Patrik Maldre

Patrik Maldre is the managing partner at Retel Partners, a think thank that aims to build bridges between Estonia and the United States in the fields of cyber security, e-governance and defence. Previously, he worked on cyber security policy as an analyst for think tanks in Estonia and the United States, and as a diplomat at the Estonian ministry of foreign affairs. He holds a BA in philosophy and political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an MA in international relations from the Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals (IBEI). He completed his mandatory military service in the Estonian Defence Forces in 2007 and is an active member of the Estonian Defence League.

The United Kingdom and Estonia’s achievement of independence

Patrik Maldre describes the crucial days of 1918 when the Estonia-UK alliance was born.*

99 years ago, on 24 February 1919, the Republic of Estonia celebrated its first Independence Day with nearly full control of the nation’s historical homeland. And yet, only a short two months before that, the Soviet army had been camped 34 km outside of Tallinn and Estonia was on the verge of capitulation. With the weight of numbers against it, suffering from lack of modern weaponry and having no navy or air force to rely on, it may have seemed that Estonia was destined for another period of foreign rule.

But it was not to be so. In the country’s period of need, new allies reached its shores – on 12 December 1918, a British fleet, led by Rear-Admiral Edwyn Alexander-Sinclair, arrived in Tallinn bringing guns, food, fuel and, perhaps most importantly, hope. It was in those momentous days that the modern Estonia-UK alliance was born.

British fleet played a crucial role

General Johan Laidoner, the commander of the Estonian forces in that era and perhaps the most storied Estonian war hero of all time, would later say: “I am sure that without the arrival of the British fleet to Tallinn in December 1918, the fate of our country and our people would have been very different – Estonia…would have found itself in the hands of the Bolsheviks.”

Of course, the arrival of the British in no way reduces the bravery and valour of the Estonian soldiers that successfully liberated the country and even pushed the front beyond Estonia’s modern-day borders. But it is no surprise that their morale and war fighting potential were given a significant boost by the 20 cannons, approximately 700 machine guns, 26,500 rifles, 31,000 cannon shells, 30.5 million bullets, vehicles, telephones, coal, oil, petrol and 550 tons of wheat that had arrived in Estonia from Britain by the end of February 1919.

It goes without saying that, as with any other set of foreign policy decisions, the British actions in the Baltic in 1918-1920 are better explained not by pure altruism but rather through a consideration of both its values and its interests. After a final meeting with Estonian diplomats Ants Piip, Eduard Virgo and Mihkel Martna, the British declared: “The Government of Estonia is stable, determined and based on democratic principles in its fight against Bolsheviks and disorder.” It is significant that the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia had transformed an allied state into a hostile one, and Britain was motivated to prevent the violent spread of a communist world revolution.

However, having just fought in World War I, Britain was neither able nor willing to send in ground troops to Eastern Europe. It needed local allies, and it found potential partners in Estonia and the remnants of the tsarist White Russian Army. Additionally, Britain, being an island nation, was interested in guaranteeing freedom of the seas. Its extensive naval operations against the Soviet Baltic Fleet in this period not only guaranteed Britain future access to the Baltic but also effectively created the Estonian Navy when it handed captured Soviet vessels over to the Estonians.

Estonia the first state to repel the Soviet westward expansion

It must be stressed that the arrival of the British fleet in Tallinn alone did not win Estonia the war. The first-ever celebration of Estonia’s Independence Day on 24 February, while occurring at a triumphant moment for Estonia’s army, did not signify the end of the country’s struggle for self-determination and peace, for sovereignty and stability. A new Soviet counteroffensive was just beginning, new enemies would soon emerge in the form of the Baltic-German Landeswehr as well as the Estonian Red Army, and the White Russian forces would eventually fail to take back Petrograd and therefore the Russian state.

Yet, by the time the Tartu Peace Treaty was signed on 2 February 1920, Estonia had become the first state to repel the Soviet westward expansion and would ultimately aid Latvia in doing the same. The Estonian defence forces, which had at that point swelled to a dozen times its original size, also made exceptional use of armoured trains, among other innovative tactics.

Furthermore, the British were not the only ones to provide Estonia with assistance during the War of Independence. Nordic allies, especially the Finns, Danes and Swedes, also played a crucial and meaningful role in aiding Estonia’s achievement of self-determination; their roles are also deserving of memorialisation and appreciation.

British intervention valued

Yet the significance of the British fleet’s presence and activities cannot be underestimated. Not only did they protect Estonia’s military operations and coastal territories from being bombarded by Bolshevik ships, the overall danger of their naval mission was more than considerable.

For one, the Soviet Baltic Fleet at Kronstadt occupied perhaps the most heavily defended anchorage in the world, including with ships that had larger guns than the British vessels. Secondly, the nearest port of re-supply for UK ships was Copenhagen, and, for repairs, Portsmouth. Lastly, the Baltic Sea was the unpleasant host of over 60,000 mines. It is in this context that the British intervention must be understood and, ultimately, valued.


As we celebrate this day, the 99th birthday of the Republic of Estonia, we should take a moment to reflect on the lives of those who contributed to our first period of self-determination.

Let us remind ourselves that the Estonian volunteers who risked their lives to drive out all would-be invaders are not the only ones worthy of remembrance. Let us reflect also on the 112 British soldiers who sacrificed their lives near foreign shores so that the Estonian nation could, for the first time in recent history, be the masters of their own land. While this number may seem paltry next to the statistics of the fallen in the horror that was World War I, the meaningfulness of the British fleet’s actions and the political will that backed them, should never be forgotten.


In this day and age, the United Kingdom continues to be one of Estonia’s closest friends and allies. The earliest period of Estonia-UK defence cooperation is as important as how it has continued during the last decade of the Republic of Estonia’s history, and helps explain why it can and should continue to be so well into its future.


Cover photo: The flagship of the British fleet in Tallinn harbour. Photos: Wikimedia Commons. * This article was originally published on 24 February 2014 and was lightly edited on 22 February 2018.

