European and Estonian security

President Obama to visit Estonia in September

US President Barack Obama will visit Estonia in September; according to the White House, the visit is designed to “further enhance the strong relations between the two countries and to affirm America’s commitment” to the Baltic states.

In Tallinn, Obama will meet with Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves as well as Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas, to discuss bilateral ties, strategic and regional cooperation and “our shared commitment to the trans-Atlantic partnership”, the White House said in a statement.

Obama will also meet with presidents Andris Berzinš of Latvia and Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania “to discuss ongoing cooperation on regional security and policies that support economic growth and to discuss collective defence”, according to the White House.

The statement added that “in light of recent developments in Ukraine, the United States has taken steps to reassure allies in Central and Eastern Europe and this trip is a chance to reaffirm our ironclad commitment to Article V as the foundation of NATO”.

After visiting Estonia, Obama will proceed to Wales to participate in the NATO summit.


Cover photo: President Barack Obama meeting with Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and presidents Andris Berzinš of Latvia and Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania at the White House in August, 2013.

10 pictures from the Estonian Air Force 95th anniversary air show

In celebration of the 95th anniversary of the Estonian Air Force, an international air show was organised at the Ämari Air Force Base, with flight demonstrations from top pilots as well as a display of aircraft from nine NATO allied and partner nations.

F-16 fighters from Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, UK Eurofighter Typhoons, Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripens as well as Polish fighter MiG-29 demonstrated their capabilities.

The Polish flight group Orlik gave an air aerobatic show with seven PZL-130s. Flights from Estonian L-410, L-39, An-2 planes as well as R-44 and AW-139 helicopters, a Latvian Mi-17 helicopter and a Lithuanian L-39 jet were also flying by.

Over 15 aircraft were on display at the Ämari Air Force Base, including Polish Air Force MiG-29, Latvian Mi-17, Finnish F-18, Polish C-295 cargo aircraft, C-130 from the Netherlands, F-16s from Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands, Polish PZL-130 and Lithuanian L-39 training jets.

The Estonian Air Force is the name of the unified aviation forces of Estonia. It is the main arm of the Estonian aviation forces. The average size of the military formation in peacetime is about 210 men. The primary role of the Estonian Air Force is air surveillance and air search and rescue. Airspace integrity policing of Estonia and the Baltic states is carried out by a NATO quick reaction alert force.

Estonian photographer Gen Vagula took captivating moments from the air show.


Gen Vagula









You can see more photos of the show on Gen Vagula’s Facebook page.

President Ilves: Estonia has a “revanchist and revisionist neighbour”

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves’s speech at the Estonian Victory Day celebration on 23 June in Valga.

Today ninety-five years ago the Estonian forces, together with Latvian units, defeated our common enemy, known as the Landeswehr, in the Battle of Võnnu. The Cēsu kaujas.

But let us call the Landeswehr – and the Red Army, our other opponent in our War of Independence –, by their proper names. Among them, there were empire savers, pillagers and terrorists.

If we understand that it is our victory over them that is the essence of Victory Day; if we understand what it was that the Estonians and Latvians fought here on the Southern Front, then we can understand how little the world has changed in 95 years.

Let us not live in illusions. The foundations of the security architecture on which we, along with our allies, relied for 23 years, are gone. We’ve been constantly soothed by people who insisted that no more territories would be annexed in Europe; no more countries would be militarily attacked.

Yet, it turns out that countries are still attacked, territories are still occupied and annexed. During the last six months, all of the significant treaties that guaranteed the independence of European states have been violated. Raw power, brutal use of force, injustice covered by lies, that is, flagrant propaganda and distortion of facts – everything that the young Estonian Republic fought against five generations ago is still there. Only during the last quarter of a century have we got used to peace and European development, to constitutional protections, justified expectations and improved wellbeing.

