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Estonian security policy

2009-01-22 13:57:54

The goal of Estonian security policy is to retain Estonia's sovereignty, territorial integrity, constitutional order and public safety. Since international security is indivisible from our own, the guiding principle of Estonian security and defence policy is to be an active provider of security on its own and to participate in crisis management and peace support operations led by different international organisations (NATO, UN, OSCE, EU). These principles have also been set out in the National Security Concept of the Republic of Estonia, passed in the Parliament in 2004.

Estonia's accession to NATO and the EU significantly strengthened Estonia's security, while at the same time Estonia joined the co-ordinated security and defence co-operation of those organisations with the purpose of contributing to the creation of widespread international peace and stability.


Membership in NATO, a collective defence organisation, will ensure military security, allowing Estonia to participate productively in international security co-operation as well as representing the most certain guarantee of Estonia's national defence. Active NATO membership will always remain the top priority of Estonian security and defence policy. The basis for reforms being implemented to fulfil that purpose is the Estonian Defence Forces medium-term development plan, in which, similarly to other NATO member states, stress is laid on the development of mobile and sustainable armed forces and on enhancing the capability of contributing to international peacekeeping operations.

NATO partnerships

Possible dangers to Estonia's security are mostly of a global nature, which is why Estonia values effective dialogue and co-operation in all of NATO's partnership programmes in order to ensure Euro-Atlantic security. Especially important to Estonia are the NATO Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the NATO-Ukraine Commission, the NATO-Georgia Commission and the NATO-Russia Council, which in addition to holding dialogues possess great practical importance because of the partners' participation in NATO peace operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Estonia supports a flexible approach to partnership relations, which allows transatlantic co-operation to be done with all nations that are tied to NATO by common values and interests in order to ensure transatlantic security. In addition, Estonia supports expanding the spectrum of topics under discussion in accordance with the concerns of the alliance. These could include new security issues like energy security and cyber defence. 

Estonia's participation in peacekeeping operations

Participation in peacekeeping operations, which began four years after the regaining of independence, continues to be one of Estonia's priority activities in creating peace and stability in the world. In 2009, over 200 Estonian servicemen were participating in several international peacekeeping operations. Estonia has sent different units and specialists to crisis areas: infantry, military police, staff officers, medics, EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) specialists, air traffic controllers, military observers, transport maintenance officers and cargo handlers.

Major military operations

Afghanistan – Estonia joined the fight against terrorism in 2002 in the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Since 2003, Estonia has participated in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF[1]), which has since become NATO's most important mission. Participation in the ISAF is one of Estonia’s foreign policy priorities. This is also our armed forces’ greatest and most important military operation, and at the beginning of 2009 we had 150 Estonian servicemen participating. Most of the Estonian contingent (an 105-member infantry unit) is stationed in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, which is thought to be a crucial area in terms of stabilising the nation.
Estonia believes that co-operation between military and civil operations is essential for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and we function on the assumption that Estonia’s military contribution will be supported by civil contributions and development aid. For the past few years, Afghanistan has been one of Estonia’s priorities in development co-operation, so we have also sent some of our civil officials there—the head of our special diplomatic mission, a health care expert, a defence advisor, and a police officer for the EU police mission (EUPOL). Estonia has chosen the development of the health care system in Helmand province as one of the priority areas for its civil contribution in Afghanistan. The health care expert sent from Estonia began his work in Afghanistan in March 2008.

Kosovo (KFOR) – Estonia has participated in the NATO peace support mission in Kosovo (KFOR) since 1999. At the moment, Estonian field officers are residing in KFOR headquarters, and a 26-member Estonian intelligence unit is functioning as part of the Danish battalion in Mitrovica, in the northern part of Kosovo. Since Kosovo presents a problem within Europe, and finding a resolution is a priority for both the EU and NATO, Estonia feels it is crucial to keep contributing to the efforts as long as the need for aid remains.

