European and Estonian security

Estonia to support development of domestic defence industry with 300 thousand Euros

Estonian government will this year allocate 300 000 euros as a measure aimed at promoting the development of the domestic defence industry.

“The competition for development support announced at the beginning of the year that is now in the phase of filing applications, is meant namely for entrepreneurs, to whom we will allocate up to 300 000 euros in support this year,” Estonian defence minister Urmas Reinsalu said in his speech at the annual meeting of the Estonian Defence Industry Union (EDIU).

The minister said that because of the small size of the Estonian domestic market, defence industry enterprises here must be able to export. In addition, having experience in international product development and marketing will enable Estonian companies to offer better products to the Estonian Defence Forces as well, he said.

Reinsalu expressed hope that in the future the voice of Estonian entrepreneurs will be heard more than before in the discussion about the development of the defence industry. He also said he sees the defence industry as having an important role in the development of the national economy.

“I wish that there were more companies in Estonia that were managed from Estonia and that the value they create would remain in Estonia. It is also the role of the defence industry to promote the national economy, giving the people of Estonia employment and wealth,” he said.

The EDIU and the Estonian Defence Forces are scheduled to sign a Co-operation memorandum during Wednesday’s meeting.


Source: Estonian MFA

Estonia to increase contribution to UN peacekeeping operations

Secretary general of the Estonian Defence Ministry Mikk Marran and UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous signed a memorandum of intent in New York regarding Estonia’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations.

According to the agreement signed at UN headquarters, Estonia will regularly inform the organisation of military observers and staff officers willing to serve in a peacekeeping mission in 2013-2016.

Estonian soldier greeting a British soldier in Afghanistan

Marran said Estonia wants to be a more active member of the United Nations. “In connection with the end of the Afghanistan mission next year, western countries’ interest in UN missions has grown. Estonia too is looking for ways to continue contributing to global security after Afghanistan, and peacekeeping missions offer a good opportunity for this.”

Estonia will increase its contribution to peacekeeping gradually, the secretary said. “The plan is for five Estonians to take part in three missions in 2016,” he said.

Under the agreement concluded on  Friday, Estonia will join the UN operations database, UN Force Link, that provides an up-to-date overview of units and equipment ready for deployment to a mission.

Currently one Estonian military member serves in the UN observation mission UNTSO in the Middle East, and talks are in progress for dispatching two more service members there at the end of the year.

For Estonia, UNTSO is the longest-lasting mission – observers of the defence forces have been participating in it since 1997. Estonia also plans to contribute two personnel to the UN peacekeeping force in Mali, the establishment of which was approved at the end of April.


Source: Estonian MFA

Photos: UN/Estonian Defence Forces

President Ilves: “No such thing as a free app”

President Ilves today addressed the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Homeland Security in the UK House of Commons, upon the invitation of its treasurer, James Morris MP.

The key theme of the President’s remarks was identity and, more specifically, who should be responsible for securing and guaranteeing it in society. He outlined the concepts of DDOS attacks and how they had been used to target Estonia in 2007. Asked by former UK Security Minister Baroness Neville-Jones on how vulnerable he considers Western nations to cyber-crime, he commented that the issue is more problematic for the “English speaking peoples” who are often more nervous about the role of identity and identity management. He suggested that whereas only governments previously had the monopoly on military force, it should now take on the role of guaranteeing the identity of its citizens and that a cultural change was necessary. On the subject of data ownership he outlined that in Estonia the citizen owns the individual data about him or her and that any abuse of that data would be regarded as an abuse against the person itself.

Neville-Jones however put forward the argument that whilst the threats are very real, the power of the state should be limited and it is the responsibility of the citizen to take steps to protect their identity. Ilves countered with the analogy of market failure – when a bank encounters financial trouble, the government steps in to resolve the issue. Similarly, when banks or other enterprises suffer losses due to cyber-crime or digital fraud, this should also be regarded as a market failure and the government should step in to ensure the integrity of the system.

