European and Estonian security

U.S. – Baltic relations: Laying the groundwork for deeper cooperation

President Barack Obama will host Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Latvian President Andris Bērziņš, and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė at the White House on August 30. This is the first such meeting at the White House since 1998.

By Luke Coffey

The four heads of state are expected to discuss a broad range of issues including regional security cooperation, energy security, cybersecurity, defense cooperation, the future of NATO after Afghanistan, and Russia’s role in the region. They are also expected to discuss Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations.

This meeting offers President Obama an opportunity to acknowledge the important contributions of the Baltic States to NATO and to highlight how far all three countries have come in embracing economic freedom and democracy since the end of the Cold War.

Importance of the meeting

The U.S. has been a longtime supporter of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

After World War I, the three Baltic States reestablished their independence, and the U.S. granted full recognition to all three by 1923. In June 1940, as part of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, Soviet troops entered and occupied the three Baltic States. A month later, acting U.S. Secretary of State Sumner Welles issued a declaration condemning Russia’s occupation and stating U.S. refusal to recognise the legitimacy of Soviet control over these three states.


The Welles Declaration formed the basis of U.S. policy toward the Baltic States throughout the Cold War and allowed their governments in exile to maintain embassies in Washington, D.C. The three states regained their independence in 1991 at the end of the Cold War. However, the last Russian troops did not leave the Baltics until 1999.

The Baltic States have come a long way since reestablishing their independence after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Russian occupation. Economically, the Baltic region is prosperous and stable. Democracy and the rule of law have flourished. In 1993, when the heads of these three states first met at the White House, President Bill Clinton was calling on Russia to speed up its troop withdrawal from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Twenty years later, all three are NATO members and have participated in NATO-led combat operations and training exercises.

Security: An example for NATO

Although small in absolute terms, the three Baltic States contribute greatly to NATO in relative terms. Estonia is the regional leader in defense matters and is currently one of only four countries inside NATO that spends the required 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. All three countries sent troops to Iraq and have troops fighting in Afghanistan. Estonian troops are serving in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan — one of the most deadly areas in the country. NATO conducts its Baltic Air Policing mission from Lithuania, and the region has hosted multiple NATO exercises.

The Baltic States take the future of NATO seriously and have played an important role in shaping NATO policy on cybersecurity and energy security. Estonia established NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in 2008, one year after a cyber attack originating in Russia. Lithuania has been at the forefront of energy security policy and is home to NATO’s Energy Security Center of Excellence. It is constructing the first liquefied natural gas terminal in the region, which is expected to be ready by 2015. This will greatly reduce regional reliance on Russian gas and should offer new markets for the U.S. natural gas industry. Latvia, recognising the importance of strategic communications in the age of the Internet, digital media, and 24-hour news is planning to establish a NATO Strategic Communication Center of Excellence.

Economic freedom: A beacon of hope

In terms of economic freedom, the Baltic region is a beacon of hope for Europe and the rest of the world. The region is proof that pursuing policies of economic liberalisation and growth works.

Estonia ranks second in the eurozone and 13th in the world in the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. Lithuania ranks a respectable 22nd in economic freedom and has proven itself open for business. Latvia ranks the lowest of the three at 55th, but is showing signs of improvement. The global financial and economic turmoil took a heavy toll on Latvia, but its economy is gradually recovering from the severe shock of the crisis. Encouragingly, the Latvian political leadership appears to be committed to reform.

Russia cannot be ignored

U.S. relations with the three Baltic States can only be fully understood by considering Russia’s role in the region and its domination of the Baltic region over the past four centuries. This geopolitical reality is rooted in both history and geography. With the Cold War over, Russia no longer poses a direct military threat to Europe, but Russia’s future is causing concern in Europe and the U.S. For some NATO members, including the Baltics, Russia is a force driver in military planning and foreign policy formulation and may become an even greater one in the future.

