COVID-19: Kerstin-Oudekki Loone on a common approach to international logistics and the role of parliamentarians in preparing strategic answers for future crises

14 July 2020

Kerstin-Oudekki Loone, Head of the Estonian Delegation to the NATO PA, shares her perspectives on the role of parliamentarians in shaping the future of international relations and defence matters, the need for a civil-military partnership, and how the medical and defence sectors are linked.

4 questions with Kerstin-Oudekki Loone:

I.    Allied efforts to provide resources and humanitarian assistance to the hardest-hit countries has been critical to help Allies and partners cope with this unprecedented crisis. Could you tell us how Estonia has used NATO structures to help others and how Estonia has benefitted from other Allies’ help over the course of the crisis?

Estonia contributed through the International Red Cross to our NATO allies Italy and Spain EUR 100,000 each, 30,000 facial masks and 2,000 units of disinfectant made by the Estonian producer Nordic Group. Recently, we have delivered medical supplies to Georgia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Ukraine provided through the European Civil Protection Mechanism and in close consultation with the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre, as part of multiple Allied efforts to respond to the crisis. 

We have been lucky enough not to need direct help regarding the coronavirus from NATO, but the fact that NATO air policing in Estonia continued through the pandemic, including the rotation of the French Air Force in May, is well noted. It is important to underline that NATO continued to function normally during the COVID-19 crisis, even with travel restrictions in place.

II.    What additional steps should NATO and Allied armed forces take to support the national and international response to the COVID-19 crisis?

NATO is a valuable platform to organise the common approach to international logistics, specially the military aspect. This crisis has demonstrated a clear need for better civil-military partnership, for example in logistics (air transport, helicopters, road transport, logistic centres, and planning) or the know-how of protection from biological hazards (how and when to use masks, disinfectants, protective suits, etc). 

The medical and defence sectors are inevitably tied: having a functioning national healthcare system, universal and free of charge, covering the whole of a nation's territory, has emerged in this crisis as a key security asset. This includes the assurance of the existence of hospitals in peripheral/less inhabited areas, the need for an effective rehabilitation system, ample strategic reserves of medical supplies, and individual protection for both public and private sectors. More widely, every state, even small ones, have a duty to assure that the industrial and scientific capability in the pharmaceutic field is protected and ongoing. Let’s not forget it once the crisis is over, and austerity and anti-public rhetoric will come back in full strength: the healthier and better off we are, the safer we are, every cent we invest into health-care is a double investment in our security.

III.    The Alliance is faced with an acute health crisis, but other challenges and threats have not disappeared. Indeed, some actors could exploit this crisis for their own ends. What should Allies and NATO watch out for, and how can we ensure that the Alliance remains ready to respond?

This crisis has struck each and every country in the world, therefore, I fail to see how  state actors could exploit it. Vice versa, we have seen the need and value of true international cooperation – that when humankind is threatened alike, there is a solidarity bigger than our everyday differences in political matters. The states have emerged from this crisis as key players in global matters, the first actors to offer solidarity and coordinate crises responses. This common action should not be forgotten in future, but used as an example to achieve a more peaceful world where the differences are sorted out at discussion tables and protection of human lives is put first.

Still, there are non-state actors that could exploit the situation where the states are primarily concerned with pandemics, both at home and in international politics, and in some cases these actors are already moving (for example in Syria and Nigeria) – this reminds us that antiterrorism forces have to remain alert and their cooperation strengthened.

 IV.    What role do parliamentarians play in this crisis? And what role can interparliamentary diplomacy, including within the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, play to mitigate this crisis and prepare for the next crisis?

Parliamentarians have a most important role in preparing strategic answers in preparing for next crises and assuring that lessons learned from this are not forgotten. We bring forward the voice and will of our voters, but also because our work and discussions shape the future of international relations and defence matters. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is one of the forums that offers a possibility to showcase best practices and therefore learn from each other, in a democratic and participatory way. It is absolutely crucial that we create a special report of our member states’ response in coronavirus, with a special focus on civil-military cooperation.

Kerstin-Oudekki Loone, Head of the Estonian Delegation to the NATO PA

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