What we see in Eastern Ukraine today, we saw in Estonia in 1940 and 1919. We cannot, and often don’t even want to imagine how fragile the wellbeing that we’ve got used to really is; how fragile is the peace around us, our independence and our freedom. Just like no one could imagine it in the cafés of Tartu or the farms of Valgamaa in 1938.

Now we know how costly this illusory sense of security soon turned out to be.

Therefore, Victory Day, which commemorates the courage of our forefathers and mothers nearly a century ago, is far more significant than just a prelude to St John’s Eve. It is, first of all, the time for us to stop and think.

Estonia always retained a healthy scepticism, looking at the post-Cold War world order and the perpetual peace in Europe. The past has made us wary.

Therefore, even during economically tough times, we always found the funding for national defence. Therefore, we have participated in NATO missions far from home.

Now we see that these investments were worth it. Now people say at NATO ministerial meetings that everyone should follow Estonia’s example.

Because it turns out that we have a vindictive and revisionist neighbour who does not think that the European order, established by the peoples freed 25 years ago, should last. And whose emissaries declare that tolerance is just a sign of decadence and liberal democracy as we understand it is only a peculiarity of Western civilisation.

The talk about the empire is back. The propaganda mills are grinding ceaselessly.

But NATO is not asleep either. If 20 years ago NATO’s role in Europe was questioned in some quarters, then now the alliance is back in its fundamental business – protecting the territory and the freedom of its allies.

NATO is there in Estonia – in our waters, in our airspace, on the ground.

Some people have expressed doubts: will Estonia be helped if things get serious?

We will, I assure you. In Estonia, NATO is defending itself. Otherwise, no NATO allies could ever feel protected. The principle “one for all, all for one” has created a situation where no country has ever dared to attack a NATO member.

Therefore, Estonia, like every other member of the alliance, can feel strong.

This time everyone knows what the actual situation is.
This time we are ready to resist, if that would be necessary.
This time, together with our allies.

Dear Estonian people.

Estonia has a battle-ready defence force, which can deploy tens of thousands of well-trained men and women if needed.

We have a Defence League with a strong will to defend our country.

This is the answer to those who have questioned the meaning of compulsory military service. This is also the answer to those who have thought that members of the Defence League are like little boys who like to play war and run around with weapons instead of doing something useful.

And, as I said, we have our allies. We have NATO air force in the newest and most modern airbase in Europe. We have the allied ships in the Baltic Sea. Allied troops are stationed with our troops in Estonian bases, in Estonian NATO bases.

Dear Estonian people,

Victory Day is the day to recognise members of the Defence League and Women’s Home Defence – the people who dedicate their free time and their free will to protect the freedom of us all.

The events in Ukraine confirm the necessity of the Defence League. In Ukraine, they did not start to establish, train and equip voluntary defence units until the violence had already reigned for some time.

In Estonia, the Defence League was founded after World War I, when people witnessed the mob rule of the demobilised Tsarist soldiers in Latvia. Our Defence League was established to prevent this happening in Estonia.

It is the free will of the Defence League that deters any potential aggressors. The attitude of the men and women who defend their own homes is totally different from that of little green men, mercenaries or criminals.

Every potential enemy knows that its greatest threat is a nation seriously defending its way of life and its values. We can find examples of this from distant as well as recent past.

Dear Estonian people.

The most important lesson Ukraine can teach Estonia lies in a question that each nation and society must answer every day.

The question is: is our way of life, our freedom worth defending? Is it worth sacrifices?

Only we can answer this question – all of us, regardless of our age or gender, our profession or place of residence, our ethnicity or native tongue.

I am proud of the whole Estonian nation, because the answer has been unanimous from Supilinn to Lasnamäe, from Narva to Valga.

Yes, this is our country where we make our decisions and our choices.

Estonia must understand that this right to decide for ourselves is constantly being challenged. For some, we are too successful, too independent, too stubborn, too European, too anti-Soviet.