Russia has reversed many of its post-Communism reforms it started after the collapse of communism. Democratic freedoms are in retreat, the state is paramount, and corruption is pervasive. While the economy is still growing, it continues to rely on exports of hydrocarbons, other raw materials, and weapons. Russia’s population is declining due to aging, rampant alcoholism and drug addiction, widespread disease, and low fertility. Expressions of ultranationalism are on the rise, which fortifies the quest for a new sphere of influence.

A step in the right direction

It is regrettable that the Obama Administration has taken so long to organise a meeting of this nature. In light of the Administration’s failed “reset” with Russia, the White House should use this meeting with the presidents of the Baltic States to recalibrate its focus on Eastern Europe.

Specifically, President Obama should:

  • Establish the foundation for deeper U.S.–Baltic cooperation. There is plenty of scope for more substantive relations between the U.S. and the Baltic States, particularly in joint military training and defense procurement.
  • Reiterate America’s commitment to NATO’s Article 5. There is a perception that transatlantic security is a lower priority for the Obama Administration. The Administration could demonstrate America’s commitment to NATO this fall by sending a sizable contribution to Steadfast Jazz 2013, the next major NATO exercise.
  • Show America’s gratitude and appreciation. This meeting offers President Obama an opportunity to express publically America’s thanks for the Baltic States’ contributions to NATO and to congratulate them on how far they have come since the end of the Cold War.


Since regaining their independence in 1991, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have made huge strides in democracy, security, and economic freedom. They are beacons of hope to other countries in the Euro-Atlantic family of nations. It is in U.S. interests to deepen ties with the Baltic States.


Luke Coffey is Margaret Thatcher Fellow in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.

Disclaimer: This article was first published by The Heritage Foundation.

The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Estonian to spearhead Eupol Afghanistan

Tarmo Miilits, Estonia’s deputy director of the Police and Border Guard Board, has been named the new Head of Eupol’s mission to Afghanistan. No Estonian has previously held such a high position on a EU mission.

Miilits is leaving his post as deputy director of the Police and Border Guard Board to lead a team of roughly 100 police officers from the EU member states whose mission is to train Afghan police. Miilits will travel to Kabul in December at the latest.

EUPOL Afghanistan is a European mission to support and train police in Afghanistan, and improve the rule of law.  It was set up to help overcome serious policing deficiencies in Afghanistan, following recent conflicts; improving the security sector is an important part of the international community’s work to rebuild Afghanistan. Afghan policing was affected by serious problems of training, organisation, and corruption; they are also a major target for insurgents.

EUPOL does not do actual policing; it supports and trains Afghan police, public prosecutors, and officials from the Ministry of the Interior. They have even helped set up an Afghan police detective series, ‘Commissar Amanullah‘, which helps reach out to the public, where literacy levels are still low.



Estonian ESTCOY-16 carries out nine big operations in Afghanistan in three months

The last but one Estonian combat unit in Afghanistan, ESTCOY-16, conducted nine bigger operations in Afghanistan in the area of responsibility of Task Force Helmand since taking over responsibility in mid-May.

Photo by Arvo Jõesalu II

The longest operation of the nine lasted four days. During operations the soldiers have searched through 344 building complexes and found forbidden objects, such as weapons, ammunition and parts of self-made explosives from 32 different hiding places. They have also interfered with the activities of anti-government rebels, spokespeople for the Estonian Defense Forces told BNS. In addition to checking suspicious buildings and households, one of the company’s tasks is to communicate with local residents.

“Interfering with the activities of the rebels and limiting their freedom of movement has enabled the Afghan security forces to do their job more successfully,” ESTCOY-16 commander Maj. Meelis Loik said.

According to the chief of the Estonian contingent, Lt. Col. Arno Kruusmann, the Estonian company is being used in the area of responsibility of Task Force Helmand exactly where the security situation needs the interference of coalition forces in addition to local forces. “Many operations that were previously carried out by International Security Assistance Forces are currently realized by Afghanistan’s security forces that have really stepped up in the last few years,” Kruusmann said.

