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Estonian Security Policy


The goal of the Estonian security policy is to retain Estonia’s independence and sovereignty, territorial integrity, constitutional order and public safety. Our membership in NATO and the EU helps us to fulfil these goals. 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. These principles have also been set out in the National Security Concept of the Republic of Estonia (155.46 KB, PDF), passed in the Riigikogu in 2010.


Estonia has been a member of NATO since 2004. Membership in the collective defence organisation ensures 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. Similarly to other NATO member states, Estonia stresses developing mobile and sustainable armed forces and enhancing its capability to contribute to international peacekeeping operations. The NATO Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, which includes the participation of eigth nations, is located in Tallinn. Estonia participated actively in the renewal of NATO’s strategic concept and is a consistent supporter of NATO’s open-door policy.

Today’s security policy challenges require NATO’s co-operation with other international organisations. NATO-European Union dialogue during the past few years has focused first and foremost on two areas: crisis management in the Balkans and increasing Europe’s military capability. Because of the European Union missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo, EU-NATO co-operation in planning and executing missions has become especially relevant. Co-operation functions on a practical working level, but it is necessary to bring it up to the political and higher military level as well.

NATO’s relations with the UN are also extremely important. By supervising and co-ordinating international civil contributions, the UN supports NATO’s activities in operation areas.

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 programs. 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 have led to better comprehension of NATO’s goals and closer co-operation within the framework of operations. Estonia supports a flexible approach to partnership relations, which allows co-operation to take place with all nations that are tied by common values and interests. In addition, Estonia supports expanding the spectrum of topics under discussion in accordance with the concerns of the alliance. These include new security issues like cyber defence and energy security.

Estonia’s participation in NATO missions and operations

Estonia has sent many 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. In 2011 there will be around 200 Estonian Defence Forces members in various operations at any given time.

Afghanistan – Estonia began its military involvement in Afghanistan in 2002 in the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom. Since 2003, Estonia has participated in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF ), which has since become NATO’s most important mission. ISAF is the greatest and most important military operation for the Estonian Defence Forces, and in 2011 there will be up to 160 Defence Forces members participating. Most of the Estonian contingent is stationed in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, which is thought to be a crucial area in terms of stabilising the nation. In accordance with the general international increase in contributions to Afghanistan, in 2010 Estonia has also decided to increase its civil contribution and significantly diversify its military contribution.
The co-ordination of military and civil operations is essential for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. This is why for the past few years Afghanistan has been one of Estonia’s priority nations for development co-operation. Estonia has chosen the development of the health care system in Helmand Province as the priority area for its civil contribution in Afghanistan. Estonia has had a health care expert working in Helmand since March 2008.

Kosovo (KFOR) – Estonia has participated in the NATO peace support mission in Kosovo since 1999. For the last few years Estonia has contributed staff officers to KFOR headquarters and an infantry unit of a few dozen men under the command of the Danish battalion in Mitrovica, in the northern part of Kosovo. In accordance with NATO’s decision to reduce forces in Kosovo, Estonia has stopped contributing an infantry unit to Kosovo in February 2010, but continues its contribution with one staff officer at KFOR headquarters.

Iraq – Estonia stood in the ranks of the international coalition in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003-2008. After ending the participation of its combat units, Estonia continues to participate in NATO’s Training Mission – Iraq (NTM-I) with two staff officers.

NATO Response Force (NRF) – Estonia has contributed to NRF since 2005 and lately has participated both in the 14th rotation of the NRF during 2010 with infantry and in the 15th rotation in 2010 second half with navy units.

According to the Long-Term Defence Development Plan 2009-2018 Estonia foresees continued participation of its military capabilities and units in operations led by NATO, EU and/ or coalitions of the willing outside of national territory.

Support for NATO membership among Estonian citizens has remained on a high level. A survey in September 2010 showed that 78% of all respondents supported NATO membership. The outcome did not differ significantly from the results of surveys conducted in earlier years.

The European Union

Estonia has been a member of the European Union since 2004. A strong, united and internationally influential Europe is in Estonia’s best interest. One of the most important and visible components of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is the European Union’s Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). The goal of this policy is to enhance security, maintain lasting peace, promote international co-operation and democracy, and help to prevent and resolve crises. The EU’s ability to combat international security risks has increased in the past few years and its activities have clearly become more efficient. After the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon, the ESDP will become even more effective.

Estonia has set a goal of actively contributing to the promotion of democratic values and human rights and to the creation of economic stability. Estonia is interested in the EU’s active role within its neighbourhood and 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 by carrying out numerous development co-operation projects, particularly in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.