The Estonian people have proven that freedoms – the freedom of speech, opinion and movement – along with the rule of law, independent judiciary and democratic elections, bring progress.

We embody all the things that a neighbour of ours regards as an existential threat to itself. For that neighbouring country, Estonia and Latvia are the countries that embody the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century.

Dear Estonian people.

Now I have a question: Are we ready? Are we willing to do even more to defend our freedom?

Are we ready to give up some benefits or pre-election promises? Are we ready to be friendlier and more understanding toward each other? Can we stick together?

Estonia is our country. It’s our freedom, our personal liberty, our homes and our families. The defence of Estonia cannot be anyone else’s business.

Estonia is our business, it’s the business of all of us.

Estonia deserves to be cherished and protected.

Long live Estonia.


Cover photo: President Toomas Hendrik Ilves giving a speech at the Victory Day celebration in Valga. Photo by Ardi Hallikmaa for Estonian Defence Forces.

Attacks on Estonia’s e-voting are political rather than technical

Just days before the European Parliament election in May, the Estonian society was rocked by allegations in The Guardian newspaper of the inherent security flaws in the well-established e-voting system. For all in the know, as well as probably a large majority of the country, the shock was not about these apparent “flaws”, but about being caught off-guard by a political attack in the international media. Almost a month after the election, no serious information that could put into question the security of e-voting has emerged.

A group of “independent experts” found “serious security problems” in the system after having allegedly created the same system in laboratory conditions which led them to discover serious technical and procedural issues.

The Estonian cyber security expert, Anto Veldre from CERT, very succinctly described (in Estonian) how criticisms of various IT projects tend to come in two categories: technical and PR (political). When a technical security flaw is found in a system by an external party, the responsible thing to do is to first inform the developer and only publicise the vulnerability once a patch is available.

This team asked Estonia to immediately discontinue the use of the e-voting system. Even after making such a preposterous claim to the government of a sovereign democratic country, the team would not give any details until after the election (they did publish the results on a website, but did not show any credible problems). Not only was this a very political move to make, it was bordering on irresponsible. If no concrete flaw is identified, it cannot be verified or fixed. But the political opponent has made their move successfully – uninformed journalists pick up the headlines and because the inner workings of the e-voting system are so complicated, no one bothers figuring out how much substance the initial claims had.

The group claims, for example, that because in one public picture the password to the public WiFi available at the election authority’s office is visible on the back wall (just like in any other office with a public WiFi), it demonstrates the lacklustre approach of the authorities. Frankly it is very hard to take anything seriously from the “expert” after a claim like that.

What makes the recent attack political rather than technical is firstly the deeply political nature of the process and secondly the implausibility of their claims. The political nature of the team and their claims was all too clear from the way the revelations were made. For example, one of the experts, Harri Hursti, has repeatedly participated in the Estonian Centre Party’s anti e-election propaganda events before. This attack started with a very doom-and-gloom press release where the experts claimed to possess “evidence” of security flaws in the e-voting system. This happened just a few weeks before the election. No verifiable evidence was given. The information published after the election will probably help the authorities to tighten procedures in some ways, but most definitely there was not anything there to question the security of the elections.

The sole aim of the entire exercise was to discredit the electoral system of Estonia, as well as to undermine the established democratic system.

There is an inherent beauty to the way secure systems are developed. In pursuit of pure perfection, all developers understand (hopefully quite early in their career) that it is not attainable. No system has ever been perfect, be it the Titanic or the Death Star. This inherent flaw is what makes the systems beautiful. As a result, safeguards are put in place. This includes audits, not only for the IT-system, but also for the procedures and the results. It includes constant monitoring of the system and improvements and patches throughout time. Most importantly, it includes an acceptance of imperfection. For example, the fact that voters’ computers might be infected with malware was acknowledged as a risk before the system was rolled out. Just like it is very hard to make sure that all voters only make informed decisions, the state cannot control that everyone practices good computer hygiene. But this is an accepted risk – that is where safeguards come in.