Iraq – Since 2003, Estonia has stood in the ranks of the international coalition in Operation Iraqi Freedom with its infantry unit ESTPLA. Altogether 11 ESTPLA rotations participated in the mission, which has now ended. The last unit, ESTPLA-17, returned home from the mission in December of 2008. Two Defence Force members fell in combat in 2003 and 2004, and 18 have been injured.
Estonia will continue participating in NATO’s Iraq training mission with three staff officers.
Thanks to the joint efforts of the international forces and Iraq itself, Iraq is becoming a nation that values democratic principles and whose ability to independently control its territory is constantly growing. The improvement of the security situation has been experienced firsthand by the Estonian infantry units in the line of duty—while in 2003 and 2004 it was not unusual for Iraqi opposition groups to direct gunfire, ambushes and bombs towards the Estonian infantry, during the past year the Estonian units in Iraq have seen hardly any combat activity at all.
The mission in Iraq was the first time Estonians participated in an international operation that dealt with actively supporting peace—together with other allies, Estonia supported Iraq’s government in its battle against illegal arms groups. The Estonian infantry units were highly valued by the Iraqi forces and by local residents; proof of this lies in the positive feedback that has been received from citizens regarding the activities of Estonian units.

Support for NATO membership

Support for NATO membership among Estonian citizens has remained on a high level, and the number of ethnic Estonians supporting the alliance is particularly high. A survey in January 2008[2] showed that 73% of all respondents supported NATO membership. The outcome did not differ significantly in surveys conducted in 2006 and 2007 (for which the results showed 75% and 71% respectively).

As to how Estonia's security situation changed after accession to NATO in the spring of 2004, 56% of respondents answered that the situation has improved. 30% considered the situation unchanged and 3% believed the situation had worsened.

68% of all respondents saw NATO membership as the most important thing guaranteeing Estonian security. This was followed by 42% of people who considered European Union membership to play that role, while 41% of people said the most important things are international co-operation and good neighbourly relations.

The majority of the Estonian population continued to support maintaining national defence expenditures at the current level or even increasing them: 33% thought defence spending should be raised, 45% would maintain it at the current level and 10% would like to see defence funding cut back.

Compared with the results of the survey carried out in the summer of 2007, support of Estonian soldiers' participation in foreign operations has increased somewhat. Of those surveyed, 50% were in favour of participation in foreign operations, but another 44% percent were against the missions.


European Union Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)

Accession to the European Union has helped to ensure Estonia's security, and the EU has also increased its own role in fighting global security threats by significantly intensifying its activities. The EU's primary instrument for ensuring security in the EU and globally is the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), which is the most important and visible component of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The objective of the CFSP/ESDP is to enhance security, maintain lasting peace, promote international co-operation, and develop democracy. The EU operates in the framework of the CFSP/ESDP as a unitary block, in which each member state equally participates in all foreign policy actions of the EU and thus forms a part of the whole. As stated in the Estonian government's European Union Policy for 2007-2011, a strong, united and internationally influential Europe is in Estonia's best interest. Estonia's goal is to help with the growth of safety and well-being in the European Union neighbourhood and in the entire world, to support the promotion of human rights and democracy, to help prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and to fight against terrorism. For this, the European Union must have the capability to prevent and resolve crises.

Estonia has set a goal of actively contributing within its means to the promotion of democratic values and to the creation of economic stability first and foremost in the European Union's neighbourhood, considering this the best means of safeguarding peace. Estonia supports the strengthening of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and took part in working out an action plan to achieve this goal. Estonia has increased and will continue to increase its presence in many ENP nations (Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova), carrying out several develop co-operation projects there.

Estonia's participation in European Union missions

An important part of Estonia's security policy is contributing to the development of the European Union’s military and civil crisis command capabilities. The EU should emphasise developing its civil capabilities; this then increases the effectiveness of NATO activities and helps the two great organisations complement one another's actions. Estonia is a strong supporter of closer co-operation between the EU and NATO. In the summer of 2007, an Estonian Defence League unit successfully completed its activities as part of the EU's military mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Estonian police officers, border patrol guards, customs officials and other experts of civil matters will continue their activities in the western Balkans, Moldova, Georgia, and Afghanistan.

