The National Security Concepts of the Baltic States’ after their NATO and EU membership



The classic elements of Westphalian state constitute the backbone in the definitions of national security in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.[1] The newly gained independence which enabled the three countries’ return to Europe, to the West, or to the 'Yuleland' [2] is sacrosanct. The state is in focus. It is the referent object. Sovereignty and territorial integrity is to be preserved and protected along with its dividends: Democracy and market economy;constitutional order; and public safety. Security is understood as a broad spectrum of issues divided into hard- and soft security. A hierarchy persists with a first- and second tier, where the distinction is between political and military issues on the principal tier and economic, environmental and others at the secondary. The principal tier includes issues that affect the state directly, the secondary have impact on the state by affecting the political and military sectors. While the first tier issues -sovereignty and territorial integrity- are identical for all three states, the second tier priorities may vary from state to state but tend to include issues like economic security, protection of the country's natural environment, integration of the society, protection of human rights and protection of the state and society’s long term development. [3] The essence of national security remains protection of the autonomous nation state and its territory; features related to definition of a ‘modern state’ and accompanied with focus on military security and state borders as lines of closure. Such definition of security also reflects the understanding of national security in large segments of the Baltic societies. [4]

But, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have joined the EU. The member states of the EU are heading towards another definition of national security and a post-Westphalian form of international relations. Their security agenda is post modern, the classic threats are exchanged for new ones; threats against stability of global economic and environmental systems and openness to the international system.[5] Post-modern states are no longer governed by the territorial imperative. They are embedded in international framework, in which the distinction between domestic and international has been eroded, where borders matter less and force is prohibited.[6] A dilemma in relation to the ESDP is that while protection of democracy and market economy as such is supported by the EU, protection of national territories is not an issue for the ESDP. Although there is substantial overlap between the Baltic and the EU, the EU is aiming higher in its definition of security; the EU is aiming towards building ‘an area of freedom, security, and justice with respect for fundamental rights’.[7]


Threat definitions and threat perceptions

Despite their modern definitions of security Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia apply the post modern definition of threats. Terrorism, trafficking and other forms of organized crime, are on top of their lists. That is issues which do not affect the state security directly, while the issues with direct impact on sovereignty and territorial integrity like military conflicts are assumed to be unlikely in contemporary Europe. Lithuania’s security guidelines document is not even considering the option of a military attack from another state.[8] Estonia and Latvia do not totally preclude occurrence of military conflicts in the region but rely on the prevailing power structure in Europe as guarantee against invasion.

The dilemma is that membership of NATO and the EU also brought insecurity. First, belonging to NATO and the EU have significantly expanded the Baltic states’ security interests into regions of no previous security relevance. Local and regional crises are envisaged to occur and affect the Baltic states irrespectively of geographical distances Second, the list of issues securitized became long and abstract.[9] Further, none of the new threats are directly related to the modern understanding of security and focus on the state predominant in the Baltic countries national security definitions. For example ‘terrorism’, the issue strongest emphasized within the ESDP and in the ‘Solidarity Clause’ is questioned in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as a threat to the state as a political or military entity.[10] The reason for joining the ‘Coalition of the willing’ was not fear of terrorism or WMD from Iraq but determination to ensure the USA friendship even after NATO membership was a reality. To the Baltic societies it was explained as demonstration of loyalty necessary ‘if we want others to come to our help when we need them.’[11] What the Baltic societies fear is a spill over from political instability in Russia, Belarus or Ukraine into both military and non-military threats. However, military threat from Russia is not on the security agenda of the EU -and not to be mentioned as such, the Baltic states were told during their NATO accession period. The risk of Russia as challenger to their hard security is not forgotten, though. It is discussed in other fora. The risk of non-military threat from the region is neither high on the EU agenda. Africa is the region envisaged for the ESDP operations. Not CIS or Caucasus.

So, though applying the same terminology as the other EU member states, the Baltic countries’ understanding of the character and origin of threats differ from those of West European or Mediterranean countries like France or Germany. They also differ among the three states. For example: Estonia’s National Security Concept (NSC) 2004 is articulating threats of social origin, and list alcoholism, HIV/AIDS and other contagious diseases. To Estonia such threats are emerging in 'Estonia's vicinity'. That is, they are external threats. For Latvia, alcoholism, HIV/AIDS and similar problems are a direct consequence of social and economic developments within the country. The origin of the threats is internal.

