While work on Estonia's newly drafted National Security Concept began before the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) says, the changed security situation has made its adoption all the more pressing.
The National Security Concept very much builds on the preceding concept from 2017, and takes on board the changed security situation.
It must pass a Riigikogu vote in order to be adopted, while the prime minister made a speech to parliament on Monday, with that end in mind, noting that consensus is key and workaday politics, even in the run-in to an election, must not obscure that.
"On January 24, the government submitted to the Riigikogu the updated National Security Concept," Kallas said in her address.
"This strategic framework document has three main objectives: Describing the security environment as at the beginning of 2023, clarifying Estonia's goals in the increasingly tense security environment, and outlining the steps necessary to achieve the set goals," she continued.
"The objective of Estonia is and has always been to make aggression against the Estonian state impossible.
Prime Minister: Over €1.2 billion allocated to defense in 2022
"However, we are now doing much more on our own and with our allies to ensure our security. We have raised our defense spending to a historically high level. The defense spending of Estonia in 2023 will exceed one billion euros with 2.85 per cent of the GDP. In 2022, we allocated an additional, more than €1.2 billion, to military defense," the prime minister continued.
"The new document points out that the biggest strategic challenge of the current security environment is the intensified confrontation between different political, economic, and social systems. Values based on democracy, market economy, the rule of law, and human rights are under pressure and the ideological counterweight to it is increasing," the premier added.
While Ukraine might be some distance from Estonia, the latter shares a border with the same aggressor nation, she pointed out. " We have gone from covert competition to open confrontation, including large-scale hostilities in Europe. Although Tallinn and Kyiv are separated by more than 1,200 kilometers, the aggressor is our common neighbor."
"It is existentially important for Estonia that we are part of a democratic community that remains united and strong. The past year has highlighted what we have always known – preserving democracy is also part of security policy. In addition, the war in Ukraine has shown – once again – that working together is the key to our strength," the prime minister continued.
Work on National Security Concept started before full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine
Work on the updated National Security Concept began before the current phase of Russia's war on Ukraine, which started nearly a year ago.
"The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine began during the updating of the National Security Concept. Many lessons from the war in Ukraine will only become clear over the years, but the current document takes into account existing knowledge and the initial lessons," the prime minister said.
"I am pleased to stand before you today to present the updated National Security Concept. Topics as important as security must be discussed and promoted together. It is very important to maintain a consensus on the big issues of security policy and not allow it to be influenced by everyday politics."
The prime minister said it was her hope that the concept is adopted before the March 5 Riigikogu election.
She said: "I hope that the Riigikogu will approve National Security Concept before the elections. In the current security environment, this would be an important message to both the people of Estonia and the international community: In Estonia, all political parties are committed to strengthening security."
"In the changed security environment, we need more funding to protect our security interests. The basic principles of the security policy set a clear ambition in this regard. Due to the growing military threat, it is necessary to increase the level of military defense costs to at least 3 percent of GDP, to which the expenses of Estonia as a host country for allies are added," she continued.
Securing permanent funding for the development of non-military capabilities is also required, the premier said.
Kallas also recalled what she called "one very bad memory" from just a week earlier, referring a case where a panelist at an ERR-hosted security debate opined that national defense was not a trend, though linked this to an earlier recollection from January 19 last year.
On the eve of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Kallas said the situation was necessarily tense, prompting an increase of defense spend of €380 million, and an address to the Riigikogu with then-defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform).
Kallas: January 19, 2022 Riigikogu session was 'embarrassing and shameful'
However, this part of the address was not, Kallas said, received well by "one section of the chamber," likely referring to the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), whom, she said, "did everything to ridicule... I do not even know... Me? The Minister of Defense – whom you did not even allow to speak? The security of Estonia? Yourselves?"
Kallas has at times during the current conflict been derided as a "war princess", though what this constitutes and why it would necessarily be a bad thing has generally not been elaborated on in the Estonian media.
In her speech Monday, the head of government also recommended voters take a look at the January 19, 2022 Riigikogu session transcript, available from the Riigikogu's site. "It is an embarrassing and shameful read, and I ask from the bottom of my heart that you never again let your own foolish agenda get the better of you when national defense and the security of Estonia are at stake," she went on.