Military service in Estonia is worth it

As an Estonian expat who first moved abroad at the age of 6 but who returned to Estonia to complete my ajateenistus (military service), I have just one message for those, both here in Estonia and abroad that are considering it now: it is absolutely worth it.*

As a small nation in a strategically significant location that is difficult to defend, Estonia’s precious independence was first won in the aftermath of the First World War by a fortuitous combination of national heroism and external assistance. These elements form the core of Estonia’s dual defence policy today, too, and are reflected in Articles 3 and 5 of NATO, namely that we must be able to defend ourselves but that we can rely on our partners and allies in the gravest of situations.

National defence

The events of the past few years have fundamentally altered the security situation in Estonia, and this requires an equivalent shift in our mindset toward national defence.

The advances made by Estonia in the past quarter-century in terms of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, health care and economic development are all underpinned by security and stability at home and abroad. In a tumultuous international environment and an immediate neighbourhood characterised by political, economic and diplomatic, and, ultimately, military coercion, Estonia as a nation needs the resolve at both the heights of strategic decision-making and in the hearts of its citizens that we will do what we must and pay what is necessary to ensure our independence and territorial integrity.


Of course, the high politics matter less to most of us than our career ambitions and personal goals. But I can attest that military service in Estonia can be beneficial in that sense as well for both those of us living in Estonia as well as those who form part of the diaspora community. This is because, as with everything else in life, what you get out of the service is proportional to what you put into it, both physically and mentally. This is particularly the case with physical fitness, but also with four other crucial and cross-cutting elements: stress management, teamwork, self-expression and leadership.

Difference between success and failure

First and foremost, I would argue that how you react to difficult situations can make the difference between success and failure. In your professional and personal life, you will be subjected to high-pressure situations and challenging events. In military service, you will be pushed to the end of your physical and mental capabilities.

You will face the kind of pressure, difficulty and adrenaline that you have never experienced before. Will you buckle under the potentially overwhelming hardships or will you overcome them? Conquering those kinds of challenges or learning your own limits in military service makes you better prepared to handle and overcome stressful situations in your professional and personal life as well, no matter what field or situation you find yourself in.


Secondly, the days of the lonely genius are over and teamwork skills are necessary regardless of one’s institution or field of endeavour. Military service can give you a window into social dynamics and the virtues of cooperation in close to their most extreme form.

Taking part in joint activities that are often very challenging and for which there is only extremely limited financial compensation can give you substantial experience with the concepts of discipline, motivation and inspiration. These are valuable skills and substantial insights that, if properly understood and implemented, can make or break the successfulness of any group or organisation and can be very helpful for each of us to internalise as we continue to make our way in this world.

Strengthening the fabric of society

Thirdly, and this applies especially to the diaspora community, military service is beneficial for one’s language and social skills and also for the feeling of community and nationhood that they support. If you’ve grown up speaking Estonian at home but still often think in English or another language, putting yourself in a situation where Estonian is the only thing around can do wonders for your speaking ability.

For those that have grown up in Estonia, there is a certain subset of vocabulary used in the military service that creates a unique bond between those that have gone through it. Either way, whether because of natural reasons or as a result of mutually endured hardships, the military service usually brings with it lasting friendships and strengthens the fabric of our society in each of these ways.


Finally, the military service gives you an unparalleled experience with leadership. This applies both to those who end up remaining privates as well as those who go on to become sergeants or even platoon leaders. By the end of your service, it will become clear whether you are a successful or unsuccessful leader and/or team member.

Either way, the personal characteristics, attitudes and abilities necessary for both giving commands and carrying them out will reveal themselves, and those lessons that are learned in that environment can be effectively applied to countless situations in civilian life. Every organisation has a leadership structure and teamwork dynamic of one type or another, and getting an experience of that in its most challenging form can be very useful for reaching your goals, whatever they may, in the rest of your life as well.

Shared security consciousness

But going back to the bigger picture, one of the most important things that is accomplished by the military service is the creation of a shared security consciousness in the minds of our citizens. We understand that without security, we would not have the quality of life and level of development that we do.

And I argue that partially as a result of being one of the last European and NATO countries with compulsory military service, Estonia’s society is much more in tune with international security developments and interested in the complex questions of security policy than those of most of our allies. This is a substantial strength that contributes to the international credibility that we have achieved as a result of the extensive list of forward-looking security policy decisions made by our governments over the years.

One of the most meaningful experiences

As for me, I have to say military service was certainly one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Never before or after have I felt exactly that combination of adventure, purpose, hardship and pride. Estonia is only as strong and as resilient as the skill and resolve of its reserve army, and for me, taking the vow to defend my country at all costs and regardless of danger or difficulty was profound beyond words.

During my service, I kept in my chest pocket a document detailing the imprisonment, deportation or execution of a large proportion of my extended family during the Soviet occupation, when Estonia was unable to defend itself. When I took that vow to defend my country, I promised to give my all to prevent that kind of atrocity from ever occurring again. And I will never forget the feeling of self-realisation when I had a rifle in my hand, a knife on my waist, simulation grenades in my pouch and illumination flares in my pocket, ready to begin the defensive battle training session, learning the skills to protect my nation in a time of need. What will be your motivation?

So to those of you that don’t have physical reasons for not doing so and are considering whether or not to complete your ajateenistus, I say again: it is worth it. Do it to gain a one-of-a-kind experience. Do it because it will help you in the rest of your life. Do it to see the pride in your grandparents’ eyes. And do it to see the Estonian flag continue to wave on flagpoles across our land and around the world.


Photos courtesy of Estonian Defence Forces. * The original version of this article was published on 12 October 2014.

Patrik Maldre: Estonia’s next president should aspire to global cyber security leadership

Estonia’s political leaders are now choosing the country’s new head of state. The next president can, and should, build on his or her predecessor’s legacy to firmly establish Estonia as a global leader in the practical and political dimensions of cyber security.

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves’s ten years of leadership is coming to an end. As the country debates his legacy in both domestic and international affairs, virtually no one can deny that he has significantly elevated Estonia’s standing on IT and security topics worldwide. These efforts deserve praise and, even more importantly, continuity and expansion.