Economic security is of major concern for all three states. To Estonia a threat of economic origin means fear that her economy which is highly integrated into the world economic system will be vulnerable to worldwide crises and/or instability of foreign markets.[12] Lithuania’s NSS is expressing concern for dominance of her economy by ‘foreign capital investments of unclear origin’. The issue is about investments by Russian companies or foreign capital with Russian background and is shared by Estonia and Latvia.[13] The problem is as following: First, lack of transparency in the Russian companies and their business methods; second, Russia’s geopolitical ambitions; third, the security political effect of the NATO and EU states’ increasing dependency on Russian energy supplies.

Indeed, substantial differences in business’ law and practices persist between Russian and EU companies. Some of the main reasons is absence of accounting and audit standards in Russia. Also, corporate governance and accounting rules; legislation on intellectual property rights; and banking system regulations are in high demand by the Western business community investing in Russia. But the EU initiatives to prompt economic and political reforms in Russia seem to have little effect. Among the numerous recommendations are those offered by the EU-Russia Industrialist Round Table (IRT), a regular event which brings together private economic operators, providing opportunities for developing contacts and stable networks between top industry representatives on both sides.[14] The 6-th IRT held in November 2004 requested that Russia continue her reform process of transition to a rules-based market economy. Emphasis is on measures necessary to improve the business and investment climate. Absence of appropriate corporate legislation are both stumbling stones for Western companies’ investments in Russia and hinders insight into Russian companies seeking investment opportunities in the Baltic (and other) states. While, the concerns brought to the EU-Russia IRT by EU companies focus on barriers to Western investment opportunities in Russia, for example the ‘excessive government regulations of business activities’,[15] for the three Baltic states the Russian government’s regulations of business activities give rise to concern that Moscow is exploiting Russian investment in the Baltic states’ for political purposes.

The oil pipe line in Ventespils, Latvia constitutes an example of Baltic fear for Russia exercising her geo-political ambitions through energy policy. Until February 2003 nearly one-eighth of Russia's oil exports were piped to this port, helping make Ventspils' GDP per head among the highest in the country. Then Russia's state pipeline monopoly, ‘Transneft’, shut the for oil. The theory in Latvia was that Russia is strangling Ventspils so as to force Latvia's government to give ‘Transneft’ its remaining 39% stake in the oil-pipeline company.  Similar events were taken towards Ukraine, or at least it was assumed that Russia was the driver behind Turkmenistan’s threat to cut gas supply issued just three hours after the results of Ukraine’s second election round were announced. [16]

The Baltic concern for Russia’s geo-political appetite exercised by means of investments and energy policy is supported by US analysis: ‘In Russia foreign policy and domestic policy are inter-twined’, states a report by Fiona Hill at the Brookings Institute,[17] seconded by an US diplomat’s recollection of his experiences from Vilnius: ‘Russian energy policy is used as an instrument by the Kremlin and its power ministries as leverage to affect foreign security policy in importing countries, particularly in East Central Europe.’[18] It is claimed that Russia experiences ‘dramatic increases’ of former intelligence officers occupying high level positions in the Russian government and energy firms and that this has led to a return to a period when energy companies are more political instruments than profit centres.[19] The national embassies’ commercial departments are generally expected to be at the service of their countries’ industrialists. The reports indicate that the relation is reversed and it is the Russian government officials steering the industrialists’ investments, the origin of which capital is unclear.

Finally, the assumption that NATO and EU countries might become more likely to pander to Russia’s demands once they are depending on Russian energy supplies is widespread in the Baltic capitals, though, there are also voices pointing out that Russia is equally depending on the EU cash flow.[20] The fear is that Russia wants to weaken the Baltic states’ membership of the EU by exerting ‘special provisions’ for economic relations between Russia and the Baltic states making the Baltic states a kind of ‘second rang’ EU members, not fully in compliance with the EU set of rules. An example substantiating the Baltic concern might be the conclusion from the EU-Russia 5-th Industrialist Round Table in 2003. The EU Enlargement on bilateral EU-Russia relations were extensively discussed during the sessions: The Russian participants argued that application of the EU internal market rules may hurt Russian industry’s traditional trade interest in the Central and East European countries. Further, that subordination of the national legislation of acceding states to the EU laws will invalidate a large number of bilateral trade- and economic relation agreements with these states.[21] The response from the European participants -none of whom was from the Baltic states (Poland and Hungary were represented)- might not lessen the Baltic concerns: It was concluded that special provisions have been negotiated, and are still being negotiated in areas of Russian interest in order to avoid or to reduce the problems.[22] But, ‘special provisions’ is what the Baltic countries fear. In particular, they aim for Shengen membership and consider any ‘special provisions’ as endangerment of this target.

