Kersti Kaljulaid: Europe’s defense spending needs to be 3 percent of GDP

Those European countries lagging behind on defense and security commitments should hike their domestic taxation to finance higher spending in this area, former president Kersti Kaljulaid says.

Kaljulaid attended last weekend’s Munich Security Conference and appeared on ETV politics show “Esimene stuudio” Wednesday evening.

“We have done surprisingly little,” she said.

Defense spending since February 24, 2022, came to “a total of 0.2 percent of the GDP of the Ramstein group,” Kaljulaid went on.

The Ramstein group, named after the German air base where it first convened in April 2022, is an alliance of over 50 nations (including all NATO member states) that support sending military equipment to Ukraine.

Spending pledged for this year from European countries is of the same magnitude as could be the case for a single year, over a multi-year period, she said.

“The Americans have not decided anything at all,” Kaljulaid added.

The former president has said the most cost-effective way to curb Russia’s imperialist mindset is to do so now, in Ukraine, by spending, a lower cost than human lives. Kaljulaid has taken this line when speaking to US think tanks related to both political parties, and has noted that Ukrainians are willing to give their lives towards a common goal.

Last year’s Munich security conference largely fell under a spell of self-deception, she continued.

“Statements at the time were that we would all provide aid to Ukraine and the Russians would be defeated. Yet the stage was filled with people who said that we are not doing enough,” Kaljulaid went on.

“However, these people were themselves prime ministers,” she added, noting that these are the very people who need to make executive decisions, including to raise taxes.

“I said quite directly that if you want defense spending of 3 percent of GDP, then it can be the case that taxes will have to rise,” she added.

Many European countries’ state budgets are locked down, Kaljulaid noted – citing Dutch premier Mark Rutte, who said domestic taxes should be raised rather than pointing the finger at Brussels and the EU, yet taxes in the Netherlands in any case have not been hiked.

Kaljulaid also spoke out against a perceived paralysis over the prospect of the return of Donald Trump as US president; the current alternative, Joe Biden, also did not inspire, she said.

Europe in any case should not write off the US as an ally, Kaljulaid added.

While Europe’s defense industries may kick-start greater production, states need to make long-term pledges to, and conclude long-term contracts with, those private sector companies, to guarantee that boosted capacity, the former president added.

Even if Ukraine emerges triumphant at some point, the same regime will remain in Moscow and will need to be contained as a result, she continued.

Ultimately, defense spending needs to be hiked to Cold War-era levels, which means around 3 percent of GDP per year, Kaljulaid said. “Unfortunately, it is so that weapons are made from money, not from anything else. The pressing task is to find these resources.”

Kaljulaid also noted, coming up to the 20th anniversary of accession and this weekend’s Independence Day, how much more robust Estonia’s defense and security, and therefore its independence, is, compared with the situation before joining NATO.

“We have also reached the coattails of the richer nations worldwide (Estonia joined the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in late 2010 –ed.). We now have to think about how to proceed from here,” she summed up.

Kersti Kaljulaid was president of Estonia 2016-2021.

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