Estonia’s political leaders are now choosing the country’s new head of state. The next president can, and should, build on his or her predecessor’s legacy to firmly establish Estonia as a global leader in the practical and political dimensions of cyber security.

Estonia is punching above its weight

In the last decade, Estonia has garnered substantial international attention as both the target of cyber attacks and as an example of how to overcome those threats. The large-scale flooding of Estonia’s banking, government and media websites in 2007 landed on the front pages of newspapers around the world. Estonia, however, overcame that crisis and used it become a leader in the field.

The founding of the NATO Cyber Defence Centre in Tallinn, the creation of two national cyber security strategies and innovative structures, such as the Estonian Defence League Cyber Defence Unit, have earned Estonia a reputation as a leader in this field both among our allies in NATO and the European Union, but also across the Atlantic and around the world. Today, political leaders and company executives from dozens of countries every year visit to learn about how we handle this problem.

When Estonia speaks about cyber security, many countries care and listen. Its advice is sought for and valued. This niche leadership role has allowed the country to “punch above its weight” and be respected internationally. Small countries like Estonia rarely command such positions in international affairs; the next president should appreciate and develop this position.

“When Estonia speaks about cyber security, many countries care and listen.”

The security of interconnected computer networks will continue to grow in importance during the next president’s tenure, both in Estonia and around the world. Today, our electrical grids, water systems, financial transactions and communications all rely on critical digital networks. The confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the information on those networks has become essential for governments, companies and citizens alike.

This topic already affects, or will affect, virtually everyone around the world. Leadership in such a field is a major opportunity for Estonia’s foreign relations and national security.

A significant economic opportunity

Cyber security is also a significant economic opportunity. The global market for cyber security products and services is booming. Reports estimate that it grew from USD3.5 billion in 2004 to USD75 billion in 2015, and is forecasted to reach USD170 billion by 2020.

One of the core pillars of the country’s national cyber security strategy for 2014-2017 is to convert its political and diplomatic renown in this sector into economic success and income for our companies. Some enterprises, such as Cybernetica and BHC Laboratory, have already found clients and projects abroad. Perhaps the most successful Estonian enterprise in this sector, Guardtime, already has offices on multiple continents and is working with global companies like Ericsson and Lockheed Martin on high-visibility deployments.

“The global market for cyber security products and services is booming.”

An active and capable president can and should continue to work closely with these companies and further improve their global visibility. This is especially the case given the upcoming presidency of the European Union and in the context of recent multi-billion-euro investments into cyber security by NATO and the EU structures.

Such international engagement can help to create high-paying jobs in Estonia, boost the country’s economy and continue to bolster our reputation as a forward-looking and innovative nation committed to a free and secure internet for all.

A small country can be a world leader

Finally, it’s no secret that, despite this potential, cyber security isn’t exactly at the forefront of Estonia’s presidential debates or public discourse. Nor should it necessarily be. The president has many duties and responsibilities that have nothing to do with this role. The right candidate must command respect domestically and internationally on a wide variety of topics, from economic policy to military affairs and everything in between.

Pressing questions of administrative reform and social cohesion await the nominee’s first day in office. But, somewhere in the far back of their mind, every candidate can and should consider shouldering the responsibility of global cyber security leadership. Some candidates are more prepared for it than others, of course. But abundant resources exist, both in government and outside of it, to become wise on this topic very quickly and enlist expert support. For reasons of national security and prosperity, they should be taken advantage of and employed fully.

“Somewhere in the far back of their mind, every candidate can and should consider shouldering the responsibility of global cyber security leadership.”

In an editorial for the New York Times in 2013, president Toomas Hendrik Ilves noted that the technological revolution “is a paradigm transformation of our world: Notions of a nation’s size, wealth, power, military might, population and G.D.P. mean something altogether different from what they meant a generation ago. These relations are in constant flux, and old assumptions no longer hold. Today, a small, poor East European country can be a world leader in e-governance and cybersecurity”.

Estonia’s officials, companies and citizens are working every day to turn this vision into a reality. The next president should do his or her part as well.


The opinions in this article are those of the author. The cover image is illustrative.

Estonia’s role in NATO’s growing cyber capability

In June 2014, NATO took a major step forward in the field of cyber defence, announcing that the defence ministers of member states had agreed to adopt an enhanced NATO cyber defence policy (the previous one was adopted in 2011). The policy improves NATO activity in the critical areas of information sharing, mutual assistance, training and exercises, as well as cooperation with industry. Estonia has played a modest but notable role in the lead-up to this significant development.*

Accession to NATO in 2004 was arguably Estonia’s most important security policy achievement. It was a validation of more than a decade of efforts in civil-military relations, respect for human rights and civil liberties, as well as of its democratic form of governance more broadly. Yet while NATO’s Article 5 (which stipulates that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all members) is the ultimate assurance, Estonia has been eager to be, and be perceived as, not only a passive and helpless consumer of international security but also an active and contributing producer of it.

Estonia has come to play a leading role in a newer type of capability for NATO

In fact, Estonia has indeed come to be seen as a country that “punches above its weight” in international military affairs. In addition to upholding NATO’s defence spending commitment, investing wisely and participating actively in international operations, Estonia has also come to play a leading role in a newer type of capability for NATO – cyber. Thus far, NATO has often been criticised by experts as not ambitious and capable enough in the field of cyber defence, at least in comparison to its overall status as the most powerful political and military alliance in the world.

As the cyber security expert, Jarno Limnell, has noted, the central barrier to greater cooperation and overall increased cyber capability for NATO has essentially been a certain lack of trust. More powerful allies don’t yet fully trust less capable ones with information and knowledge about their abilities and weaknesses and prefer to have bilateral or smaller-scale multilateral cooperation in the cyber defence domain. However, a variety of recent events and processes, many of which have taken place in Estonia, have put wind into the sails of NATO’s growing activeness in this field.

NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence

At the centre of many of these developments is the  (CCD COE) based in Tallinn, Estonia. An operationally independent international military organisation, set up in 2008 and funded as well as directed by voluntarily participating states, it focuses on research, development, training and education in both the technical and non-technical aspects of cyber defence. Contrary to the popular belief, the CCD COE is not responsible for NATO’s cyber security. However, its publications, conference and exercises do have a significant effect on NATO’s growing cyber capability.

