to the liberal Estonian Reform Party, as does the recently re-elected Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.
Pevkur: First, these one million shells could last for one year, if used at normal intensity. Of course, if the Ukrainians fire at maximum capacity, they could use up one million shells three times faster. Secondly, the EU is not Ukraine’s only supplier of ammunition. The Ramstein Format includes more than 50 allies, among them the United States and Canada. Thirdly, the EU’s decision relates primarily to 155 millimeter ammunition. There are other deliveries as well. But it certainly is a milestone. Now, it is important we put together the first delivery in the coming weeks.
DER SPIEGEL: To move that quickly, EU countries would have to rely on munition supplies from their own stocks. Many are reluctant to do so.
Pevkur: I understand this is not easy for some member states. But in the last 30 years, we have not been producing enough, because we were living in peace. Now there is war in Europe. Which means we have to spend more on defense. Much more.
DER SPIEGEL: How much more?
German troops in NATO's enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in LithuaniaFoto: Michael Kappeler / dpa
Pevkur: In the 1980s, NATO member states in Europe spent on average around 3.5 percent of their GDP on defense. Now, some member states spend less than 1 percent, and many are not even close to the 2 percent NATO agreed on in 2014. This has to change.
DER SPIEGEL: For many years, Germany was far from achieving the 2 percent spending goal, and it will likely not reach it this year, either – even despite Chancellor Olaf Scholz's announcement last spring of a renewed focus on defense - the so-called Zeitenwende, or "watershed" - and of a special defense fund worth 100 billion euros. Is German still not doing enough?
Pevkur: Our view is very clear. If we are members of NATO, we must all do our share. This year, Estonia is investing 2.8 percent of its GDP for defense. Next year, it will be 3.2 percent. Every NATO member should spend at least 2.5 percent of its GDP on defense. This is necessary because the shortfalls have grown too big in the last decades. In order to deter Russia, we have to get back to a higher level of spending.
DER SPIEGEL: Spending of 2.5 percent of German GDP would translate to around 70 billion euros, more than Russia officially spends on its military. German politicians have argued that other countries in Europe might be afraid of a Germany with that kind of military might.
Pevkur: Why would we be afraid? We are allies. Poland also invests heavily and is planning to buy hundreds of tanks, fighter jets and much more. That doesn't mean we are afraid of Poland. And we are not afraid of Germany, either. In fact, the opposite is true: The stronger the individual partners are, the better protected we all are.
DER SPIEGEL: Do you do you have the impression that Germany is a leading power when it comes to Europe’s security?
Pevkur: I see it more and more – for example, in the form of Germany’s initiative for the European Sky Shield. Also, Germany is putting a lot of effort into protecting NATO’s eastern flank - as the framework nation in Lithuania, for example, and with air policing for the Baltic states. For us, Germany is therefore very important. Many countries also think that Germany can play a bigger role in the Baltic Sea. But Germany is playing a leading role in Europe’s security as it is.
DER SPIEGEL: Is Germany’s military up for all this?
Pevkur: For sure, Germany is doing a lot to help Ukraine, but the German forces need to get into better shape. I believe the Zeitenwende will be accomplished.
DER SPIEGEL: There has been some disagreement between Germany and Lithuania about the permanent presence of a German brigade in Lithuania. How is this perceived throughout the Baltics?
Pevkur: It is up to the Lithuanians and the Germans how they move forward with this topic. Our framework nation is the United Kingdom, which will also not permanently deploy a brigade in Estonia. But for us, it is more important that we know which brigade is allocated to us. We can then do exercises, they are part of our defense plan. We have to train with the same people we fight with, if the need arises. And if there is a crisis, one brigade is not enough anyway.
DER SPIEGEL: How much would be enough?
Pevkur: In NATO, we clearly state: All for one, one for all. That means that when it becomes necessary, we help each other. The Baltic states are NATO’s front door. Only when that front door is locked is it safe inside. That is why Estonia is talking with Germany about the pre-positioning of ammunition and equipment, because during a crisis, we won't have time to deliver anything in huge quantities.
DER SPIEGEL: One day, this war will be over. Can you imagine negotiating a peace agreement with Vladimir Putin, for whom an arrest warrant has now been issued by the International Criminal Court?
Pevkur: We won't have to engage in peace negotiations when Russia is out of Ukraine and the Ukrainians have regained control of their land. But most probably, there will be some kind of negotiations. With whom? Very difficult to say today. I believe that before we enter the negotiation phase, there has to be a change on the battlefield. After that, we have to support Ukraine in these negotiations. But no one can tell the Ukrainians what to do.