Honourable members of the Riigikogu!
On 31 May 2017, the Riigikogu approved the basic principles of Estonia’s security policy. In accordance with it, each composition of the Riigikogu renews the basic principles every four years, and the Prime Minister gives the Riigikogu an overview of the achievement of its objectives. Today is the first time that the prime minister makes such an overview. In my presentation, I will look back on the three years based on the thematic structure of the basic principles of the security policy.
The COVID-19 pandemic created a crisis in which no country or nation was left untouched. While we have to wait to give a more thorough assessment of the security environment, the pandemic will have a significant impact on international relations. It is not impossible that the health and economic crisis might become a security crisis. We need to closely monitor the progress of the virus in the world, the development of treatment options and vaccines, as well as developments in international politics and the economy. The COVID-19 pandemic once again showed that we depend on things in a tightly intertwined world that at first might not seem to affect us in Estonia at all.
In 2017, we assessed the global security environment to be turbulent and at this moment, there is no reason to change that assessment. The traditional threats to Estonia’s security have not disappeared. Russia continues to try to call into question the security and stability of the whole of Europe, and unfortunately, activities against international law in eastern Ukraine and Crimea continue.
The military threat to Estonia remains low, but as we assessed in 2017, it is still a risk if NATO’s deterrence and defence posture is not credible. We must also be alert to hybrid threats, of which there have been many examples over the last three years. The actions of hostile special services against NATO, the European Union, and individual member states are a constant threat. Estonia is no exception. The threat of terrorism is high in many parts of the world. At the same time, the probability of a terrorist attack in Estonia is low, but not non-existent. For example, by a radicalised individuals.
Today we can say that the security of Estonia is assured. It is based, above all, on our readiness to protect our country and to work for it in a wide area of issues and on a daily basis. It is also based on our membership of NATO and the European Union, the unity of the member states, and solidarity. Our security is also based on our close relations with friends in the Baltic Sea region and our relationship with the United States, which is Estonia’s most important ally in security policy.
The pandemic served as a sharp reminder of the importance of solidarity in critical moments and the extent to which we depend on mutual support, assistance, and cooperation. Hopefully, this reminder will help to preserve the values and international organisations that have underpinned the peace and growth of prosperity in Europe over the last 75 years.
The basic principles of the security policy provide for the implementation of comprehensive national defence to protect Estonia from threats, regardless of their origin or place of occurrence. Everyone’s effort is important, and the past few months have shown that this is the right approach. A great nationwide crisis affects everyone, and the will and resources of many must be mobilised to succeed.
The planning and implementation of comprehensive national defence takes place through the national defence development plan, which is being prepared for 2021–2030. As one of the basic principles of the development plan, we must increase our preparedness for crises.
We must also complete the transfer of the crisis management tasks of the Ministry of the Interior to the Government Office, a project that was initiated before the crisis. In this way, we will ensure a more unified preparation of the whole country for both military and non-military crises. In the current crisis, the Government Office gained good experience in coordinating official activities and communication.
Honourable members of parliament!
NATO is and will remain the cornerstone of our security and defence cooperation. There is no reason to doubt the credibility of NATO’s deterrence and defence posture. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was not a military crisis, but a civilian one, NATO demonstrated its necessity and relevance. No NATO operation was terminated, solidarity was shown with allies who needed help the most, and Estonia also supported its allies, Spain and Italy.
Defence spending by NATO’s European allies has risen steadily in recent years, as has the readiness of the allied forces. The presence of NATO allies in our region became more visible with the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroups. Allies, led by the British, are now integrated into the activities and plans of our Defence Forces. Together with NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission and other allied activities, this has made our region more secure. I thank all allies for their contribution to the protection of NATO’s eastern wing. I hope that the United States’ military presence in our region will increase in the future.
Difficult times lie ahead and hopefully, collective defence will not temporarily fall to the background; .that the economic crisis will lead to serious cuts in defence spending and capabilities, as it did in 2008. We know from the experience of previous crises that there will be no significant cuts in defence spending and the capabilities of countries that regard NATO as their opponent.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed vulnerabilities in the free movement of goods and people in Europe. They could become a security issue: we managed to deal with the traffic jam of trucks at the European Union’s internal borders, but how much would we be harmed if military equipment could not cross borders in a national defence crisis? Increasing military mobility is important for Estonia in NATO, the European Union, and regionally. The crisis confirmed that this work must continue.
The United Nations remains at the heart of ensuring global security and stability and enforcing international law. A world order based on international law and rules which stands up for democratic values and human rights is in the interests of Estonia as a small country.
We also ran for a non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council, where Estonia holds the presidency for the entirety of May. We are working to keep the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic under the regular attention of the Security Council. The Estonian Presidency is a great responsibility, but also a recognition for our diplomats on the international front line of the global crisis.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the European Union and its Member States were criticised for their lack of preparation and coordination in closing the borders. Yes, transnational cooperation and exchange of information could have been better, but public health has been considered a matter of the Member States and not of the European Union, and it is likely that the EU could not have been better prepared for this.