Estonia's most important European Union civil missions

Afghanistan (EUPOL Afghanistan) – developing the interior security sector is one of the most important priorities when it come to stabilising Afghanistan, but the complicated security situation presents a serious challenge to the European Union. The mission deals with building up the police system in Afghanistan, and some Estonian experts are also involved in this project.

Kosovo (EULEX Kosovo) – the areas covered by this civil mission, which was launched in December of 2008, are the supervising and monitoring of the legal system, police, customs, border patrol and corrections facilities. Estonia has dispatched six experts to participate in this mission.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUPM) – The first ESDP civil mission, which has been active since 2003. Its primary goal is to provide aid and consultation for the implementation of police reforms. Two police officers from Estonia are participating in the mission.

Georgia (EUMM Georgia) – Two Estonian experts are working with the observation mission that was sent to Georgia in October 2008 to observe and monitor the fulfilment of French President Sarkozy's peace plan.

Iraq (EUJUST LEX) – the goal of the mission is to offer training for Iraq's corrections and legal system officials. The mission is primarily being carried out in the form of courses and practicum that member states arrange in their own countries.  So far Estonia has sent a lecturer to the courses organised in Denmark, and in 2009 there is a plan to organise training for 2 Iraqi prison officials in Estonian prisons.

European Union military operations

Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUFOR Althea) – Although the military operation, which began in 2004, is drawing to a close and the Estonian Defence League unit has already left, there are still two Estonian staff officers present on site.
The other two EU military operations—the EUFOR mission started last year in Chad and based in the Republic of South Africa and the EU maritime operation EU NAVFOR Atlanta, which is fighting against Somali pirates—are supported by Estonia only politically due to lack of resources.

The European Union has begun implementing a battle group system. The Nordic Battle Group (NBG) was action-ready from 1 January to 30 June 2008. The group was led by Sweden and included participants from Finland, Ireland, Norway, and Estonia. Our contribution to the battle group was 45 soldiers. The next period of battle-readiness for the NBG will be in the first half of 2011.


Bilateral and multilateral defence co-operation

As a member of the EU and NATO, Estonia is a more relevant partner than ever in international co-operation, and we have managed to make use of that circumstance in bilateral relations with other countries. Our membership also allows us to support development trends created by such international organisations as the UN, OSCE, and the Council of Europe that are in our own interests.

Estonia has developed active bilateral defence co-operation with almost all NATO member countries and many other partners. Defence co-operation with major NATO member states such as the US, Great Britain, Germany and France has been and remains of great importance. The closest co-operation has taken place between Estonia and its northern neighbours Denmark, Finland, and Norway, and its southern neighbours Latvia and Lithuania.

The common political goal – NATO accession – has led Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to create several successful trilateral defence projects in the framework of the NATO Partnership for Peace initiative. Since all the Baltic States are full members of the alliance, the security environment of the Baltic States has changed in many ways compared to the situation ten years ago. Thus, trilateral co-operation is also undergoing changes in line with new goals and challenges emanating from NATO membership. Trilaterally, several joint projects have been initiated, some of which have lasted from their inception up to the present with others having been terminated upon attaining goals (for example, BALTBAT and BALTSEA).

Major projects in trilateral co-operation between the Baltic States

BALTRON (Baltic Naval Squadron) is an example of successful Baltic naval co-operation. The countermining squadron was established in 1998 for participation in international operations. Today, after Baltic membership in NATO, BALTRON is serving as a part of the training structure for NATO's Mine Countermeasure (MCM) unit. Baltic naval co-operation has since 2005 provided a basis for one Estonian, Latvian or Lithuanian ship to be at the disposal of the NATO Response Force (NRF) on a rotating basis. The first to serve that purpose was an Estonian command and support ship, the Admiral Pitka.