Former British Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind put to President Ilves that some have been quoted as saying as much as 80% of the cyber-crime which troubles society could be defeated – Ilves replied that a higher proportion could actually be stopped with the right techniques and strategies. He made reference to the US Department of Defense Security Technical Implementation Guide – whereas the US has managed only to fulfill several criteria, Estonia has met them all and has done for some time. On the subject of state sponsored cyber-crime, he noted the problem of third party aggression being carried out on behalf of other states. The problem lies in identifying who is behind the attacks.

He warned about about mobile apps and the effect on personal data. Whereas people are guarded about the state having access to their information, they willingly hand over statistics based on their own movements or personal health to mobile apps which then seek to monetize them in less than obvious ways. Citizens are often, understandably worried about “Big Brother” but perhaps they should also concern themselves with “Big Data” he said – personal information that is collected in surreptitious ways and used for targeted advertising and profile building. “There’s no such thing as a free app”, he joked.

President Ilves also spoke at the influential Google Zeitgeist on the subject of Open Data and transparency.

Forecasting the Baltics’ future security environment

Every few years, the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC) publishes studies of how the world might evolve over the next two decades. Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, released in December 2012, is the latest such iteration.

Its four scenarios include one in which the United States turns inward and economic globalisation stagnates (“Stalled Engines”); one in which non-state actors like activists and corporations assume the lead role in addressing international challenges (“Nonstate World”); a best-case world in which China and the United States catalyse global cooperation on a range of problems (“Fusion”); and a worst-case future of growing inequality and conflicts between and within countries (“Gini Out-of-the-Bottle”).

The NIC’s goal is not to predict in detail the world of any future year. The Global Trends series strives to provide a framework for stimulating strategic thinking about the most important critical trends and potential discontinuities that could shape alternate future worlds. The studies distinguish between mega-trends (those driving factors that will likely occur under any scenario) and game-changers (critical variables whose occurrence and impact are considerably less certain). The authors also recognise that national and human choices will affect the evolution of these trajectories—which is why they undertake this comprehensive quadrennial exercise.

Global Trends 2030 builds its scenarios on the basis of the following “ mega-trends”: individual empowerment, diffusion of power, demography, and the food-energy-water nexus. In earlier Global Trends studies, the other drivers have included elements of globalisation, the rise of new great powers, international institutions, climate change, and the geopolitics of energy. In addition to assessing how these mega-trends might affect global conditions in isolation, the NIC also speculates how the drivers might interact in complex and largely unpredictable ways.

In Global Trends 2030, the game changing drivers, whose advent is much less certain than the mega-trends, include a crisis-prone global economy, a governance gap, increased intrastate and interstate conflict, wider regional instability that extends beyond the Middle East and South Asia, the impact of new technologies that help solve global challenges, and the role of the United States in a future world.

The authors are also not reluctant to conjecture how surprising global developments (e.g., more or less climate change, and higher or lower world oil prices) might affect various countries. The Global Trends authors have increasingly sought to highlight such “Black Swans”—low probability but high-impact events that could move the world onto completely different trajectories. In Global Trends 2030, the potential Black Swans are a severe pandemic, much more rapid climate change, an euro/EU collapse, a democratic or collapsed China, a reformed Iran, a nuclear war or WMD/cyber-attack, solar geomagnetic storms, or a sudden and comprehensive U.S. disengagement from the world.

Although the NIC can only make indirect policy recommendations to the rest of the U.S. government by citing what other experts and governments say about the United States, other institutions can offer more direct comments. In parallel with the appearance of Global Tends 2030, the Washington-based Atlantic Council published a report, Envisioning 2030: US Strategy for a Post-Western World, which offers concrete policy recommendations on how the United States can work with other countries to avoid the worst of these scenarios and, ideally, move towards a better world. The report urges Washington to “actively, vigorously, and strategically” cooperate with other countries, either bilaterally, as with China, or in multilateral coalitions, as within NATO. With respect to the latter, the Atlantic Council report calls on the Obama administration to “reinforce its strategic base: the transatlantic relationship.” As an example of this reinforcement, the report advocates negotiating a U.S.-EU free-trade agreement to create an integrated transatlantic market.