ESTCOY-16 took over responsibility in Helmand on May 14. The second to last Estonian combat contingent in Afghanistan is made up mainly of Scouts Battalion members. It is based at Camp Bastion and serves as a maneuver unit of Task Force Helmand in its entire operations area.

Security responsibility in Afghanistan will be handed over to local security forces in 2014. According to current plans ESTCOY-17 that is scheduled to be deployed in November will be the last rotation of Estonian infantry in southern Afghanistan.

Photo by Arvo Jõesalu III


Photo by Kristel Maasikmets I


Source: Estonian MFA

Cover photo by Arvo Jõesalu

Poland joins Baltic States’ ammo procurement scheme, Czechs signal intent

Poland has joined the European Defence Agency Joint Procurement Initiative scheme for the common purchase of ammunition for the Carl Gustav recoilless rifle.

The scheme, initiated by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in March 2013 is run by the EDA, which acting as a central purchaser, pools and consolidates demand and allows member states to purchase ammunition according to their national requirements.

Estonian soldier carrying a Carl Gustav rifle

Poland initially expressed an intention to join the scheme in early July but it is only now that the formal signed letters have been lodged with the EDA. Following Poland’s lead, the Czech Republic has signalled its intention to join the JPI and benefit from the cost savings it provides, which are estimated to be somewhere between 20 and 50%. The original contract between the Baltic States and the EDA was said to be worth up to €50 million.

At the time it was signed, Ingvar Pärnamäe, National Armament Director of Estonia said “This joint procurement case is a manifestation of the trust between the three Baltic States and the European Defence Agency. We appreciate the support by the Agency and invite other member states to join this initiative.”

The Carl Gustav recoilless rifle has been in production since 1948, and is a multi-role man-portable reusable weapon, effective against armour, personnel and buildings and is also used for battlefield illumination. The M2 and M3 variants in use by the Estonian Defence Forces were first produced in 1967 and 1991 respectively. Produced in Sweden by Saab Bofors Dynamics, it is one of the only weapons of its era still in use.


Picture courtesy of Estonian Defence Forces.

Infographic: Defending Estonia – the Estonian Defence Forces

During a March 2013 visit to NATO Headquarters by Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen remarked that “Estonia is an exemplary ally. Your troops are serving shoulder to shoulder with their NATO colleagues in one of the toughest parts of Afghanistan. They perform their duties with …

Infographic: Defending Estonia – the Estonian Defence Forces Read More »

Estonian Air Force upgrades night vision capability

The four Robinson R44 helicopters of the Estonian Air Force have been modified with night vision technology in order to expand their night-time air search and rescue and surveillance capability.


The helicopters have been retrofitted with a night vision imaging system and external lighting which works alongside night vision goggles worn by pilots. The work was undertaken in Estonia by engineers from Texas-based Rebtech at the recently upgraded Ämari Air Base in Harjumaa County, under the Federal Aviation Adminstration (FAA) guidance for foreign military programs.

The Robinson R44 is a four-seat light helicopter with a maximum speed of 150 mph and a maximum range of 350 miles. It is the backbone of the Estonian Air Force with four units in service. It is additionally operated by the air forces of Bolivia, the Dominican Republic and Lebanon.

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 on a rotating basis between member states, currently based out of Zokniai airbase in Lithuania. As of July 2013 this is tasked to Dassault Mirage F1 air superiority fighters of the French Air Force.

Aside from the four R44s, the Estonian Air Force comprises two ex-Soviet Antonov An-2 bi-planes, two Aero L-39 Albatros high-performance jet trainer aircraft and one Unmanned Aerial Vehicle purchased for operations in Afghanistan.


Photos: Estonian Air Force helicopters/Wikimedia Commons

Why we launched the security section

Estonian World has become the first media outlet to launch a security section dedicated to the defence matters of the Baltic Sea region.