Just like no one can really know whether a voter is casting their vote the traditional way without any external duress or that the voting authority is not inundated with spies working for a foreign power, there are some risks connected to online voting. E-voting was created with an already conscious acceptance of flaws connected to voting – so it was intended to be much more secure than traditional ballots. Encrypted connections, fool proof authentication thanks to the national ID-card and the ability to change your vote as often as one would like up to the deadline have helped Estonia create an unparalleled system in the world that has worked without exploited vulnerabilities for six elections and will continue to do so for many elections to come.


Cover photo: Estonian ID-card, used for e-voting.

Securing e-Estonia

Estonia has done a stellar job in marketing itself as an e-country, where digital services permeate to every moment of a citizen’s life. At the same time, every book or article ever written on the concept of “cyber war” always includes a reference to Estonia being the first country to ever be targeted by a state-sponsored cyber attack in 2007. We can only be e-Estonia if that “e” is secure.

Estonian e-services have always been developed with security in mind. No system is ever rolled out without certainty that threats have been addressed and risks managed. This includes the ID-card and e-voting. While the security of those systems has been attacked in the international media, there are no risks or threats associated with the system that the authorities are unaware of, thus having been deemed reasonable. No system is ever 100% secure. That is a mathematical certainty. But if the government has gone through a rigorous risk management exercise – which it has – Estonians can be sure that the system is secure beyond reasonable doubt.

“Estonian e-services have always been developed with security in mind. No system is ever rolled out without certainty that threats have been addressed and risks managed. This includes the ID-card and e-voting.”

Cyber attacks, however, remain an ever-increasing threat, especially in a country with a heavy reliance on e-services and a location that provides for a volatile security situation. In addition to the standard three domains of military defence – land, air and sea – analysts started thinking about space as a fourth during the Cold War and cyber as a fifth domain in the 21st century. While no one can be sure whether a war can be waged just in the cyber domain, it is clear that Estonia needs to be certain of its defences there as much as anywhere else.

Whether we call what happened in 2007 cyber warfare or not, it was certainly a wake-up call not only for Estonia, but also for NATO. Estonian computer experts were able to curb the damage done in 2007 rather effectively, but future attacks are likely to be much more concentrated, sustained and professional. Cyber defence capabilities had to be incorporated into the national defensive thinking. Because the lines are thin between what is military action and what is criminal activity, what is a concerted state-driven attack and what a lone hacker testing their abilities, all plans in Estonia include a vast variety of actors – ranging from computer scientists to banks to the armed forces. Only a dedicated effort by all actors is what will guarantee the country’s security.

An important initiative was proposed soon in aftermath of the 2007 events – incorporating Estonia’s wide network of IT-specialists into the defence strategy. Thus the Defence League’s Cyber Defence Unit (CDU) was born. Estonian military defence is built on three pillars – professional armed services, compulsory military service for all young men and the paramilitary Defence League. The Defence League is a voluntary organisation that through exercises and education enhances the readiness of the country to defend itself. The CDU is similar – it brings together IT-specialists and security experts and trains them to be ready to protect the country in case of an attack. In its very essence and most importantly it has created a network of men and women who are capable of protecting the cyber sphere that we all cherish. In a country as small as Estonia a network like that is what could make a difference if the country is ever under attack. Estonia simply cannot afford to have thousands of cyber security specialists on its payroll but through patriotically-minded volunteers the country can be assured of having the necessary capacity to take on even the most professional of attacks.

“Estonia simply cannot afford to have thousands of cyber security specialists on its payroll but through patriotically-minded volunteers the country can be assured of having the necessary capacity to take on even the most professional of attacks.”