In November last year, the Council on Foreign Relations in New York released a working paper on “Democratic Internationalism: An American Grand Strategy for a Post-exceptionalist Era,” by Daniel Deudney and John Ikenberry. The paper calls on the United States to work more closely with European countries and other democracies to strengthen the democratic community as well as to restructure and fortify international institutions that support its principles and values by making it easier for rising democracies to assume leadership within them.

As part of NIC effort, the team of analysts, led by Dr. Mathew Burrows, Counselor and Director of the Analysis and Production Staff at the NIC, solicits insights from various foreign and domestic experts, including by attending meetings in some 20 countries. Burrows confirmed to me before one Global Trends 2030 rollout that the NIC did not devote any particular attention to the Baltics in its recent work, but he agreed that the NIC’s analysis of Russia and Europe would be especially relevant in affecting the future of the Baltic region.

Baltic-based scenarios

Some other future works have focused more directly on the Baltics. According to Christian Ketels, author of a 2008 presentation on “The Role of Regional Collaboration in the Baltic Sea Region of the Future,” the most likely scenario during the next few decades will see the Baltic Sea Region (BSR) continue to outperform the rest of the EU, but will lose relative global economic weight. Furthermore, the convergence of the Baltic countries, Poland, and (with some uncertainty) Russia to the Nordic levels of prosperity is likely to continue. Over the next 15 years, moreover, demographic trends will first increase the active population and per capita GDP levels in the eastern part of the BSR, but then the trend lines shift due to aging affecting more of the BSR’s population.

Ketels concluded that the best-case scenario for the BSR would be if Russia, the EU, and the Nordic countries all had strong and open market economies; and if the BSR simultaneously increased collaboration and integration internally and with neighboring regions. In such a scenario, the Baltic region would catch up with West European economic conditions and hold its own relative to the rest of the world.

Conversely, the worst-case scenario would see Russians opt for economic nationalism, the EU fail to regain dynamism, and the Nordic countries attempt to defend rather than modernise their traditional socioeconomic institutions and policies. Under this scenario, the Baltic region barely holds its position within Europe and falls behind global averages. Top global performers and companies would shun or leave the BSR, which would constantly fear Russian predations and abandonment by the rest of Europe and the United States.

It is noteworthy that, even in such Baltic-focused futures studies, the prosperity and security of the Baltic states depend heavily on the future trajectories of Russia and Europe. Another recent Baltics-based futures exercise, the August 2010 report on “TransBaltic Scenarios and Foresight 2030,” concluded that, “in the case of the Baltic region, the political evolution of Russia and former USSR republics, and the enlargement processes of Europe are also of extreme importance.”


Russia has become a key swing state in shaping the world’s future. A Russia that truly embraced the principles of liberal democracy and the free market could, by rebuilding its science and technology sector, become a pillar of a prosperous future world. Conversely, an authoritarian Russia based on a system of corrupt capitalism will remain alienated from the more dynamic centers of the world economy and instead concentrate on building a Eurasian empire among the former Soviet states. In this latter scenario, while losing relative economic and military power over time, Russia would remain a potential spoiler to international security and prosperity.

Global Trends 2030 lays out three possible ways Russia might relate to China and the West in coming years:

1. Russia partners with others, though most likely in a marriage of convenience, not of values.

2. Russia continues its ambivalent relationship with the other powers, but international cooperation is harmed by Russia’s rebuilding its military strength and contending with growing Chinese power.

3. Russia becomes a very troublesome country, using its military to intimidate and dominate neighbors, as a Russian leader tries to displace discontent over sagging living standards and economic prospects by rallying nationalist sentiments through assertive foreign policies.

Russia will probably continue to experience severe demographic problems in coming years. According to Global Trends 2030, Russia is likely to experience a loss of 10 million people during the next two decades. The Russian population is expected to fall from approximately 143 million people in 2010 to less than 130 million by 2030—a greater net decrease than in any other country. Russia’s workforce has been declining in size since 2007; this trend will probably continue for the next two decades.