More than half of all NATO member states, including those allies with the greatest individual cyber capabilities, have now joined. Additionally, it is significant that the centre has also welcomed the first non-NATO member, Austria, into its ranks as a “Contributing Participant” (with slightly different rights and responsibilities).

NATO CCD COE has also hosted annual Cyber Conflict (CyCon) conference in Tallinn, bringing together over 450 experts from around the world to discuss the interconnected technical, legal, policy and strategic dimensions of cyber security, with a focus on the blurry but extremely important concept of “active cyber defence”. Only with this kind of dialogue, collaboration, debate and joint experiences, not only at the political level but also at the expert level, can trust between individuals and nations be developed and deepened.

Locked Shields

Perhaps even more significantly, NATO CCD COE also plays a central role in cyber exercises. Called Locked Shields and organised annually, it involves almost 300 experts from 17 NATO and non-NATO states.

It is the biggest multinational exercise of its kind, with participants operating from their home countries to compete but also to learn to work together, share information and more fully grasp the rapid dynamics of cyber crises. These kinds of exercises are critical for creating bonds between specialists of different countries, improving interoperability, internalising the value of information sharing and practicing the intricacies of defending against malicious cyber operations. All of this contributes meaningfully to building trust and strengthening the cyber capabilities of individual states as well as NATO more broadly.

Estonia, for its part, through encouraging the CCD COE as well as through the work of its ministries and agencies, will most likely continue to promote greater trust, information sharing and joint activities in order to strengthen NATO’s role and ability in this crucial field of international security. It has already offered the Estonian Defence Forces’ “cyber range” (practice ground) to NATO for adoption as its official cyber training facility. This is just one of many moves that Estonia has made and will continue to make so that one day NATO will be able to provide the same kind of deterrence and reassurance to allies in the cyber realm as it so effectively does in the more traditional, conventional security domains.


* The original version of this article was published in June 2014. Cover photo is illustrative/courtesy of Estonian Defence Forces.

Staying ahead of the threats: Estonia’s cyber security in 2015

The multi-week denial-of-service attacks in 2007 catapulted Estonia to worldwide attention in the field of cyber security. Since then, criminals, hacktivists, soldiers and spies from near and far have continued to maintain an interest in undermining Estonia’s networked society. Yet they have had no such luck.

Every year, Estonia’s flagship agency responsible for cyber security and e-government releases a report of its efforts to protect citizens and companies in the digital domain. The Estonian Information System Authority’s (RIA) publication is an unusually clear window into the daily threats faced by a digitally advanced country that is located in a geopolitically challenging region.

The report also provides insight into what kinds of actions and policies are necessary to counter them at the personal and national levels. Regular computer users and security professionals alike would benefit from having an overview of its contents.

Four major cyber threats to Estonia

In this year’s report, RIA identified four major cyber threats to Estonia: cybercrime, cyber espionage, cyber weapons and user inadequacies.

Criminals are increasingly using malware to encrypt files on computers and networks and holding them for ransom. This is a problem at the individual level but can become a national security concern if, for example, all the shared server drives of a critical infrastructure company are locked up.

Estonia also has cause to be concerned about the sophisticated activities of foreign intelligence agencies who are interested in, among other things, breaching networks and leaking data to reduce trust between citizens and the government. The recent power outage caused by a cyberattack in Ukraine also drew RIA’s attention as an example of how malicious code can be weaponized and applied in armed conflict.

Finally, RIA laments that most serious computer security incidents have at their heart a lack of knowledge, skills or awareness by everyday users. Basic computer practices (updating software, using strong passwords, not clicking links or attachments in suspicious e-mails, regularly backing up data externally etc.) by individuals and companies can substantially contribute to cyber security at every level. Otherwise, users can just as easily become a major part of the problem.

Staying ahead of the threats

To stay ahead of the threats at the national level, Estonia had to take action on a number of fronts in 2015.

It has implemented an around-the-clock monitoring system that has allowed it to respond to five times as many incidents as before, with notable success stories. To strengthen critical infrastructure protection, Estonia has brought together commissions of sector-specific experts, organised numerous training courses and continued the only country in Europe to test companies’ security itself. RIA also organised realistic security exercises for private and public sector operators to practice cooperation and identify shortcomings. The largest, KüberSIIL 2015, involved over 20 organisations and 100 individuals.

RIA also found that Estonia needs a single, compact cyber security law. The legal framework for cyber security in Estonia at the moment is overly complicated and will become even more so with the proposed changes to the Emergency Act and the entry into force of the European Network and Information Security Directive in 2016.

Finally, Estonia took its international cooperation to the next level by signing a bilateral cooperation agreement with Japan and another one with the Baltic states – Latvia and Lithuania. The latter made history by being the first trilateral intergovernmental agreement to be signed digitally.

E-society is based on strong cryptography

The security of Estonia’s e-society is also based on strong cryptography. It’s often not realised how cryptography underlies so much of what is done online, especially in Estonia.

The country’s e-government is based on the first-of-its-kind national public key infrastructure system. It then integrated that capability into the chips of its ID-cards, thereby enabling secure and private digital identification and authentication. This national implementation, combined with companies like Guardtime and Cybernetica that are producing innovative cryptographic solutions, demonstrates the expertise that Estonia has in this critical subdomain.

Fortunately, Estonia was also not caught off guard when increases in computing power and cryptographic advancements have started to make it theoretically possible to threaten our ID-card system (by attacking the SHA-1 algorithm) in the next several years. In fact, Estonia had already started to prepare a massive remote update campaign to remove the SHA-1 algorithm from our ID-cards in 2015. The success of this pre-emptive initiative, which began in March 2016, will continue to enable Estonians to use well-known browsers to take advantage of the thousands of digital services that have come to play a significant role in their professional and personal lives.