One of the burning points between the Baltic states and Russia and also between the Baltic states and the West European democracies are the minority rights of the Russian-speaking communities. The National security guidelines of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia take different approaches to the issue of Russian speaking minorities. In Latvia’s NSC considerable attention is given to integration of the society emphasized as ’one of the most significant factors which stabilises internal situation in the country.’[23] The Estonian document is preoccupied with external threats while the Russian speaking minority is considered to be an internal problem and merely a security issue if there is a risk of its being exploited by foreign power. For example by setting Estonia in a negative light towards her EU partners.

Progress on the minority issue is indicated in recent OSCE reports: In Latvia and Estonia the Russian speaking minorities were of considerable concern to the OSCE and the European Union. The OSCE Mission focused attention in Estonia on broad reaching issues like the language law, the law on parliamentary elections and the Ombudsman institution.[24] The mandate of the OSCE Mission to Latvia was initially focused on citizenship issues, and gradually extended to a wider range of social integration issues like[25] citizenship and non-citizens issues, language and education, the Latvian Government’s integration programme and the protection of civil rights regime.[26] The issues outstanding in the 2003 Annual Report are related to social guarantees on military pensioners and their families residing in the Republic of Latvia (18 438 persons); and issue of permanent residence permits (not) granted to military pensioners (450 persons) in Estonia.[27]

The attitudes expressed in interviews are best summarized by the following quotation: ‘This is a small country on the crossroads of big politics. Therefore, we must reduce all possible threats, also the threat posed by instability of society. We must integrate the Russian-speaking community. It makes things easier, when minorities are from civilisations with whom we can still find common principles. It is not easy but possible to integrate them.’[28]Integration remains a problem, though. It is difficult to find names of Russian origin among political decision makers, among higher echelons of civil servants and in public life. In public debate absence of Russian speaking voices on issues other than those of minorities is striking. Although some other minorities seem to be cooping better[29] the national problems are lurking and returning frequently in Baltic states’ domestic and international relations.[30]

While Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are eager to become part of the international community and emphasize their strong commitment to the EU and NATO, globalization is considered both the major generator of economic and technological development and propelling spread of non-military threats. Penetration of the three countries by economic crime, HIV/AIDS, illegal migration and others is the negative impact of globalization upon their societies. Eager to take part in the globalization process and benefit from its positive effects, Estonia in particular is concerned with global threats originating outside her borders and penetrating into the society. Latvia is concerned of being the breeding ground of global threats due to the country’s uneven economic development. Lithuania’s approach is that threats originate globally and shall be fought globally not excluding her own share in both processes. Finally, the three countries’ security guidelines avoid mentioning Russia as a challenger to their security.

The semantic gymnastics provided in the national security guidelines of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in order to avoid mentioning the word ‘Russia’ or ‘Russian’ among potential threats is remarkable. It brings to mind the figure of ‘Voldemort’ from the ‘Harry Potter’ books. An evil figure which may not be mentioned by name, out of fear for…well, no-one knows exactly. Nevertheless, Russia springs to ones mind reading lines like the following: (Due to) 'the contradictory democratisation processes and foreign policies of certain neighbours of these alliances it is still not possible to rule out threats to Estonia’s security'.[31] Or, 'while the likelihood of a direct military confrontation in the region is low, demonstrations of military force, provocations, and the threat to use force remain a danger to the security of the Republic of Lithuania'.[32] Russia is lurking in every second sentence of Estonia’s, Latvia’s and Lithuania’s threat analyses.