A loss of this magnitude will make it even more difficult for the Russian military to sustain its million man army, with a majority of the recruits already coming from compulsory military service. Russian leaders have evinced a strong reluctance to allow for more non-Russian immigration, to allocate the resources needed to develop a fully professional army, to accept a substantial reduction in the size of the Russian armed forces, or to take additional necessary measures to manage this demographic problem.

In addition, the share of ethnic Muslims in the Russian population is projected to grow over time. At present, Russia’s 20 million Muslims compromise some 14 percent of the country’s population. By 2030, this share is projected to increase to around 19 percent. The military skills and willingness of Russian Muslims to participate in future counterinsurgency campaigns in the Muslim-majority regions of the North Caucasus or Central Asia will prove questionable.

Russia’s one demographic advantage is morbid. Massive consumption of alcohol and tobacco, frequent deadly accidents, and other bad behavior means that many Russian men die before they become old. Russian life expectancy is some 15 years lower than for Europeans. The effect is to slow the advance of the median age and the number of retired workers in Russia as compared with other countries.

Nevertheless, Russia’s per capita GDP will likely average half that found in the more developed EU countries. In fact, Global Trends 2030 describes the Russian economy as that country’s “Achilles’ heel.” Russian exports are heavily concentrated in the volatile energy sector. Years of attempts to modernise the economy, reduce corruption, boost productivity, attract more foreign investment, and so on, have all failed to have a major impact. When world energy prices are high, Russia experiences strong growth and revenue. When oil and gas prices are low, the Russian government is unable to balance its budget.

Interestingly, Russia has a potential positive wild card through its recent entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), which could impart a considerable boost to Russia’s economy growth and diversification, helping reverse Russia’s growing dependence on oil and gas exports—from less than one-half of total exports in 2000 to two-thirds in recent years—at a time when the global energy revolution could easily push the value of these commodities sharply downward.

Global Trends 2025, which was published in 2008, offered a detailed analysis of the problems plaguing the Russian political system. As the NIC authors point out, one-party states under the control of a single dominant individual are prone to serious secessionist crises. In addition, Russian policy making suffers from an uneasy coexistence of “liberal economic trends and illiberal political trends.” Furthermore, “the tension between the two trends—together with Russia’s sensitivity to potential discontinuities sparked by political instability, a major foreign policy crisis, or other wild cards—makes it impossible to exclude alternative futures such as a nationalistic, authoritarian petro-state or even a full dictatorship, which is an unlikely but nevertheless plausible future. Less likely, Russia could become a significantly more open and progressive country by 2025.”

The Atlantic Council’s Envisioning 2030 report updates this assessment by noting how Russia’s growing middle class is challenging Putin’s authoritarian system. The authors estimate that this new middle class has more than doubled in size since Putin was elected president for the first time in 2000, and now amounts to about a quarter of the Russian population. During this period, rising world prices for Russian oil and gas exports have more than doubled Russians’ average per capita income to some $16,000. Russians can now more easily access the Internet and travel abroad. This kind of population is much less enthusiastic about accepting a repressive authoritarian political system and has been a powerful force for making Russia into more of a genuine liberal democracy integrated more closely with Europe.


Europe is one of the world’s most unique regions. The EU has the most concentrated pattern of region-centric trade and investment in the global economy. Almost two-thirds of European trade stays within the EU; whereas for NAFTA, East Asia, and Latin America the percentages of intra-regional trade and investment are ten or more percentage points less. The EU and NATO are also unique in the extent to which they coordinate their members’ foreign, economic and defense policies towards other regions, including the promotion of democracy in North Africa, encouragement of stability in Afghanistan, and nonproliferation sanctions against Iran.

Under some of the NIC future scenarios, such as “Slow Decline,” even in the face of a threatening Russia, Europe’s slow economic growth, aging populations, more euro crises, popular indifference and animosity, and lack of an effective unified foreign policy apparatus would reduce economic and security support of the Baltic states by creating “a more inward-focused and less capable Europe.” But under others, such as “Renaissance,” European leaders take the euro crisis as a wake-up call and force through major political and economic reforms at the national and EU levels. This “federalist leap” results in Europe sustaining its position as a major component of the international economy and one of the few major geographic actors that export security to other regions—in this case the Balkans, Africa, the Middle East, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia.