NATO commended Estonia’s prowess in the cyber domain. By placing its Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn in 2008, Estonia well and truly established itself as a world-leader in cyber defence capabilities. In cooperation with the CDU it hosts annual cyber exercises called Locked Shields, which bring together specialists from across NATO. During the exercises, “blue” teams are charged with defending fictional national systems and “red” teams attempt to attack them. The best defenders win (Poland won this year). Like with any other military domain, experts need these training exercises to test their skills and challenge their capabilities, all in the name of being ready when a real-world attack comes.

Estonia’s strength in the cyber domain is built on the skills of the country’s experts. But that is not what makes the national cyber defence policy extraordinary and keeps fascinating foreigners. It’s the acceptance – both in the highest levels of government and among the general public – that the country needs to pull together to ensure its security. The Cyber Defence Unit is just one example. The bigger picture of various levels of government, the armed forces and the private sector working together to achieve common goals is a model that other countries still need to adopt. As long as those in charge of creating cyber security policy continue to accept that as the minimum standard of cooperation in the field, Estonia will be just fine.


NATO launches a large exercise to practise defending Estonia

NATO launched a large-scale exercise, “Steadfast Javelin 1”, in Estonia on 16 May, which will test the allied forces on their ability to work together as well as maintain NATO’s readiness and combat effectiveness.

The “Steadfast Javelin 1” exercise reflects NATO’s strong commitment to collective defence in the Baltic region, General Hans-Lothar Domröse, the Commander Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum, said. “It is my great privilege to assume command of the forces participating in exercise ‘Steadfast Javelin 1’ today. There is no doubt the alliance is strong and NATO’s resolve to assure its members of the ongoing utility of the Washington Treaty remains central to our actions,” Domröse added.

American soldiers in Steadfast Javelin

Around 6,000 troops from Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States are participating in the exercise which will run until 23 May. The exercise is based on a fictitious scenario and involves participating allied forces repelling an attack on Estonia. The participants were already in Estonia as of 5 May, taking part in the annual Estonian-led “Kevadtorm14” exercise, which has now merged into the NATO-led event. Participating units include infantry and reconnaissance forces, engineers, fighter jets as well as anti-aircraft teams and a cyber security team.

Steadfast Javelin in Estonia IV

Steadfast Javelin in Estonia VI

The North Atlantic Council on 16 April agreed on a package of extra military measures to reinforce the alliance’s collective defence in wake of the crisis in Ukraine. These measures include enhanced exercises, updated defence plans and appropriate deployments.

Steadfast Javelin in Estonia III


Photos courtesy of Estonian Defence Forces.

Lessons identified in Crimea – does Estonia‘s national defence model meet our needs?

The annexation of Crimea in late February 2014 raises a number of questions about whether Estonia’s own national defence system is adequate. The military part of the national defence development plan approved last year states that Estonia can only benefit from units that consist of trained personnel and possess the specific equipment and weaponry they require. Given the events in Crimea, we can of course only concur with the planners, but do the core elements of Estonia’s military national defence system meet the current needs?

Rapid action by the forces of the Russian Federation

It took very little time for the forces of the Russian Federation to occupy strategic sites in Crimea. At 4:00 AM on 27 February 2014, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin gave the order to launch an exercise on the Black Sea involving 36 ships and 7,000 troops. In the hour that followed – starting around 4:00 AM local time – about 30-50 Russian special forces members entered and occupied the parliament and government buildings of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

There should have been a swift response to the developments in Crimea. Indeed, had the Ukrainian leadership acted rapidly and forcefully, utilising the forces at its disposal, the advances made by Russian special forces could have been hindered and possibly halted. Unfortunately, such orders never even reached the military structures.

In the 20 hours following the order to launch exercises on the Black Sea, Russia was capable of seizing three strategic sites on the Black Sea, using approximately 150 special forces personnel. After 40 hours, about 2,200 special forces units and airborne troops had been deployed. The first news that the parliament and government building had been occupied mentioned only “armed pro-Russian individuals” and this made it more difficult to take adequate measures. The military victory was clinched. The Ukrainian leadership and the rest of the world had been presented a fait accompli.

