Kaido Sirman: Of border guard challenges and myths

Kaido Sirman.
Kaido Sirman. Source: Ministry of Internal Affairs

Internal security planning will prioritize all interior ministry tasks being equally executable in the future. That is also one of the reasons why border guard has been paid more attention lately, adviser to the interior minister Kaido Sirman writes.

Since the beginning of May, expectations for the border guard to be reinforced have manifested in important decisions and action. Amendments to the Police and Border Guard's Board's (PPA) statutes have created the position of deputy director general in charge of border guard and the border guard department.

The deputy director will take control of the border guard's flight squad, fleet and four regional border guard bureaus in prefectures that will in turn govern border crossing points and cordons.

Reorganization is based on the security policy situation and the internal security priorities of the coalition agreement. National interests and values for development of internal security and defense will be defined and laid down in the 2021-2030 internal security development plan to be approved this year.

The goal is the formation of an administrative area of the interior ministry the agencies in which, through their structure and equipment, would be able to contribute to national security in an increased capacity in peace, crisis and wartime situations. An internal security crisis reserve will be created.

Internal security must be on par with military national defense

Internal security planning will prioritize all interior ministry tasks, that in a crisis include rescue, police and border guard efforts, being equally executable in the future. That is also one of the reasons why border guard has been paid more attention lately.

Most European Union countries have not had to engage in border control and defense for a long time. Regarding Estonia's membership in NATO and the EU, we need to remember that tensions of illegal migration and security tend to manifest on the alliance's borders.

Estonia, living in the shadow of an aggressive eastern neighbor, must have an independent border guard structure and plan border guard activities in cooperation with other agencies, defense forces, the Defense League and allied troops.

The border guard must have designated national defense tasks. In light of events in Ukraine and Georgia, internal security must be on par with military national defense – they need to be mutually complementary.

The responsibility in the administrative area of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in terms of ensuring national security has grown.

In all cases where aggression against the Estonian state cannot be unequivocally identified (domestic armed conflict incited by hostile special services, various hybrid warfare scenarios, political and military pressure or a coup attempt in its early stages), responsibility for solving the crisis will fall primarily to the internal ministry's administrative area. The border guard has a role to play therein. In other words, the focus needs to be on broad-based national defense as a whole.

Myths surrounding the border guard

Minister of the Interior Mart Helme has formulated clear goals for development of the border guard – creating a border guard management structure, additional personnel and trainings, preparing an internal security reserve force and procuring necessary equipment for performance of tasks, as well as development of the eastern border for more effective regular border control.

There are those who try to see drawbacks and ulterior motives behind every step. Media channels have contributed more to rhetoric than explaining the multifaceted situation.

On the background of developments in internal security, we have heard a myth of border guard and the crisis reserve seemingly duplicating existing national defense structures. This refers to the armed forces or Defense League competency or goes to speculation that these might be attempts to create a private army for someone.

Internal security and military defense units must and are cooperating, while one cannot replace the other. Their primary tasks, training, skills and equipment differ. All components of internal security must have at least a minimal level of preparedness.

Merging the police and border guard into a single force or replacing the police and boarder guard crisis reserve with Defense League personnel might sound promising, but such choices do not prove effective in situations where various extensive crises occur simultaneously.

Already the Bronze Night crisis showed that Estonia lacks both professional personnel and a correspondingly trained and equipped reserve for handling riots.

The COVID-19 pandemic once again spoke to the necessity of a reserve and the fact that border guard tasks need to be performed irrespective of the nature or duration of crises.


The previous crisis highlighted another important aspect. Based on initial calculations, reinforcing the police and border guard crisis reserves with Defense League volunteers ended up costing more than would have a larger regular force.

It has also been suggested Estonia's radar capacity is insufficient for effective control of the western territorial waters, border guard vessels are standing idle for lack of crews and that closing of cordons in Haapsalu and on by Lake Peipus do not coincide with promises of strengthening border guard.

These claims and connections are inaccurate. There is full radar coverage over Estonia's territorial waters. The Estonian maritime border is guarded in its entirely, which fact has been confirmed by an EU expert analysis. Maritime situational awareness is guaranteed using all resources, including radar, sea- and aircraft.

Reorganization of cordons' activities has seen ships fully crewed. Seven positions previously at the Haapsalu cordon were moved to the fleet, with voluntary sea rescuers now in charge of maritime rescue in the Haapsalu area. Giving up the old Haapsalu sea rescue cordon building has also reduced administrative costs.

Maritime border surveillance and control does not depend on the number of cordons on the mainland but rather fleet and surveillance capacity in marine waters.

To achieve operational depth in marine waters, the interior ministry has made updating border guard vessels and larger crews a priority. A large number of border guard vessels have been replaced with help from the EU over the past decade.

In summary

Management of developments and expectations happens through evaluation of both domestic and international changes.

Strategic border guard priorities developments in which need to be managed today include strengthening the eastern border and its infrastructure, ensuring preparedness for responding to all manner of emergency situations, developing a structure and reserve for responding to all new, including hybrid threats, ensuring sea rescue, organizing international and domestic cooperation for promotion of border and maritime security and personnel training.

That is why it is absolutely necessary to appoint a new border guard director and recruit additional staff for the PPA border guard department to be able to rise to the challenge. While it could be said money should be spent on new equipment instead of a new executive, annual equipment procurements will continue.

The time when national defense development took place from the ground up and started with hardware procurements is behind us. Back then, the country was short on everything. To effect change, a leader is of crucial importance. A car that is not moving cannot be steered.

Coming back to developments in border guard – border guard is more than passport checks on the border but forms a far more extensive field that needs to be treated as part of internal security and national defense.

Four milestones still need to be hit this year: in addition to the new management structure, groundwork laid for the formation of a new internal security reserve, additional training for current officers and equipment procurements to facilitate performance of tasks.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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