The NIC speculates that the aging and immigration drivers could have a particularly disruptive impact on European politics. The former will reduce the size of the European labor force and the number of non-working citizens, developments that can reduce government tax revenue while increasing spending on pensions and health care. Furthermore, a Pew Foundation report cited in Global Trends 2030 forecasts that, due to their higher birth rates as well as further immigration, the percentage of Muslims in Europe could reach 8 percent by 2030. At home, this development could disrupt the cohesion of European societies and provoke more reactionary anti-immigration politics. They would also reduce the number of European troops available for foreign military missions. Sending European forces into regions from which most immigrants come could prove especially problematic.

According to the NIC’s projections, the Goldman Sachs “Next Eleven” group of rapidly developing middle-tier countries—consisting of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and Vietnam—will collectively start to exceed the EU’s global economic power by 2030. In the NIC’s view, Europe’s future economic prospects are hindered by the slow growth of its labor force; the high costs of its workers as compared to its foreign competitors; its high national debts; Europeans’ declining productivity relative to other developed economies; low spending on researching and developing new capabilities; and the red tape and bureaucratic complexities of the EU governments, individually and collectively, as manifested most visibly in the flawed euro currency system. A tension exists between the economic measures needed to strengthen the euro—the transfer of decision making power and resources to EU central bodies—and the political atmosphere of anti-EU populism in many of its member states, which already resist ceding any more national autonomy to Brussels (seen most recently in Great Britain, where the government has said it will hold a referendum by 2017 on whether to remain in the EU).

Conversely, one of the few advantages that Europeans will have over these rising countries as well as over Russia and China will be in the domain of some of the newer types of power—such as the increasingly influential new multifaceted networks that, empowered by new communications technologies, will enable individuals, NGOs, companies, and other non-state actors to shape many international trends and outcomes.

The NIC notes that Europe’s ability to take advantage of the global energy revolution will be affected by the different national attitudes and policies towards nuclear power, hydraulic fracking, and other ways of producing energy. In general, the EU’s eastern members such as Poland are most open to any means, while the West European governments are more concerned about the potentially adverse ecological impacts of certain forms of energy. These divergent approaches will make it harder for the EU to pursue well-integrated energy policies.

Although the NIC considers it unlikely that any major wars will occur on European territory during the next two decades, European security will be challenged by threats emanating from other regions—transnational terrorism, WMD proliferation, cyber-attacks and cyber espionage, and regions of state failure and instability. But Europe’s adverse socioeconomic trends will make it difficult for EU governments to sustain high defense spending and risk foreign military interventions, even in neighboring regions from which these threats emanate—the Middle East, Africa, and Eurasia (which includes Afghanistan as well as Central Asia). EU and NATO members would be able to mitigate the negative effects of budget cuts if they can more effectively integrate European defense resources, but past and current efforts at pooling, sharing, niche specialisation, smart defense, and so on, have yet to achieve major breakthroughs. A more plausible goal would be to keep France (which only rejoined the Alliance’s military command a few years ago) and Turkey active NATO contributors; the Alliance would benefit from France’s global power projection forces and Turkey’s rising influence in key world regions.


These reports underscore the interlinking fates of Europe, Russia, and the United States. For this reason, the Atlantic Council report calls on the Obama administration to cooperate with Europeans “to create an environment conducive for Russia to move in a direction of modernisation, greater integration with the EU and NATO, and cooperation on global issues.” Although the Baltic states, due to their modest size and resources, can play only a limited role in this process, they would perhaps benefit the most from such a future world.



Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds

Stalled Engines

  • The US and Europe are no longer capable or interested in sustained global leadership.
  • Corruption, social unrest, weak financial systems and chronically poor infrastructures slow growth rates in developing world.
  • The global governance system is unable to cope with a widespread pandemic: rich countries wall themselves off from many poor countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
  • By disrupting international travel and trade, the severe pandemic helps to stall out, but does not kill globalisation.