The prime minister also outlined five early lessons from the Ukraine war, namely that, as with most wars, it is all-encompassing, meaning security should be comprehensive, with everyone playing a role, second, that boosted security spend would help Ukraine also, third that the will of the people in national defense is key, fourth that alliances are central to Estonia's security, and fifth that Estonia's international profile has risen and has to remain at that level, to avoid ever being alone again.
"Our geography and historical experience mean that our opinion matters. Our knowledge of Russia and understanding of the Kremlin is valued," she said.
The premier also noted that the Russian people, too, bear responsibility for the current war and cannot place it solely at the regime's doors. This renders not only compromise irrelevant, but also talk of "innocent" Russian sportspeople and cultural figures "completely meaningless".
Builds on 2017 document
The updated National Security Concept is based on the basic principles of the National Security Concept which came into force in 2017, though parts of the earlier document are still relevant and the new concept is more an update than a departure, she added.
Societal cohesion , economic security and vital services, and public order, are all in focus for the state under the new concept, on top of military defense and international action, she said.
Not only Russia's war on Ukraine but also the crisis situation arising from Covid have also changed how security policy in Estonia and the wider world is looked at.
Ultimately, under the terms of the updated National Security Concept, Estonia will always defend itself against all threats of all kinds; the country is not alone and is part of NATO, the EU and other democratic nations' organizations; collective deterrence is key including immediate collective defensive action throughout the territory of the NATO alliance.
To that end, NATO has strengthened its defense stance on its eastern flank, including Estonia, Kallas pointed out in her speech.
The presence of allied forces and equipment and effective command structures and defense plans, as well as a preparedness to meet hybrid threats, which on their own can be a valid cause for triggering Article 5 of the alliance's treaty, are all part and parcel of this, she noted.
Conversely, Russia's desire to bend Europe and its security architecture out of shape by force and by guile have concentrated minds on this.
Russia 116 places below Estonia in world freedom index
Kallas pointed out that while Estonia ranks third in the world in terms of freedoms, according to the CATO Institute, neighbor Russia lies in 119th place on the same list, alongside Mali, another country which it has spread misery to via the activities of the Wagner Group.
Kallas thanked the Riigikogu's Foreign Affairs and National Defense committees for their constructive contributions towards the National Security Concept and expressed confidence that it will be adopted.
She also noted in her speech the burgeoning influence of China, the importance of transparency in foreign investments in strategic areas, energy goals including a decoupling from any dependence on energy sources of Russian origin, effective external border control – since Estonia's eastern border is also an external EU and NATO frontier – crisis resistance preparedness, and the need for a safe cyber space.
"Strategic frameworks are important for indicating political directions and taking a national position," the prime minister said.
"The views and choices of the Estonian state and Estonian politicians are noticed far beyond our borders. We are being watched by both our friends and our enemies. This places upon us a responsibility that is greater than ever before. We are heard, we are considered, and we are not alone. We convincingly demonstrate our commitment to security through our actions. This gives us moral justification to expect the same from others," she continued.
Concluding her Riigikogu speech, the premier said: "We must consistently work to ensure the security of Estonia. We still have a lot to do, and these basic principles of the Estonian security policy set a clear direction for the coming years."
The renewal of the National Security Concept started in late 2021, as the Government Office organized thematic seminar involving Riigikogu Foreign Affairs and National Defense committee members, ministries, the private sector, and academic institutions.
The government approved the updated National Security Concept of Estonia on Tuesday, January 24, with the next stage being its presentation to the Riigikogu.
The concept is a framework document used as a basis for relevant development and action plans in defense and security. It is is the fifth of its kind for an independent Estonia.
It must pass a Riigikogu vote in order to be adopted.
The full text in English of the prime minister's speech to the Riigikogu, February 6, 2022, is here.
The prime minister and the other government ministers do not sit at the Riigikogu, but regularly appear there to answer questions, take part in formal ceremonies or, as here, to deliver speeches.
Editor: Andrew Whyte
Source: Government Office