Estonia’s participation in the European Union missions and operations

Estonia contributes to the development of the European Union’s military and civil crisis command capabilities. Estonian police officers, border patrol guards, customs officials and other experts of civil matters will continue their activities within the framework of EU missions in the western Balkans, Georgia, and Afghanistan.

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 in 2011 there are three Estonian experts involved in this project.

Kosovo (EULEX Kosovo) – this civil mission covers 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. One police officer from Estonia is participating in the mission.

Georgia (EUMM Georgia) – Three Estonian experts are working in 2011 with the observation mission that was sent to Georgia to observe and monitor the fulfilment of the peace plan created after the conflict in Georgia in August of 2008.

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. In 2009 Estonia organised training for 2 Iraqi prison officials in Estonian prisons.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUFOR ALTHEA) – The primary purpose of the European Union operation ALTHEA is to ensure the fulfilment of the conditions of the Dayton/Paris Peace Agreement and to create a safe and secure environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Estonia is contributing two staff officers to the operation.
Estonia contributes to the European Union battle groups through the Nordic Battle Group (NBG). The next period of battle-readiness for the NBG will be in the first half of 2011.

EUNAVFOR – Operation ATALANTA. Since 24 November 2010, Estonia has contributed to the fight against piracy off the Somalia coast with the provision of a Vessel Protection Detachment (VPD).

Bilateral and multilateral defence co-operation

In addition to membership in the EU and NATO, Estonia also feels it is important to co-operate within the framework of other international organisations, primarily the UN, the OSCE, and the Council of Europe.

Estonia has been a member of the United Nations (UN) since 1991. Estonia considers co-operation within the UN to be necessary for maintaining international peace and security by fulfilling development goals, protecting peace, and combating international terrorism. Estonia hopes to be chosen as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the years 2020-21. The successful implementation of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 “Women and peace and security” in the context of international co-operation and contributions is very important for Estonia. An Estonian military observer is participating in the UN peacekeeping mission UNTSO in the Middle East.

Estonia joined the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 1991. The OSCE’s approach to security is broad, encompassing the military, economic and human dimensions. 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 the work of OSCE missions in the Western Balkans, the South Caucasus and elsewhere.

Estonia has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1993. The Council of Europe is an irreplaceable regulatory organisation that stands for the protection of human rights. In terms of security topics, Estonia considers its defence-related co-operation within the Council of Europe to be very important, for example combating terrorism and organised crime, which includes fighting cyber crime and human trafficking.

Estonia has joined the main international organisations co-ordinating 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; it affects all nations and needs to be tackled on a global level. It is essential that increasing the security of cyberspace does not come at the expense of human rights. In accordance with the national cyber security strategy approved by the Estonian government, Estonia would like to actively participate in working out international cyber security policy, making the problem known through various international organisations and developing international co-operation networks that deal with cyber security. Estonia would like to see wide-spread international support for the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime. The NATO Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence has been established in Tallinn, and as before, Estonia plans to continue sharing its cyber security-related experiences around the world.

In bilateral relations, defence co-operation with major partners such as the US, Great Britain, Germany and France has been and remains of great importance. Very close co-operation also takes place between Estonia and its northern neighbours Denmark, Finland, and Norway, and its southern neighbours Latvia and Lithuania.

The long-time trilateral co-operation between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is undergoing changes in line with the new goals and challenges emanating from NATO membership. Some trilateral co-operation projects that began many years ago have lasted up to the present, with others having been terminated upon attaining goals (for example BALTBAT, BALTSEA). The most important ongoing long-term projects in the trilateral co-operation of the Baltic states are BALTRON, BALTNET and BALTDEFCOL.

BALTRON, or the Baltic countermining squad, is an example of successful Baltic naval co-operation.

BALTNET, or the 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, or the Baltic Defence College, was established in 1998 to provide the officers of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and partner countries with 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).Officers and civil servants from nearly 20 nations study at BALTDEFCOL. The quality of instruction is ensured by the active participation of foreign instructors.

The NATO air-policing mission in the airspace of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is one of the most noteworthy manifestations of NATO solidarity. The three nations cover some of the cost of the mission and also contribute by developing on-the-ground air surveillance and control systems that are necessary for the air policing, along with fulfilling other practical tasks. In order to improve its state capabilities, Estonia is actively co-operating with NATO to develop the Ämari Air Base.

More information:
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