  • The specter of a spreading conflict in South Asia prompts the US and China to intervene.
  • Washington and Beijing find other issues to collaborate on.
  • Emerging economies grow faster than advanced economies, but GDP growth in advanced economies also accelerates.
  • Technological innovation is critical to the world staying ahead of the rising resource constraints that result from the rapid boost in prosperity.

Gini Out-of-the-Bottle

  • Inequalities within countries and between rich and poor countries dominate.
  • The world is increasingly defined by two self-reinforcing cycles—one virtuous leading to greater prosperity, the other vicious leading to poverty and instability.
  • Major powers remain at odds; the potential for conflict rises.
  • An increasing number of states fail. Economic growth continues at moderate pace, but the world is less secure.

Nonstate World

  • New and emerging technologies that favor greater empowerment of individuals, small groups and ad hoc coalition spur the increased power of non-state actors.
  • This is a patchwork and uneven world.
  • Some global problems get solved because networks manage to coalesce and cooperation exists across state and nonstate divides.
  • Security threats pose an increasing challenge: access to lethal and disruptive technologies expands to terrorists and criminal actors.


Disclaimer: This article was brought to you in collaboration with Estonian foreign policy magazine Diplomaatia:

The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Cover photo: RAF Tornado GR4 by Peter Gronemann/Wikimedia

Edward Lucas: The Baltic states – defending the least defensible?

Russia is poised to gain technical superiority over NATO in areas that are crucial to the defence of the Baltic states.

Scandinavian defence pundits are a sober bunch. But the latest report by the Swedish Defence Research Agency is a gripping read. Its 115 pages offer the first comprehensive and unclassified look at Europe’s biggest military security problem: how can a weakening NATO credibly guarantee the security of its least defensible members – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania?

NATO has restored territorial defence to its strategic concept. It has drawn up contingency plans to defend its new ‘eastern’ members. A big exercise next year – Steadfast Jazz – will rehearse those plans. But for politicians and officials in Brussels and Washington, DC, any public discussion about dealing with an unfriendly Russia raises too many unpleasant and embarrassing questions.

But the Swedish authors – Bo Ljung, Tomas Malmlöf and Karlis Neretnieks, and the editor Mike Winnerstig – are able to say what NATO will not. The alliance has a serious credibility problem in the Baltic region. Its members there are too small to defend themselves, so they rely on the alliance’s guarantee. The neighbours most vital for their defence, Sweden and Finland, are not members of NATO. And NATO is cutting defence at a time when Russia is spending billions of roubles on updating its military.

That modernisation is, of course, plagued by corruption and bad planning. In the 2006-15 period, the report notes dryly that only “two of seven SSBN [ballistic-missile submarines] have been delivered, none of six attack submarines…22 of 116 fighter aircraft, 60 of 156 helicopters, four of 18 S-400 [air defence] battalions and one of five Iskander [battlefield missile] brigades. This does not look very encouraging from a Russian point of view”.

Slow progress is better than none. Russia’s haphazard modernisation comes at a time when NATO is cutting spending to the bone and beyond. Even if modern weapons systems comprise only 30%-40% of Russia’s inventory, the report notes, “a larger part of Russian systems will be newer than similar systems in NATO countries”. In other words: in areas where Russia is modernising, NATO’s technical superiority, which is often taken for granted, could disappear within the next ten years.

All this makes defending a thin strip of flat land on Russia’s borders particularly tricky. Deploying heavy NATO ground forces there is difficult: partly because of transport problems, and partly because these military assets are already scant and due to decline further as defence cuts bite. It will be hard, the report says, “to conduct effective defensive operations either in the Baltic states or from outside the area”.

So NATO must rely on air power. But Russia is giving “very high priority” to its air defences, which are already “far more capable” than anything that NATO had to deal with in ex-Yugoslavia, Iraq or Libya. Western reluctance to intervene in Syria is largely because of the difficulty of overcoming the S-300 system that the Kremlin sold to the regime of Bashar Assad. Russia itself has the still more formidable S-400 system, currently being deployed in the Kaliningrad region. And the S-500 is planned for delivery later this decade. “The outcome of a duel between Russia’s integrated air-defence system and NATO’s most advanced air assets is impossible to predict,” the authors note. NATO at full strength, of course, is far stronger than Russia. But by the time it musters its forces, the Baltics could be “overrun”.