Leadership in cyber security and e-government has paid off in terms of international respectability

All in all, the RIA report continues to show that technological trends and threats are relevant to everyone, from individuals using their ID-cards to ministries protecting the most sensitive data. The so-called “arms race” between defenders and attackers is continuing at a rapid pace, and Estonia needs to stay in front of the threats personally, technically, legally and strategically.

The country has certainly seen how leadership in cyber security and e-government has not only contributed to domestic productivity but has also paid off in terms of international reputation and respectability. Its voice is heard around the world on topics connected to digital economics and security. With political will, sufficient resources and the collective effort of its citizens and officials, Estonia can continue to be a global leader in this field. It’s certainly worth the effort.


Cover image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Estonia as a flag-bearer of global internet freedom

Estonia is once again near top of the chart when it comes to internet freedom. Freedom House’s ‘Freedom on the Net 2015’, which is the most authoritative report in the field, ranked Estonia as second in the world for the third year in a row, just behind Iceland once again.

The Freedom House report investigated 70 geographically dispersed and politically diverse countries, and ranked them according to obstacles to access, limits on content and violations of user rights. These results translated into quantitative (0-70) and qualitative (free, partially free, not free) ratings. Estonia retained the status of “free”, and actually improved its score from last year by one point.

The report highlights facts that will come as no surprise to most Estonians or even those who have visited or studied the country in recent years. The rate of internet penetration is high and growing, public wi-fi is widely available and there are few if any restrictions on content. Estonia’s e-government services, such as i-voting and online tax forms, continue to garner praise for making the government more efficient, accountable, and transparent for society at large. Online comments can get heated, but there have been no documented cases of these translating into real-world violence. Furthermore, arrests or attacks against bloggers, activists, and journalists are non-existent. Estonia’s laws are conducive to internet freedom and its people are continuing to become more competent in terms of security and privacy online. The country is a frontrunner is virtually every aspect of modern society that is measured by the report, which says that “Estonia has become a model for free and open internet access as a development engine for society.”

However, Estonia cannot and should not rest on its laurels – it must continue to lead by example and do what it can to push the world toward greater internet freedom in the months and years to come.

This promises to be no easy task, given that internet freedom is on the decline around the world for the fifth consecutive year. For the first time since Freedom House started to report on this topic, there are now more “not free” than “free” countries in the world in terms of freedom online. In fact, 47% of the world’s population live in countries that don’t just use censorship and surveillance, but where individuals have been attacked or killed for their online activities. 32 out of 65 countries continue to be on a negative trajectory since June 2014. Overall, 2014-2015 was characterised by a greater push by states for content removal, a rise in surveillance laws and technologies, government targeting of encryption and anonymity online, and an escalation of arrests and intimidation of users.

The question of internet freedom is integral to the future of political, economic and social life around the world. Technological advances mean that our lives continue to become more connected by the day. Furthermore, an increasing amount of the world’s population comes online every year. The context in which we communicate, do business, and interact with our governments will contribute to defining us as individuals, organisations and even nation-states. How will the internet look in five, 10, or 20 years? Will the world continue to use the internet to generate economic growth and social activism, or will fears about domestic stability and national security lead to a fragmented, patchwork network of networks?

There is no doubt that an open, free, secure, and interoperable global internet is in Estonia’s national interest. We have already seen that technological advances and freedom online can produce entrepreneurial successes, improve governmental efficiency and enable social progress. Estonia must continue to work with like-minded states and other stakeholders to promote a vision of the internet that is conducive to the exercise of political liberties and the achievement of economic progress. This means including the topic in public speeches, putting it in the talking points between meetings with other international leaders, continuing to prioritise internet freedom in our development cooperation projects, and contributing actively, empathically and effectively to the global debate on norms of internet governance and freedom online. Programs such as the e-residency initiative, which among other things provides people around the world with free and trustworthy encryption capabilities, continue to show the potential that Estonia holds in this field.

The battle for the future of the internet continues to heat up. Estonia must continue to do its utmost, with both words and deeds, to convince both its democratic allies and its more authoritarian partners that internet freedom is a fundamental right that should be nurtured and expanded around the world.

‘Freedom on the Net 2015’ top 10:

  1. Iceland
  2. Estonia
  3. Canada
  4. Germany
  5. United States
  6. Australia
  7. Japan
  8. Italy
  9. United Kingdom
  10. Hungary

Cover by Freedom House.

Estonia’s high-tech defence industry is coming of age

In Estonia, a small but quickly growing group of high-tech defence companies are finding paths to international success.

In fact, most countries that take national security and economic growth seriously are host to companies dedicated to the defence sector. This industry generates high-level, specialised, often engineering or IT-related jobs, provides a smooth outlet for military veterans to join the private sector and increases a country’s indigenous capacity for the production of war material in a potential crisis.

Most states tend to favour, in effect subsidise, their own national producers when it comes to arms and technology purchases. These are usually strategic companies that the host state has a vested interest in supporting, sometimes even at substantial political costs, as the case of France and the ongoing question of the Mistral ships to Russia so aptly demonstrates. Estonia, however, (perhaps to be seen as part of its overall commitment to economic freedom) does not directly privilege its own companies in its procurement. In a way, this has been blessing in disguise as it has forced Estonian defence industry companies to think internationally from the very beginning. It has forced them to identify and specialize in various high-tech, innovative niche capabilities, some of which deserve a closer look.


One company that exemplifies Estonia’s innovativeness is Defendec, which is becoming known around the world for its remote premises surveillance technology. Founded in 2007, Defendec now operates globally with offices in Estonia, Washington DC and Singapore. Its patented Smartdec wireless sensor network technology relies on so-called “smart dust” detectors that are small in size, easily hidden, and equipped with wireless HD cameras that relay information about intrusions such as human or vehicular activity back to the operator. After several rounds of seed funding, product development and expansion, Smartdec technology is now being used at many international borders, including those of NATO and the EU, to help deal with a variety of criminal and terrorist threats. Finally, Defendec is broadening its scope to expand into critical infrastructure surveillance and protection as well. In the words of the CEO, Jaanus Tamm, the technology has essentially limitless application potential.