The absence of Russia in the Baltic states’ national security guidelines compared with her intense presence ‘in between the lines’ of the same documents and also in nearly every conversation on Baltic states’ security, reflects a ‘do not provoke the bear’ attitude. Also, concern for upsetting the EU partners and becoming subject to renewed accusations of ‘the Balts playing the Russian card in order to keep the US engagement in Europe’ plays a role. [33] Finally, an explicit mentioning of Russia might open a ‘Pandora’s box’ of internal debates, including debates on the usefulness of the ESDP.[34]

So Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have adopted the position of not singling out any state as a potential enemy in their national security concepts. In particular Lithuania is making a point in stressing the need to cooperate with Russia. All three countries take active approaches towards the CIS and Caucasus. However, despite aiming at cooperative approach with her, Russia is considered a country capable of swift and dramatic changes with ability to manipulate the developments in Belarus and Ukraine. Therefore, unless the political, economic, administrative and the military reforms become deep-seated and the country becomes more predictable, transparent and democratic the Baltic countries find there is a need to balance Russia with another strong power. The EU is not assumed to have the will nor the ability. The ESDP is not a muscle. Further, Russia tends to ignore the EU if the Europeans are not supported by the USA.[35] Therefore, on hard security issues the Baltic states turn to the USA.

[1] National Security Strategy of the Republic of Lithuania, Ministry of Defence, Vilnius 2002 & 2004,

    National Security Concept of the Republic of Latvia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Riga 2003,,

    National Security Concept of the Republic of Estonia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tallinn, 2004  henceforth referred to as Lithuania NSS, Latvia NSC and Estonia NSC, respectively.

[2] Ilves, Toomas Hendrik, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Estonia as a Nordic country’, Speech to the Swedish Institute for Internationals Affairs, 14 December 1999, ‘Yuleland’ is synonym for the Northern European culture to which Estonia is assumed to belong.

[3] Lithuania NSS 2004, Latvia NSC 2003, Estonia NSC 2004

[4]As an example: In 2003 the Estonian society’s perception of guarantees of Estonia’s national security were as following: Membership of NATO (52 pct.) good relations with Russia (45 pct.), Baltic defence cooperation (36 pct.), strong national defence (33 pct.), economic prosperity in the world (33 pct.), membership of the EU (31 pct.) strong border control (19 pct.), strong national feelings/patriotism (16 pct.), neutrality policy (15 pct.), high standard of living (13 pct.). More than one option could be selected. Eesti Kaitseministerium Avalik Arvamus ja Riigikaitse 2000-2003 (Estonia’s Ministry of Defence The Society and National Defence 200-2003).  The report is available in Estonian and Russian languages. The figures above refer to Table 4 p.7 in the Russian language version.

[5] Buzan, Barry and Wæver, Ole Regions and Powers, The structure of International Security, 2003 p. 24

[6] Cooper, Robert quoted in Kaldor, Mary Global Civil Society. An answer to War, Oxford 2003

[7] Draft Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe Adopted by European Convention on 10 June and 10 July 2003 Chapter IV Articles III-158.3 and III-158.1

[8] Lithuania NSS, Chapter 4

[9] Estonia NSC 2001 and 2004 though it reflects all three state’s increased orientation to a much larger world than what would be expected from a ‘small state’.

[10] An Estonian commentator is accusing the Minister of Foreign Affairs for being dishonest with the population when bringing the issue of terrorism to the forefront of threat anaysis without mentioning Russia otherwise than in euphemist terms. Lobjakas, Ahto ‘Terrorism? Oh, Indeed?’ Eesti Paevaleht 10 June 2004 and Defence Review No 25/2003,  June 16 –June  20, 2004

[11] Laaneots , General, Ants, Commandant of Estonia’s Defence College (Eesti Kaitsekoledz), in Defence Review no. 28/2003, July 14- July 20, 2004 and Kouts, Tarmo, Vice Admiral, Estonian Army Chief in a 1st May message to the troops and army officials., Defence Review No. 18/2003 April 28- May 3, 2004 and Baltic News Service 3 May, 2004. Also Interviews in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania November to December 2004

[12] Estonia NSC section 1.3

[13] Interviews in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania November to December 2004

[14] The usual outcomes of EU Industrialists Round Tables are recommendations addressed to the EU and the respective governments on e.g. market access, trade policy and foreign direct investment issues. The last meeting of the EU-Russian Industrialists Round Table was held 10 November 2004.­prise/enterprise_policy/business_dialogues/index.htm

[15] The EU-Russia 5-th Industrialist Round Table Meeting, 2003 Section 6 Creating favourable conditions for investments in Russia. http://euro­­int­/comm/enterprise/enterprise_policy/busi­ness_...