However, the rapidly launched economic measures of the European Union show that more can be done together. The decision to allocate 3.4 trillion euros to revitalise the European economy, as well as the 7.4 billion euros raised under the auspices of the European Union to fund COVID-19 vaccine and drug research, is very commendable.
We welcome the debate that will follow the pandemic on the role of the European Union in dealing with cross-border threats. From Estonia’s point of view, the European Union could move towards a comprehensive approach to ensuring security. This would help to better integrate our actions in public health, food, technology, trade, the environment, and security. We could share our experiences.
It was during the Estonian Presidency in 2017 that the debate on the role of the European Union in defence cooperation became more serious. It is good to see that the European Union has made a number of advances over the last three years, such as the European Defence Fund, military mobility, the security of communications networks, and the fight against cyber and hybrid threats and disinformation. This has been done through greater cooperation with NATO, but not at the expense of NATO.
We have also worked for years to ensure that both the European Union and NATO are united and consistent in their policy towards Russia. We support the maintenance of the European Union’s sanctions until the reasons for their imposition have been eliminated.
Dear members of the Riigikogu!
With long-term mission-oriented work, we have built a national defence based on the real capabilities of trained men and women. This is most clearly shown by the many exercises. For example, in 2018, almost 18,000 people from Estonia and allied and partner countries participated in the large-scale military exercise Siil. Last year’s Spring Storm was attended by 9,000 people, and although it was smaller than planned this year due to the virus, the ambitious goals of the exercise were met and the conscripts passed their final exam. The Defence Forces are now able to call upon another 3,000 fighters in reserve units.
The military defence based on real capabilities has been based on long-term planning and targeted funding at a level of at least 2% of the GDP. This has made it possible to invest in equipment, ammunition, and infrastructure to increase readiness and responsiveness, as well as to develop early warning. Stable and targeted funding must continue in order to for our national defence to remain credible and to maintain good conditions for the allies. In this way, we send a clear message to everyone: investments in national defence and long-term mission-oriented work lead to real results and readiness.
We must be prepared to receive larger allied troops for exercises in peacetime or in times of crisis. The increasingly close defence co-operation with Latvia and Lithuania must also continue, one of the achievements of which is the headquarters of the Multinational Division North established in Latvia in co-operation with the allies.
Estonia’s geographical location in Europe obliges us to take border issues particularly seriously. We have strived to make the Schengen area trustworthy and secure, so that international organised crime and terrorist groups cannot expand to Estonia or feel comfortable in our digital world.
But most importantly, we have decided to build a modern eastern border and have allocated 90 million euros for it. The construction of the first stage of the eastern border, which is 23.5 kilometres long, will start this summer and will be completed in 2023. This is an important milestone in the work that started in 2014.
94% of Estonians consider Estonia a safe place to live. This high percentage is thanks to the efforts of the Police and Border Guard Board, the Rescue Board, the Emergency Response Centre, the Internal Security Service, and other agencies. Targeted prevention work is key to ensuring that the streets of Estonia are safe at all times, so that fewer and fewer people are injured or killed as a result of accidents every year. It is important that the threat of terrorism in Estonia is low and that our constitutional order is protected.
The government hopes to discuss the new internal security development plan for 2020–2030 before the summer. It envisages the continuation of targeted prevention activities and the goal of involving more communities and volunteers to ensure the safety of their local regions. I place great importance on volunteering in the entirety of the comprehensive national defence.
The basic principles of the security policy in 2017 highlighted the need to prevent illegal migration to the European Union to ensure Europe’s common security. Estonia is paying more and more attention to the root causes of migration and we support countries with vulnerable economies in the southern neighbourhood of the European Union. We also support the introduction of innovative digital solutions in developing countries to create better living conditions and reduce migratory pressures on Europe and Estonia.
Another way to ensure global stability and maintain allied security is to contribute to international military operations. In recent years, an average of one hundred members of the Defence Forces and police and civilian officers have participated in operations and missions each year. About 200 employees of the Police and Border Guard Board have participated in joint operations of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex. We intend to continue this contribution.
The link between climate change and security has become clear in recent years. The current climate crisis is real and comparable to the development of the COVID-19 pandemic: it is slow and distant at first, but quickly reaches rapid growth and implementing of far-reaching measures.
In July last year, we set up the government’s climate and energy committee to focus on climate change and reducing greenhouse gases. We are determined to support the European Union’s goal to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.
Although a record amount of renewable energy was produced in Estonia last year – 17.1% of total electricity consumption –, production opportunities need to be further increased. As one measure, the government decided in November last year to invest 37 million euros in the acquisition of a new long-range radar and additional radio systems for the Defence Forces. With this, a significant part of Virumaa wind farms will be released from height restrictions from 2024.