A second example is Cybernetica, which was established in 1997, but has recently entered the high-tech defence and space sector. Cybernetica has developed a promising new way to build trust among nation-states in the international security domain. The cryptographic system of safely sharing secrets, called Sharemind, enables, among other things, states with space capabilities to take steps to prevent satellite collisions, without providing sensitive information like specific trajectories.

In that particular case, the system works by separating the trajectory data of multiple states’ satellites into parts that are each located in a different server and separately reveal nothing. However, Sharemind is able to analyse this encrypted data (without knowing the specific trajectories itself) and predict possibilities of collisions. It can then warn and suggest instructions for avoiding collisions. Considering that each satellite can cost approximately fifty million dollars, this can be an invaluable tool for preventing unnecessary resource loss and building trust in a low-confidence domain. The system was developed as part of a contract with the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which, among other things, provided much of the early impetus for the development of what we now call the Internet. In fact, it is interesting to note that the director of that agency had not made a single trip abroad in her first three years of service, but when she did, it was to Estonia.

Threod Systems

A third Estonian company that has become active in a niche aspect of defence sector is Threod Systems, which produces unmanned aerial systems (UAS, or drones as they are commonly called). These days, no serious military can imagine having to do without the intelligence and reconnaissance provided by UAS. The Estonian security sector is moving in that direction this year as well, but Threod’s business ambitions are directed beyond Estonia’s national borders.

Taking advantage of Estonia’s extensive expertise in IT and other dimensions of mechatronics, Threod has developed a range of different drones, from the small, low altitude and limited capacity multirotor UAS to the large, high-speed and high-altitude Theia UAS. With its client-focused approach, Threod has also implemented numerous customization options, including optical systems enabling, for example, infrared or cloud penetrating capabilities and a variety of ground control and autopilot alternatives. Threod’s drones comply with high-level NATO standards, use world-class encryption methods, and employ frequency-hopping techniques for increased jamming resistance, and their experts also provide training and consultations. As Threod’s CEO Sten Reimann puts it, what the customer really wants is information; Threod has to be versatile enough to provide the means for the customer to accomplish their needs.

Threod's drone

All three of these companies are not exclusively defence sector companies. For example, Defendec’s Smartdec has applications for logistics monitoring, Cybernetica’s Sharemind for privacy-preserving analysis of health data, and Threod’s UAS’ for topological research or cinematography. However, they and several other companies are increasingly putting Estonia on the map in terms of innovative defence sector technologies. Of course, there is still quite a way to climb. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the company at #1 in the rankings of defence companies declared revenue of US$35 billion and the company at #100 declared US$770 million in 2013. However, almost all of these top 100 companies are in Western Europe, North America, Russia, China, Japan, India and other established or emerging powers. Estonia will most likely never get to that level, but its companies can and should keep finding niches where Estonia has a competitive advantage in global markets. If they do, their activities will strengthen Estonia’s national security and increase its economic prosperity.


Cover: Threod’s STREAM UAS drone. 

Patrik Maldre: Citizen’s Day – social cohesion is key for national security

26 November is celebrated in Estonia as Citizen’s Day. It commemorates the date of the signing into effect of the first Estonian citizenship law in 1918, and honours all Estonian citizens as well as those who are aspiring to become citizens, regardless of ethnicity. It is also a day that encourages reflection on the relationship between civic pride and national security.

The successfulness of a country – economically, politically and in terms of security – is in many ways determined by the relationship between its residents and the government. If the social contract between the society and the state is respected and strengthened then the country and its people are likely to prosper and achieve greater security. In states that have managed to achieve economic development and considerable resilience, all social groups find it in their interest to work hard, uphold the legal framework, and cooperate to ensure that their rights are respected.

Historically as well as today, however, ethnic tensions and conflict are one of the most common causes of state failure, internal and international conflict, and economic stagnation. As a multiethnic country with an open economy and an open society, Estonia also needs to constantly focus on managing and overcoming ethnic tensions as well as encouraging civic nationalism.

In Estonia, as in most countries, the foundation for implementing that social contract is the constitution and the government institutions, personal freedoms and civic duties that it creates and/or prescribes. Judging by, among other things, Estonia’s considerable economic growth, advances in transparency and anti-corruption, positions on international ratings of press and Internet freedom, and fulfilment of Euro-Atlantic integration over the course of the last quarter-century since regaining independence, progress has been substantial. However, these constant improvements will always be on fragile footing if integration and social cohesion are not ensured.

The evidence of ethnic tensions and conflict contributing to disorder, human rights violations and significant decline in quality of life can be seen around the world. In Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea and the civil war in the country’s east show how ethnic tensions can be stoked and enflamed both from within and by external actors. In the Middle East, the rise of the so-called Islamic State (IS) was enabled by the Sunni-Shia-Kurdish-Alawite-Turkish divides. Further away in Myanmar, historic Buddhist-Rohingya enmity and recent bloodshed is inhibiting that country’s democratic transition. As the events of the Bronze Soldier Crisis of 2007 showed, Estonia is also not immune to the potential pitfall of ethnic conflict.

Fortunately, Estonia has taken this question into consideration in its internal and international security doctrines. The 2010 National Security Concept commits Estonia to pursuing an “integrated approach, where the foreign policy, defence policy and internal security policy, as well as cohesion and resilience of the society“ are employed in a complementary manner to ensure security. Furthermore, despite the demographic changes that occurred during the period of Soviet occupation, Estonia has constantly worked to enable individuals living in Estonia to pursue and attain citizenship. After independence in 1992, 68% of residents in Estonia were citizens and 32% had undetermined citizenship. By 2003, the citizenship amount had increased to 81% and by 2014 to 84%, with the corresponding number of persons of undetermined citizenship decreasing to 12% and 6,5%, respectively.

Formal policy documents and national statistics, however, tell only part of the story. Integration has been far from an easy process, but success stories can be found in fields such as sports, politics, Defence Forces, and in civil society initiatives. These often come to our attention in the form of inspiring individuals, such as footballer Konstantin Vassiljev winning “Citizen of the Year” in 2011, social democrat Jevgeni Ossinovski becoming the first non-ethnic-Estonian cabinet minister, or Lieutenant Vladimir Kolotõgin being awarded the Citizen’s Day medal in 2013 for dedication to furthering national defence awareness in Eastern Estonia.