Nobody says that such a scenario is likely. But security is about credibility. A weak defence encourages the other side to try its luck. The answer is clear: higher defence spending, more exercises and closer NATO ties with Sweden (and Finland). Any takers?


Disclaimer: This article was originally published by European Voice.

The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Photos: Picture pictures

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt: “The future of democratic capitalism is bright”

Iivi Anna Masso interviewed Carl Bildt for the Estonian magazine Diplomaatia when Bildt took part of Lennart  Meri Conference this spring. Full version of the article can be found here. You wrote beautifully in your blog when President Ilves visited Sweden at the beginning of 2011 of how his parents had …

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt: “The future of democratic capitalism is bright” Read More »

Francis Maude: The cyber-attack against Estonia was a big wake-up call for the world

The British minister in charge of cyber-security, Mr Francis Maude, thinks that the cyber-attack against Estonia in 2007 was a big wake-up call for the world, adding that a balance should be struck between cyber-security and personal freedoms.

This article was first published by the Estonian foreign policy magazine Diplomaatia.

Interview by Erkki Bahovski.

Estonia fell under a cyber-attack five years ago in 2007. Since you are in Estonia now, I think you are familiar with the situation here, but overall it was probably the first nation-level cyber-attack. What is the situation now? What has happened in the meantime? How seriously does the world take the challenge of cyber-war?

The first point is that this is a new issue because of the Internet which is a wonderful thing. The Internet has driven economic growth and prosperity. It improves people’s lives. So, we only have a problem with cyber-attacks because of something which is incredibly positive.

Having said that, obviously what happened in Estonia was very serious. This was a big wake-up call for the world. In terms of Estonia herself, it meant that the Estonian government and those in Estonian business got very serious about defence against a net attack. I think that it has been a good development – bad event what caused it, but a good development that illustrated the problem of vulnerability. Governments take this extremely seriously and businesses are taking it increasingly seriously, but still there are massive variations – some businesses are at a high level of readiness, whereas others have much further to go.

To what extent is cyber-war real war? Estonia would like to link cyber-wars to NATO to be covered by NATO’s famous Article 5. What is your opinion? To what extent can we take cyber-war for actual war?

It is a very difficult question. There is no doubt that it is possible to use malware of different kinds, distributed through the Internet, as an offensive weapon which can inflict serious damage on a country, both on its government and its economy.

Do we really know where the attacks are coming from? The attack on Estonia could be traced back to a huge number of places. Some of them were in America; some say that the actual source of the attack was very dispersed. Being satisfied as to where the attack comes from, the attribution of the attack to a state, a government or a particular source is really difficult indeed.

Consequently, a state can use non-state actors when it is bound to cyber-attack?

It can. The difficulty is being satisfied about knowing that it is happening. It is very hard to know. This is not over yet. Sometimes a cyber-attack can happen without anyone knowing that it has happened. It can have a delayed effect. So, it is very hard to attribute a particular act to a particular actor.

Most of the documents of international law have been written at a time when there was no Internet. What is your opinion now? Should the possibility of cyber-warfare and cyber-attacks be inscribed in international law?

Those are complex areas. International law itself is a complex field of law. The Internet is a relatively recent phenomenon, as I said, an overwhelmingly positive phenomenon. Finding the way in which international law can cover the possibilities of Internet attack is going to take time.

There are various kinds of attack. There are attacks which are designed to inflict damage on a country or economy, on a particular business or a particular government. There are attacks which are designed to steal intellectual property for purposes of espionage which might be espionage against the government, but it might be industrial espionage in which case there need to be consistent laws stating that such attacks are criminal. These are not trivial events; these are serious events.

Finding the right basis in international law will take time to be satisfactorily concluded, but there will be criminal offences in many countries’ domestic law which cover this eventuality.

Consequently, there must be a difference between cyber-war and cyber-crime?