Throughout its invasion of Crimea, Russia counted on two key factors to minimise the risk of bloodshed among its own forces and maximise the chances for success: (1) A brand new Ukrainian central government in disarray; and (2) No prospect for a military response by NATO.

How would Estonia have fared in a similar situation?

If we put Estonia in the same place as Ukraine, what would have been Estonia’s chances of adequately responding? Above all, an attack would, similarly to Crimea, focus on airfields and harbours that would make it possible to rapidly deploy additional forces into Estonia, as well as on local government institutions, which would have more of a political role. Unlike Crimea, forces can also be deployed and fanned out across the country using the southeastern Estonian road network.

The mobilisable reserve forces form the main bulwark of Estonia’s military defences. The primary role of the Estonian Defence Forces in peacetime is to prepare reserve units by training conscripts and reservists. Less emphasis is laid on training professional units and sub-units manned by members of the voluntary defence organisation Kaitseliit.

In Estonia, conscription is currently organised as a training cycle repeated at regular intervals. Units manned by conscripts that have completed their training cycle do not remain on active duty. Conscripts are assigned to the reserves and sent home. To this point, it has been considered a sound practice because since the 1990s, the Russian armed forces have been considered to have their hands full dealing with internal problems. Thus Estonian defence planners assumed that the security environment would deteriorate only gradually, allowing the country’s political and military leaders time to calmly prepare and procure more ammunition, mobilise reserve units and carry out additional training.

Today it is obvious that the general security situation has grown significantly worse. Should a Crimea scenario arise, the Estonian Defence Forces would not have time to mobilise reserve units. Moreover, there would be no point in pitting conscripts with only limited training against Russian special forces who would already have seized and taken up defence of sites of strategic importance. If we analyse the dates when conscripts are called up for compulsory military service in 2014 and the number of conscripts, we see that only in the first five months of the year there are significant number of conscripts who would be capable of operating at least on a platoon level.

The Defence Forces also have a smaller contingent consisting of rapid-response units (above all, the Scouts Battalion and also a special operations unit) manned with active duty personnel.

In recent years Kaitseliit has increased its membership at a stable pace and as of the end of 2012, the organisation had around 13,200 active members.Yet caution should be exercised in using this number, because all active members do not belong to units that have trained together, although their commitment to defend their country can be assumed to be high.

According to the new national defence development plan, Estonia’s military defence capacity will grow significantly in the decade ahead. Larger numbers, however, do not necessarily ensure sufficient security in a situation where a highly capable enemy is acting decisively. An attacker may intentionally sow doubts as to whether the country has fallen victim to aggression or whether it is merely a criminal group that has managed to occupy a building. This “fog” may cause mobilisation to be put off so long that the adversary could occupy key sites and thereby make mobilisation difficult, if not impossible.

The deployment of allied forces to Estonia before or during a possible military attack is one of the most important aspects of NATO membership. The main value of belonging to the alliance lies in military deterrence through all members’ commitment to collective defines under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which should lead potential adversaries to abandon the idea of military aggression in the first place. But if a Crimea-type, “creeping” invasion scenario involving special forces should come to pass, Estonia would have very limited immediate support from the allied units. The NATO Air Policing Mission, even with its recent strengthening in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, would offer primarily symbolic support. The key deterrent is therefore deployment of NATO ground troops to Estonia – either permanently or by prepositioning equipment, allowing the units’ personnel to be deployed relatively quickly if a crisis develops.


A new aspect seen with regard to Russia is its ability to incite revolts and unrest on foreign soil while rapidly deploying military forces to aggravate and exploit the resultant political turmoil. The question is about what measures Estonia could implement to allow it to respond immediately and forcefully to military aggression.

On the national level, the transition from peacetime to wartime must be seamless and ensure continuity of leadership. Command exercises must be regularly held for Estonia’s political and military leaders. The responsibility of every government agency should, as a crisis deepens, remain as little changed as possible, without complex and risky transitions. The simplest and most logical move is to base all activities that take place across all agencies in both peacetime and wartime on a uniform set of principles.