My own experience confirms that integration is at work on the micro level as well. My colleagues at the Foreign Ministry, whose mother tongue is not Estonian, are valued and successful diplomats. My ethnic Russian friends on our fourth division amateur football team get along well with both the Estonians and players from other countries. I still have very positive memories of the non-ethnic-Estonian compatriots with whom I served in the mandatory military service.

Yet the key will always lie with the right combination of government policy and social attitudes. Estonia, as a small nation with a large, aggressive, revisionist neighbour must do it all it can to consolidate its society and attempt to eliminate the prospect of ethnic tension or conflict. This involves not only domestic policies such as financial commitments for equitable regional development but also accepting and tolerant individual behaviour towards other residents of different backgrounds or social groups. Only with a shared understanding of the rights and duties prescribed by the constitution can we, as citizens and residents of Estonia, move together toward a more fair, more prosperous and more secure future.


The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Reflections on the Wales summit and the making of future NATO

Last week’s NATO summit in Newport, Wales, featured the largest gathering of world leaders in the history of the United Kingdom, and not without good reason. Transatlantic security is being challenged around its perimeter by brutal civil wars and undeclared stealth invasions, by resurgent state adversaries as well as nascent non-state groupings. The time was right for NATO to powerfully reaffirm its unique role in the present and future of world affairs, and it did so with ambition, clarity and resolve.

Estonia and its leaders can certainly walk away from the summit with heads held high. The combination of US President Barack Obama’s visit and the actions taken by the allies have sent a strong signal to the East and provided significant reassurance for Estonia. The agreement to establish the Joint Expeditionary Force led by the UK and involving many of the allies, including Estonia, who worked together in Afghanistan’s Helmand province also ensures that the gains and relationships created there will be effectively followed up on. The long-awaited adoption of Estonia’s cyber range as NATO’s official cyber training ground was also a substantial step forward not only for Estonia’s role in the alliance but also NATO’s increasing cyber capabilities. On a broader level, Estonia can take heart from the reinvigoration of NATO and its ability to continue to deliver collective defence in addition to its other missions of crisis management and cooperative security.

The Wales Declaration on the Transatlantic Bond, a 28-page, 113-point document that was the summit’s main outcome, was a sweeping yet thorough articulation of the alliance’s strategic posture, political positions and near- as well as long-term priorities. Crucially, member states committed to halting the decline in defence spending and aiming to reach 2% of GDP and investing 20% of that into advanced capabilities and R&D in the next decade. The allies also formalised reassurance measures for Eastern Europe, including Estonia, by committing to a high-readiness “spearhead force”, prepositioned infrastructure, an even more active exercise schedule and more in-depth planning. More abstractly, with the Wales Declaration, NATO also acknowledged the need for a more active, capable Europe in transatlantic security affairs, and by signing it, the European leaders indicated their willingness to reassume the share of the burden for international security that had been shifting to North America for a number of years prior to the summit.

For these reasons and many others, the Wales summit signalled the arrival of a new kind of NATO. In a changed security context, with Russia no longer a strategic “partner” but a threat to the vision of a “Europe whole, free, and at peace” that lies at its core, the allies are moving forward into a prolonged period of instability with new purpose. They are addressing cyber security by affirming that it is a part of collective defence and governed by international law. They are continuing to work with partners and increase the potential for cooperation by improving the interoperability of their armed forces. NATO continues to retain a strong attraction for non-member states and to leave the door open to new members. NATO has even begun to take the pressing issue of energy security into account. As Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow put it to the NATO Future Leaders Summit that the author was privileged to attend, “In the coming years, NATO will have to walk, chew gum and juggle at the same time.” And at Wales, the Alliance committed itself to once again be up for the task.

However, NATO is not the only organisation of states with a role in European security and many of the emerging threats and challenges that NATO states will continue to face will not be susceptible to the type of military solutions that NATO specialises in. In this respect, the Wales summit provided another look at the future when foreign ministers met with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to discuss closer cooperation. There is certainly potential for these organisations (and Estonia is a member of all of them) to bring to bear their individual social (normative), political, economic and, if necessary, military resources as part of a wider effort to uphold international law, human rights and European security. In a world of cross-cutting threats and challenges, this kind of coordination can and should be taking place more regularly.

In the last quarter-century, the usefulness and necessity of NATO’s existence has often been called into question by various pundits. Yet the allies have always found NATO to be an invaluable vehicle for attaining peace and security in Europe and its vicinity. NATO summits in the UK have played a central part in that process. At the London summit of 1990, the alliance agreed to extend a hand of friendship to Central and Eastern Europe, and the rest is history. Due to events in Ukraine, Wales was also a historic summit. With the benefit of hindsight, we will be able to analyse its outcomes more clearly when NATO next convenes in Poland for the 2016 summit. Yet looking into the future from the present moment, the alliance is geared to be stronger, sharper, and more flexible in addressing its pressing challenges going forward. Russia may still be inclined to conduct petty provocations such as the recent kidnapping of the Estonian security police officer, but that should not be allowed to overshadow the fact that Estonia’s overall security was strengthened substantially by last week’s events.


Cover photo: NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas and British Prime Minister David Cameron at NATO summit in Wales. 

You can also follow Patrik Maldre on Twitter.

Estonia, the Freedom Online Coalition and the future of internet governance

On 28-29 April 2014, in the framework of the Estonian ICT Week, Tallinn will be hosting the annual conference of the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC). The FOC is a new and growing group of countries dedicated to upholding and advancing the philosophy of internet freedom. The battle for the future of the internet is heating up, and with its policies and the FOC conference, Estonia has placed itself at the heart of it.