BALTNET (Baltic Airspace Surveillance Network) is a system established in 1998 for the acquisition, co-ordination, distribution and display of air surveillance data within the three Baltic states. The Regional Airspace Surveillance Co-ordination Centre (RASCC) is based in Lithuania.

BALTDEFCOL (Baltic Defence College) is the joint military education institution established in 1998 to provide the officers of Baltic and partner countries a higher military education. The core function of the college is to conduct NATO-level Joint Command and General Staff Courses for mid-career officers of the defence forces of the Baltic states and other countries. In 2004, the college also began to conduct a Higher Command Studies Course (HCSC). HCSC is an international course that is meant for higher officers and officials and focuses on leading and a leader's roll in today's security environment and current military operations. For the 2007-2008 academic year, there are officers and civil servants from 18 nations studying at BALTDEFCOL. The quality of instruction is ensured by the active participation of foreign instructors; currently there are instructors from 15 countries, including Norway, France, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Poland, and the United States.

The newest and most ambitious trilateral co-operation project to date is the formation of a unified Baltic motorised infantry battalion, which is currently in the preparation stage. It will be ready to join the NATO Response Force's quick-response land element (NRF-14) in the first half of 2010. The Baltic nations' co-operation in the area of joint acquisitions has picked up momentum as well.

The NATO air-policing mission in the airspace of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is extremely important for all the Baltic nations, since the Baltic countries are still not able to ensure the security of their airspace independently. Since a joint solution for ensuring the security of the airspace must be found by 2018, the defence ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania approved a policy directive in May 2008 for a common air security analysis, on the basis of which variations for solutions to the air security issue will be worked out. The Baltic states must present these proposals to NATO in 2011.


Co-operation with other international organisations

Estonia has been a member of the United Nations (UN) since September 1991. Estonia fulfils the main purpose of the UN, the ensuring of international peace and security, primarily by contributing to the international fight against terrorism and to UN peacekeeping operations. Recently two Estonian military observers participated in the UN peacekeeping mission UNTSO in the Middle East. Estonia has also taken part in the training of UN peacekeepers.

Estonia has acceded to 12 UN conventions against terrorism and signed the last convention adopted by the UN General Assembly in April 2005 – the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

In 1991, Estonia joined the Commission on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which in December 1994 became the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Estonia actively takes part in military and security co-operation on the basis of the OSCE's Vienna Document and the Open Skies Agreement. In addition, Estonian experts participate in OSCE missions, contributing to the enhancing of stability and security in the Western Balkans, Moldova, and the South Caucasus.

The strategic goods control system in Estonia will result in enhanced capability for defence of Estonia's security interests and also improve Estonia's capacity to fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism. Estonia has joined the main international organisations co-ordinating the strategic goods control, such as the Wassenaar Agreement, the Australia Group, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

An important area of international co-operation for Estonia involves how to react to new security threats, especially when it comes to ensuring cyber security. The vulnerability of cyberspace is a serious security risk in today's world, which affects all nations and needs to be tackled on a global level. In May 2008, the Estonian government approved its national cyber security strategy. According to the plan, Estonia would like to actively participate in working out international cyber security policy, making the problem known through various international organisations (NATO, EU, UN, OSCE, European Council, etc.), and developing international co-operation networks that deal with cyber security. Estonia would like to unite as many nations as possible through international conventions addressing cyber crime and attacks, and achieve international moral condemnation of cyber attacks. The NATO Centre of Excellence in Cyber Defence is being established in Estonia, and as before, Estonia plans to continue sharing its cyber security-related experiences around the world.

More information at the addresses:

Ministry of Defence: www.kmin.ee
Peace Operations Center: www.rok.ee

[1] International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan

[2] The last survey and previous public opinion surveys can be found on the website of the Ministry of Defence at http://www.mod.gov.ee/?op=body&id=416.