Estonia will always be unable to win a war of sheer numbers against its eastern neighbour, so it must focus on quality. This will require units in a high state of readiness, fully manned, well trained and equipped. The question facing Estonian defines planners is therefore whether the Defence Forces in the future should focus on reserves or on ensuring the existence of highly capable units that can be used immediately. The events in Crimea show that the latter should be a priority.

Undoubtedly radical measures should be considered, such as increasing the number of units manned with active duty personnel. Another possibility is to extend the duration of conscription so that the units that are trained during compulsory military service are not immediately assigned to the reserves but instead left on active duty for a time. This is the option being explored in Norway, where an 18-month term of service is being attempted that would allow conscripts to be used for up to six months.

Kaitseliit, too, should include sub-units at a high state of readiness, with a training level and equipment that allows them to be used against an opponent’s elite units.

In parallel to Estonia’s efforts, its NATO allies should be asked to increase its presence in the Baltic States, one that goes beyond NATO’s current Air Policing Mission. In the light of Russia’s aggression against Georgia and Ukraine, the lack of a NATO military presence in a state neighbouring Russia appears to provide an incentive for Moscow to consider using force to pursue political objectives. Thus, the permanent stationing of NATO ground units and/or prepositioning of equipment in some of the Baltic States could be of critical importance to deterring potential aggressors in coming months and years.


The article is adapted from the analysis originally written for the International Centre for Defence Studies in Tallinn.

Cover photo: Estonian soldiers on a training/Courtesy of the Estonian Defence Forces.

NATO opens an air base in Estonia (video)

In response to the Ukraine crisis, NATO has opened its second Baltic air base in Estonia; the base forms a part of NATO’s increased regional air policing mission.

On 30 April, four Danish fighter jets arrived at the Ämari air base. The Royal Danish Air Force F-16 jets will patrol the skies of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for four months in coordination with NATO fighter jets already stationed in Lithuania. After that, Germany will take over the rotating mission.


On 2 May, around 100 British troops were also flown into Estonia for military exercises as Britain and its NATO allies try to reassure the Baltic states they will be protected against a potential Russian aggression. The US had previously dispatched 150 troops to the country.


Photos: Royal Danish Air Force F-16s stationed in Estonia/courtesy of Kristjan Saar, Siim Teder for Estonian Defence Forces.

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.

BHC Laboratory has become the first Estonian company to win a European Defence Agency’s bid

BHC Laboratory, an Estonian company, has won a European Defence Agency’s (EDA) bid to organise a strategic cyber security exercise.

BHC Laboratory, a company specialised in cyber security products and solutions, is the first Estonian company to win an EDA bid.

The exercise will take place at the Portuguese National Defence Institute from 12-14 May 2014. It shall be a pilot exercise, where the European Defence Agency shall assess and shape the strategic decision-making process during a large-scale cyber conflict.

BHC Laboratory will prepare both the scenario of the exercise and also oversee the conduct of the exercise. Also, the company will organise a pre-exercise theoretical course for the participants of the exercise.

Ingvar Pärnamäe, Undersecretary for Defence Investments at the Estonian Ministry of Defence, welcomed the fact that a methodology that is created and proven in Estonia can now be put in use at the European level. “This demonstrates that not only the expertise of Estonian government agencies on cyber defence issues is in the forefront in Europe, but also the Estonian private sector has considerable products and solutions for the European market,” Pärnamäe said.

According to the 2013 Estonian Defence Industry Policy, the Estonian Ministry of Defence supports the creation and development of a defence industry that would be competitive on the international markets, export-oriented and would be a reliable partner for the Estonian state during peace-, crisis- and war-time.

BHC Laboratory, bringing together cyberspace and security experts, was founded in 2012.


Source: Estonian Ministry of Defence.

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