In order to ensure energy security, in addition to renewable energy, energy connections must be developed with other neighbouring European Union countries. Connections are also strategically important in transport. Rail Baltica is important to Estonia from the point of view of both economic development and security.
In order to ensure economic security, we must begin to assess more effectively the compatibility of foreign investments in strategic and vital sectors with security interests. The government will develop the draft by the end of the year based on the relevant European Union guidance.
The very advanced digital development of the Estonian economy and society makes us vulnerable to cyber risks. Over the past year, Estonia, together with its allies and partners, has begun to attribute international cyber attacks to their perpetrators. The aim of this is to make attacks and attackers public if possible, to condemn them, and to increase the security of the responsible countries. At the initiative of Estonia, the attribution of cyber attacks was discussed for the first time in the UN Security Council in March. As a result, the attacks on Georgia received more attention.
From a national perspective, I would like to highlight the security vulnerability of the ID-card in 2017. This was a serious risk to our digital services, which, however, did not lead to greater damage as a result of the good work of the authorities. Now, the digital signature system and public e-services are more risk-proof. Communication and particularly data communication is another key issue for the resilience of the state and society. I thank the members of the Riigikogu for amending the Electronic Communications Act, which was approved on 12 May. The government can now move forward on the issue of security of communications networks, including the 5G network.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest crisis since the restoration of Estonia’s independence. It highlighted hitherto unnoticed problems in, for example, legal clarity or communication. It is now our duty to learn. We must emerge from any crisis more resilient, stronger, and more united.
Neither we nor any other country in the world was fully prepared for such a crisis. We have managed so far – thanks to our previous preparations. We have amended legislation, drawn up contingency plans and guidelines, and organised exercises among the government, ministries, agencies, local governments, and vital service providers.
On the eve of the pandemic, on 5 March, the government made a number of decisions as lessons from the storm in south-east Estonia. We decided that by the end of 2021, each county centre must have an autonomous fuelling station. To ensure the continuity of the mobile network, 1,000 of the 4,500 base stations must be made autonomous. In order to increase the capacity of local governments in times of crisis, all local governments, including those with less than 10,000 residents, must prepare crisis plans.
Unfortunately, there will be more crises that affect society. We must continue to increase crisis preparedness across the country: in public authorities, companies, and the population. We need to develop a culture of preparedness in which people are able to act independently for at least some time at the beginning of a crisis. Public authorities and companies must also become more crisis-proof, and information exchange and cooperation must improve. The experience of previous crises can serve us as a guide, but must not limit us, because we never know the nature of the next crisis to hit us. A culture of preparedness must help us deal with all kinds of crises.
In 2018, the government approved the concept of civil protection. The crisis preparedness guidelines provided for in it, the Emergency Response Centre hotline 1247, or the emergency notification text message system to be launched in 2021 must be supplemented by the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. The state must help residents and businesses both in preparing for the crises and after the crisis has started. I would like to highlight the Rescue Board, which is becoming a spokesperson and developer of civil protection. We also saw this during the last crisis.
Before a possible new wave of the virus, we need to stock up on medicines, medical supplies, and personal protective equipment in the near future. The government plans to discuss the overall view of these and other state strategic stocks on 4 June.
I pointed out the basic foundations of the security policy to the Riigikogu on 2 May 2017 and highlighted that our security environment can be undermined by many intertwined factors. Ensuring security requires the contribution and cooperation of all of us, and it is based on a cohesive society.
I continue to consider one of the main principles that maintaining the security of Estonia and our people starts with every Estonian – we all have a role to play. Estonia’s security is strengthened by a cohesive civil society, where conscious active citizenship plays an important role in promoting safety and a sense of security. Estonia’s security is strongest in a tolerant, caring, and inclusive society.
The cohesion of society and a common information field are key to resolving any emergency and crisis. From the first days of COVID-19 arriving in Estonia, we worked hard to reach all Estonian people, regardless of their mother tongue.
Our society has shown extraordinary cohesion in the fight against the virus. Based on the survey, we see that Russian-speaking people were very diligent in following the instructions. Radio 4, the TV channel ETV +, the government’s Russian-language channels, as well as the private media certainly played an important role in this.
The work to ensure the cohesion of society, for which the work we have done during the crisis we have experienced together has laid a new foundation, will certainly not be left unfinished.
To sum up, I return to the beginning. The security environment described in the basic principles of the security policy and our principles and policies for ensuring security three years ago are still relevant today.
Following the principle that each composition of the Riigikogu renews the basic principles of the security policy at least once every four years, the Government of the Republic has set the goal of renewing the document by June 2021. This goal has become even more relevant in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and work to renew the basic principles will begin as early as autumn.
We wish Estonia all the best!