It is undeniable that the advent and rapid proliferation of the internet has significantly impacted the social, economic and, perhaps most importantly, the political dimensions of global relations. Not only has it brought about an astounding rate of innovation and technological development, it has also enabled an unprecedented level of connectivity between the world’s citizens. However, over the course of the last two decades, the international discourse surrounding the internet has become increasingly politicised and, more recently, securitised. It is very likely that the next few years will be crucial for determining whether the internet of the future will be characterised by the openness and interoperability that have been its hallmarks thus far, or whether it will disintegrate into tens or hundreds of smaller, less porous, less connected, less free, more controlled and filtered networks.

“Estonia is an active and vocal proponent of an internet that is safely and reliably accessible from all over the world.” 

The Republic of Estonia, for its part, is an active and vocal proponent of an internet that is safely and reliably accessible from all over the world. This foreign policy stance has its roots in Estonia’s own experiences with the internet as a driver of economic growth and a facilitator of public services. In fact, in 2000, Estonia became the first country in the world to officially acknowledge internet access as a human right. In 2005, it was the first country to successfully employ internet voting in nationwide elections. Additionally, Estonia is widely considered to be a global pioneer in the field of e-government, with more than 1,000 public services available to its citizens online. From an economic perspective, Estonia is becoming increasingly known for its vibrant and innovative tech start-ups. In the last decade, Skype, which was developed in Estonia, revolutionised the way in which interpersonal communication occurred at distance and, in the process, became a household name around the world. More recently, TransferWise is quickly carving out a positively disruptive niche in the world of international finance. All of these domestic accomplishments have been underpinned by Estonia’s dedication to internet freedom and openness. And they have led Estonia to pursue a foreign policy that encourages the spread of the internet and its associated socioeconomic and political potential to the rest of the world.

“The reality is that the level of internet freedom in the world is decreasing while attention to the topic of internet governance is increasing.”

Yet the reality is that the level of internet freedom in the world is decreasing while attention to the topic of internet governance is increasing. There is a growing tendency for governments to view the instantaneous flows of information and ideas that the internet enables as threats to domestic stability, cultural cohesion and national security. A number of states have begun to use sophisticated techniques to block, filter and/or remove online content. According to Freedom House’s comprehensive annual Freedom of the Net study, there has been a global proliferation of laws, regulations and directives to restrict online speech; a dramatic increase in arrests of individuals for something they posted online; legal cases and intimidation against social-media users; and a rise in surveillance.


Concurrently, there has been an increase in the number and activeness of forums dedicated to studying and debating the topic of internet governance, which refers to the norms, principles and procedures by which the internet operates and evolves. Thus far, the development of the internet has been a decentralised and multidimensional process in which a variety of different organisations have contributed to maintaining and increasing its availability and interoperability. This involvement of academia, enterprises and civil society is known the implementation of the multi-stakeholder model. Of course, there is one country that, as the source of the internet in the first place, has had a considerable influence on the development of the internet: the United States. However, in the wake of the Snowden revelations, there has been an increasing push by some governments to reduce the role of the US in the process, while increasing their own. The danger embodied by this momentum lies in the fact that the United States has employed its influence toward the policy goal of promoting an open, interoperable, secure and reliable internet. On the other hand, many other states are seeking a greater role in internet governance with the objective of codifying into international law the primacy of each individual state’s role in defining what their citizens can see, read, write or share online. Taken to its logical end, this would entail the fracturing of the internet, with states in effect drawing national borders around their information space largely for the purpose of enhanced surveillance and censorship. Not only would this end up impinging on the exercise of citizens’ fundamental human rights, it would also inevitably stifle innovation and economic growth around the world.

“The conference, entitled “Free and Secure Internet for All”, will bring together representatives of governments, enterprises and non-governmental organisations as well as individual activists to discuss the most pressing issues surrounding freedom, security and privacy online.”

In this context we find the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC), which is a geographically diverse group of 23 countries that are committed to advancing internet freedom – free expression, association, assembly and privacy online – worldwide. The FOC members are united in their affirmation that human rights apply online just as they do offline, and they work together diplomatically to voice concern over measures to restrict internet freedom and support those individuals whose human rights online are curtailed. As this year’s chairman of the FOC, Estonia is hosting its annual conference in Tallinn on 28-29 April. The conference, entitled “Free and Secure Internet for All”, will bring together representatives of governments, enterprises and non-governmental organisations as well as individual activists to discuss the most pressing issues surrounding freedom, security and privacy online. In addition, Estonia has brought together an international group of experts from academia, civil society and the private sector to develop a set of recommendations to safeguard and promote internet freedom and interoperability. The FOC governments will discuss and potentially adopt these recommendations at the conference in Tallinn. In these ways, the FOC, while formally being an intergovernmental organisation, stresses its commitment to the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance. This means that the FOC has initiated a process that is characterised by diversity and inclusion because, after all, the internet has developed and will continue to develop as an arena not just for the interests, goals and ambitions of states, but also those of businesses, individuals and civil society.

“Estonia has shown that it is possible to make significant progress in guaranteeing security and privacy without sacrificing fundamental freedoms online.”

The full benefits of the internet have yet to be realised in every part of the world. Truthfully, the unpredictable and powerful process of digitisation is nowhere near completion; only an estimated 40% of the world currently has access to the internet. However, its full potential as a driver of economic, social and political advancement can only be unleashed on a globally comprehensive scale if it remains open and accessible. This does not mean that the timely and sensitive questions of security and privacy that inevitably arise in this context can or will be ignored. In fact, Estonia has shown that it is possible to make significant progress in guaranteeing security and privacy without sacrificing fundamental freedoms online. And on 28-29 April, Estonia, the rest of the FOC members, various like-minded countries and a number of undecided nations around the world will come together with executives, luminaries and activists to exhaustively discuss and debate the intricacies of the questions of internet freedom and internet governance in Tallinn. It remains to be seen whether the vision of a “Free and Secure Internet for All” will become a reality within the next few years. Estonia, for its part, has demonstrated its potential on the national level and will likely continue to pursue the goal of sharing its experiences and spreading the potential of the internet to countries all over the world.


Cover photo: Internet exchange sign in Varbola, Estonia/courtesy of VisitEstonia.

Map: Internet freedom around the world in 2013, by Freedom House. Click to enlarge.

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