Yes, there is. They may well overlap. It may be in some circumstances hard to know which is which – an attack on a country’s crucial infrastructure, its power grid, for example, or its transport system or major oil refineries. You might imagine this in international law to amount to an act of war. It is certainly cyber-crime; it is inflicting damage on private or public interest. There will be cyber-attacks on countries’ weaponry which will be clearly warfare rather than crime. But there will be a lot of overlap.

You already mentioned that governments are more aware of the possibilities of cyber-attacks. This also raises the question of cyber-security and this, in its turn, raises the question of personal freedom. When we are talking about security, not everything is free. How do you see the situation developing in terms of the relationship between cyber-security and personal freedom?

I think that the two should not be seen in conflict. The Internet has given people a lot of freedom. The Internet and social media underpinned the emerging democracies in the Arab world. The Internet is very much a promoter of freedom. It gives people freedom; it liberates them. People are entitled to have the Internet protected.

In terms of protecting against Internet attacks, there is no inconsistency at all between personal freedom and security. Where there will be tension is in the protection that governments and the law seek to give to intellectual property on the Internet – where one participant’s right to drive an income from intellectual property, such as films, music, whatever, may undermine another participant’s belief that they are entitled to participate in it.

A balance has to be struck because the reality is that imposing sanctions on those who use the Internet to abuse others’ intellectual property – any sanctions – can have a disproportionate effect on impairing the freedom. Striking that balance will always be very difficult because those two interests are in tension with each other.

The developed world is more and more relying on the Internet. This, of course, raises concerns about cyber-attacks. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves whom you met here has spoken about e-dependence. We are literally an e-state. Everything we do is happening on the web. That creates a situation where less developed nations can attack a country that relies completely or almost completely on the web. How do you see the situation now? What are the checks and balances?

I can see the issue that in a country like Estonia where e-government and the digital delivery of public services have gone very far – as far as anyone in the world has gone – that by definition creates vulnerability.

How do you deal with that? I think that however we decide to deliver the public services, we need to have a business continuity plan and that has to be serious. We have been facing activists’ attacks on the government’s websites in the UK. These are of the kind that are organised by huge numbers of computers that log into the particular government’s website and cause them to crash. Now we have business continuity arrangements. We knew that this was happening and they have not managed to hack into the underlying material at all. So, when it actually happens – you cannot absolutely guard against it happening – you put something else in place. People know what is going on and it is not the end of the world. I think that having the proportionate preparations is the best security against an attack and then having a business continuity plan if there is a successful attack. This has to be done proportionally.

In the era of industrial warfare, large industrial nations played a very important role. In the era of cyber-world, what is the situation? What is the role of large and small states there?

In some stages, large states are more vulnerable because there are more points to attack. There needs to be a high degree of international collaboration which is one of the reasons why we hosted the cyber-conference in London last November. We brought together not only heads of states and governments, including the President of Estonia who came and spoke very eloquently, but we are very keen not only about governments collaborating closely. We were very much behind the Budapest Convention negotiations, but we wanted also to bring together the business world and civil society organisations because of the role of these organisations in collaborating much more closely. I think it still has some way to go.

How well is the United Kingdom prepared for cyber-attacks?

Getting better all the time. Despite our austerity measures and having to cut public spending, we committed an additional 650 million pounds to cyber-security. That is underway; I have responsibility for that. We are endeavouring to show that money has been spent as well as possible. We are to promote a space where the public sector and the private sector companies can interact and share information, knowledge and know-how and help each other prepare. There is a long way to go and this will be very fast moving. There will be people – developers all over the world – who would be spending that time developing new Internet attacks and new forms of malware. We are aware of that and we need to deal with that as best as we can.

The issue of cyber-attacks and cyber-war is being taken very seriously by the Estonian media. How seriously does the British media take it?

They are not very much focused on that until there has been no attack. There were some activists’ attacks on some of the government’s websites; that attracted some attention. They were rather unsuccessful attacks, but that does not mean that they cannot be successful. The media will tend to react if there is a high-profile story, but in terms of general awareness and the need for sensible organisations to prepare, the attention is not very high yet.


Pictures: Wikimedia Commons.

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