In 2007, Estonia faced cyber-attacks that have been widely acknowledged as the world’s first cyber war. At the peak of these attacks, fifty-eight Estonian websites were offline, including those of the government, most newspapers and banks.


Politically motivated large-scale assaults such as this brought the attention of the international community to cyber security. It was not established as to whether this kind of an offence would qualify as an attack against a member state of NATO and hence activate collective defence under Article V. It was not even clear if a state could legitimately respond to cyber-attacks. As Estonia became a NATO member in 2004, the organisation took the attacks seriously enough to ultimately establish the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia. The centre has recently organised the publication of the Tallinn Manual — one of the first attempts to set some guiding principles in the legal affairs of conflicts in cyberspace.

Estonia is also one of the few members of NATO to spend 2% of its GDP on defence budget and has actively participated with other NATO allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Co-operation between the Baltic states in defence matters is also stronger than in other areas. The Baltic Defence College is a multi-lateral co-operative military college which educates officers from not only the three Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), but also from NATO and EU states and other European countries. Every year, the US Army Europe leads a security cooperation exercise Saber Strike which focuses on the three Baltic States. This year, the exercise spanned multiple locations in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and involved approximately 2,000 staff from 14 countries.

We launched this section in order to analyse and write about these defence and security matters in the Baltic Sea region in more detail. Although generally EstonianWorld is more of a magazine than a news portal, this new section will also feature current defence news.

We are also happy to consider freelance contributions, to receive news, photo and video content for this section.


Photos: Estonian Defence Forces

Tallinn Manual – the international law in cyberspace

In 2007, Estonia faced cyber-attacks that have been widely acknowledged as the world’s first cyber war. At the peak of these attacks, fifty-eight Estonian websites were offline at once, including those of the government, most newspapers and banks.


Even though the attacks were technically rather robust and there was nothing novel about them, their size and length was quite surprising. Politically motivated large-scale assaults brought the attention of the international community to cyber security.

Prior to the incident, cyber-attacks had not been seriously considered as an imminent threat to the state or its citizens. There was no common code of conduct or universal agreement between policy-makers. For example, it was not defined if this kind of an offence would qualify as an attack against a member state of NATO and hence activate collective defence under Article V. It was not even clear if a state could legitimately respond to cyber-attacks.


Protecting cyberspace from the enemy

It became understandable that compared with other dimensions of security, cyberspace requires different logic.  To start with, there are no territorial borders that could be followed or secured. It is difficult to draw the lines not only between different states but also between nations and private-sector organisations. This turns the distinction between war and crime into a question of interpretation. It also raises questions about a state’s sovereignty in cyberspace and thus limits its power to conduct security policies.

One of the most important obstacles in cyber security is that it is often almost impossible to find (and prove) the culprit of the attack. If the ”enemy” is unknown then it is very difficult to organise a counterattack. It is also risky to act based on uncertain information. It is very easy for a state to change from being a victim to becoming an offender. Key strategic threat also lies in potential escalatory responses, turning a miscalculation in cyberspace into a full-scale war in the real world.

Looking at contemporary conflicts, it is evident that cyberspace is already becoming one of the theatres of conflict. Technological achievements are an important part of our everyday lives, making a technologically developed state dependent on the functioning of its computer systems. This reflects how vulnerable cyberspace can be when it comes to defending the state from a potential enemy.

It is the complicated nature of the field that obstructs its regulation by concrete laws. At the same time, nations have to be very careful with the measures they apply in the name of security in cyberspace (or how they use cyberspace in the name of state security).

The Tallinn Manual

There are a lot of difficult issues waiting to be solved. The CCD COE (NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence) has made one of the first attempts to set some guiding principles in the legal affairs of conflicts in cyberspace — a process which produced the Tallinn Manual. Experts who participated in the making of the Tallinn Manual, believe that the answers are to be found in existing international law. The manual does not focus on cyber security, but rather on how international law regarding warfare can be adapted to conflicts in cyberspace. It is a unique document that does not represent new officially binding rules but rather shows how policy-makers can interpret the law we have today. It is recognised that the distinctive nature of networked technology requires additional work on traditional laws. Nonetheless, it does not require a reinvention of international norms.

