Rene Toomse, a PhD student from the Tallinn University School of Governance, Law and Society, is today defending his doctoral thesis which claims that small adaptable countries can be more effective in solving global security issues than large ones.
It is a common conception that global conflicts can only be solved by great powers with more resources and influence. For this reason, smaller countries have commonly relied on coalitions and backing the decisions of large states. The wars of the last two decades in Middle-East have, however, shown that the strategies employed by large states have not enhanced global security.
Many conflict areas have become increasingly unstable and the large flow of immigrants from these areas into Europe is becoming a serious challenge. This can be a sign that large states are too slow in adapting to the changing environment and traditional solutions, such as using military force to dismiss undemocratic powers, does not create stability. At the same time, smaller states have the potential to adapt faster and use the help of civil experts to ease the tension. Successful influence operations that would smother a conflict in its beginning, and therefore save lives and resources, are something that would empower and increase the value of smaller states on an international arena. Estonia has a chance to assume a leading role in these development operations, if it seeks out allies and resources among other states in a similar situation.
On the other hand, Eastern European states are increasingly threatened by the growing military strength of Russia and its aggressive foreign policy. A small country such as Estonia has better opportunities for increasing its security than applying the conventional measures and hoping for help from the coalition. A small country must first tear itself away from the image that small is no match for large. It must identify the successful practices of its enemies and use these methods to its own advantage. Hybrid warfare is the key phrase here.
A strong argument against the effectiveness of the coalition strategy is the gradual decrease of the defense budgets of NATO states. Most defense budgets differ from their promises, therefore we cannot be certain that the allies would react quick enough in case of a military conflict. So, it would be better for Estonia to develop an extensive and focused unconventional military capability, which has proven successful against many western states so far, instead of developing a miniature model of a large state army.
The Estonian Defense League is a unique organization with a military and civil capability, which could play an important role in preventive influence operations as well as hybrid warfare. At the same time, the Estonian special operations group should focus on applying critical civil skills in explosive areas, where the biggest conflict appears in the social and economic spheres and are therefore not solvable by weapons. The special forces operatives possess superior self-defense and survival skills, which would allow them to access areas regular civil experts do not dare enter, but where civil capabilities are needed to ease the tension.
Rene Toomse is a doctoral student at Tallinn University. Read his full thesis: “Defending Estonia in Peace and War. Retaining a Small State Near Aggressive Neighbor by Utilizing Unconventional Strategies".
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Editor: M. Oll