[16] Gazeta Wyborcza, Warszawa 30 December 2004

[17] Hill, Fiona Energy Empire: Oil, Gas and Russia’s Revival The Foreign Policy Centre, London, United Kingdom September 2004 p. 59

[18] Smith, Keith C., Russian Energy Politics in East Central Europe, by Senior Associate to Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.D. August 26, 2004

[19] An argument repeated in interviews, here a direct quotation from  Smith, Keith C., Russian Energy Politics in East Central Europe, by Senior Associate to Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.D. August 26, 2004

[20] Such views are in line with those expressed in the EU Report: ‘EU-Russia economic relations are increasingly important for both sides (for an overview go to: The European Union is the major destination for Russian exports and more than 50 % of Russia’s total external trade is with the EU. The EU is also the main source of technology, know-how and investment for Russia. In turn, Russia has immense resources and a qualified labour force. Furthermore, Russia’s energy supplies to the EU can help to enhance Europe’s energy security.’ Material from The EU-Russia Summit the 25 November 2004, in The Hague. EU Relations with Russia Economics and Trade  http://euro­­nal_re­lations/rus­sia/intro/in­dex.

[21] The EU-Russia 5-th Industrialist Round Table Meeting, 2003 Section 2. The EU enlargement and bilateral cooperation­int­/comm­/enter­prise/en­terprise_policy/busines...

[22] The EU-Russia 5-th Industrialist Round Table Meeting, 2003 Section 2. The EU enlargement and bilateral cooperation­prise/enterprise_policy/business_dialog...

[23] National Security Concept of the Republic of Latvia section 2.2.4

[24] The OSCE Annual Report 2001 list the following issues relevant for Estonia: The Language Law -amendments to the Language Law in the private sector and implementation thereof; The Law on Parliamentary Elections and the Law on Local Elections - both laws were to be brought into conformity with international standards by removing language requirements for candidates who run for political office; The Ombudsman - support the establishment of a regional office of the Estonian Legal Chancellor/Ombudsman in north eastern Estonia with the biggest segments of Russian speaking population; Integration - monitor and support further implementation of the State Integration Programme; Identify and remove obstacles to naturalization, family reunification and residence permits. OSCE Annual Report on OSCE Activities2001

[25] The OSCE Annual Report 2001 lists the following issues relevant for Latvia: Law on Aliens, the Language Law, the Citizenship Law, and minority education issues. OSCE Annual Report on OSCE Activities2001

[26] OSCE Annual Report on OSCE Activities2001

[27] Some of these ex-servicemen have been denied extension of their short (1-3 years) or longer term (4-5 years) visas due to which they and their families are facing expulsion. While Latvia has is cooperating with the respective Russian authorities on solving the problems, Estonia appears to take a firm stand on this issue. OSCE Annual Report on OSCE Activities2003 www.osce.­org/doc

[28] Interviews in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania November to December 2004

[29] Speech by the President of the Republic of Estonia at Meeting with the Representatives of the Jewish Community On December 7, 2004, in Tallinn: ‘I would like to use this opportunity and thank the Jewish Community for your very active and sympathetic participation in public life of Estonia’.

[30] Some examples: 1.The New Year Eve 2005 programme on Lithuania’s most popular TV station, LNK, is accused for having featured a jolly and friendly Nazi officer chatting with Lithuanian police officers. The staffs at a police station were featured by most famous Lithuanian actors. Many singers, politicians and other public figures are said to have participated directly in the show where the SS man was congratulating the police success in having restored order in the country. This has stirred internal debate. 2. At the international scene the Simon Wisenthal Center is still calling Lithuania to reconcile with her role during WWII and with the anti-Semitic sentiments still persisting in the country. Gazeta Wyborcza 3 January 2005 ‘Wesoly SS-man w programie litewskiej telewizji’ (A happy SS-man in a Lithuanina TV programme). 3. During  the summer 2004 the Estonian public was debating the issue of WWII freedom fighters pictured in Nazi uniforms.

[31] Estonia NDC section 1.3 Threats to nationals security p.7/19

[32] Lithuania NSS section 4.1.2 p. 6

[33] Summarized by Sloan, Stan ‘US Hegemony and the Transatlantic Alliance’ in Baltic Defence Review No.11 Volume 1/2004, Tartu, 2004 and ecountered in interviews in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in November to December 2004

[34] Interviews in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in November to December 2004

[35] Chechnya is mentioned as one of the many examples where Russia is betraying Western negotiators. See for example ‘Chechnya remains point of conflict between EU and Russian Federation’ in ISN Security Watch Issue II 5 October 2004, Zurich –

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