Looking at the Tallinn Manual from a cyber-security perspective, it is definitely a relevant foundation for future discussions. It examines in great depth how the requirements of an armed attack that have to be met before self-defence is justified, could be transferred to cyberspace. It also looks for legitimate ways of tackling attacks from criminal groups or individual hackers working in the name of another state. No doubt this is only the beginning and there are many issues that have to be carefully discussed before a common understanding on the code of conduct is reached.

In real world politics, it might be difficult to deter attacked states from responding to the offence.  Hence, it is necessary to adapt international norms of other domains to cyberspace. It also allows us to start making sense of the nature of this new domain and the challenges that it brings.


Photos: Wikimedia Commons

Estonia urges the EU to rely less on US ‘clouds’

IT hub Estonia has urged the European Union to rely less on US firms for ‘cloud’ data storage, amid tensions over claims of US spying and data surveillance.


“Recent months have proven once again that it’s very important for Europe to have its own data clouds that operate strictly under European legislation,” Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said in a statement.

Cloud computing refers to the process of getting software, storage and other services via the Internet from remote data centers rather than the memory in one’s own computer. For some it triggers concerns about giving up physical control over their data and potentially having it lost or accessed by others.

“Right now 95 percent of the cloud services used in the European Union belong to US companies,” Ilves said after meeting with Europe’s Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes in Tallinn. “EU data protection legislation also needs to be modernised and we should understand that big private firms are able to gather more info than any state.”

EU-US relations have been strained since weekend allegations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had bugged EU diplomatic missions. German weekly Der Spiegel said its report was based on confidential documents, some of which it had been able to consult via fugitive leaker Edward Snowden.

Estonia’s foreign ministry has summoned the US ambassador in Tallinn to provide answers over the snooping scandal.

Dubbed E-stonia, the tiny state of just 1.3 million people is known for being a trailblazer in technology and is one of the most connected countries in the world. Tallinn is also home to the NATO cyber-defence centre, where data experts from across Europe and the United States work to protect the information networks of the alliance’s 28 member states.

Source: AFP

Photos: Wikimedia Commons.

Moscow desires Russian missile shield over the Baltic States, Finland, Poland, Sweden, and Norway

Russia still wants to avoid elements of NATO’s anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence in close vicinity and proposes to the Alliance to divide Europe into responsibility areas, the Second Investigation Department under Lithuania’s Ministry of National Defence, in charge of military intelligence, said in a 2012 report on threats to national security.


“Despite the publicly-declared aspiration to cooperate with the US and NATO, including the area of anti-missile defence, Russia’s main goal remain unchanged; i. e., to avoid the deployment of NATO’s anti-aircraft and anti-missile elements on the territory bordering Russia. Russia suggests to NATO to divide Europe into sectors of anti-missile responsibility,” the report reads.

The report includes a map showing the Baltic States, Finland and large parts of Poland, Sweden and Norway as “a territory covered by Russia’s anti-missile elements.”

The explanation in Russian says that “the deployment of NATO’s anti-missile objects in this territory poses threats to our strategic nuclear capabilities.”

“If this proposal is implemented, the Baltic States and part of the Polish territory would fall under ‘Russia’s responsibility area’; i. e., NATO would have to hand over to this country part of its commitments to ensure security of its member countries, and the Alliance’s actions would be limited in the region. Currently, Russia is actively developing its anti-aircraft and anti-missile system, near the border with NATO. The system is already capable of detecting and destroying air targets several hundred kilometres from the Russian border, including the airspace of NATO member countries,” the document states.

NATO representatives have said on numerous occasions they would not agree with Russia’s proposal to divide Europe into sectors and would not sign with Russia any agreements limiting the Alliance’s use of its weaponry.




Photos: Wikimedia Commons

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