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Estonia and NATO

Estonia has been a member of NATO since 29 March 2004. Active NATO membership is a long-term strategic priority of Estonian security and defence policy, allowing Estonia to productively participate in international security cooperation and to safeguard Estonia’s own security.

Thanks to membership in NATO and the European Union, Estonia’s security is better ensured than ever before. NATO and the EU help ensure the stability of Estonia’s international position and situation. Membership in NATO guarantees a reliable military deterrence and collective defence. Estonia, similarly to other NATO allies, emphasizes the development of mobile and sustainable armed forces as well as enhancement of contributions to international peacekeeping operations.

The basis for NATO’s security policy underwent significant changes in 2010 when, as a result of the Lisbon summit, the Alliance’s Heads of State approved NATO’s new Strategic Concept for its members’ defence and security. The document assesses the general security situation, focussing on both conventional and new threats (ballistic missiles, cyber threats, accessibility of goods and resources, and energy security). The Strategic Concept also establishes NATO’s strategic goals and the measures necessary to fulfil them over the next 10 years. NATO’s three fundamental tasks – collective defence, crisis management and security cooperation – help guarantee the security of the Allies.

The international security environment has changed considerably over the past years. This has resulted in the expansion of the concept of security to new areas such as terrorism, energy and cyber security and the like. Therefore the requirements for ensuring security are changing over time for both NATO and Estonia.

Estonia's participation in international operations

International security cooperation plays an important role in Estonia’s security policy and Estonia first began participating in international operations in 1995. Given that international security is indivisible, participation in international crisis regulation and peace support operations remains an important element of security cooperation. This is Estonia’s most important contribution to cooperation with NATO and other international organisations.

Estonia’s guiding principle is that in order to create peace and stability, military operations need to be reinforced by civil contributions and development aid.

For more information on Estonia’s participation in international operations, please see here.

Major military operations

Afghanistan – Estonia began its military involvement in Afghanistan in 2002 in the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom. Since 2003, Estonia participated in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

As a NATO member state, participation in ISAF was one of Estonia’s foreign policy priorities. ISAF was the greatest and most important military operation for the Estonian Defence Forces, with about 170 Defence Forces members participating. Most of the Estonian contingent was stationed along with British units in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. The Estonian infantry company in Helmand was a manoeuvre unit with considerable capabilities participating in combat operations against anti-government armed groups, in particular the Taliban, with UK and Afghan units.

As a result of the dedication and efforts of the international community’s long-term military and civil activities—especially those of the ISAF, which included Estonia—the Afghan government’s ability to ensure security rose significantly. The transition process for handing over responsibility for security started in 2011. 

Estonia considered the co-ordination of military and civil operations to be essential for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. This is why for Afghanistan was one of Estonia’s priority nations for development co-operation for the years 2012-2015. We have sent civil officials to the country—the head of our diplomatic mission, a health care expert, a defence consultant, four police officers in the framework of the European Union Police Mission EUPOL, and three police officers in the framework of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A).

For more information,  see Estonia and Afghanistan and Estonia’s contribution to rebuilding Afghanistan).

Kosovo – Estonia has participated in the NATO peace support mission in Kosovo (KFOR – Kosovo Forces) since 1999. Estonia ended its contribution of one infantry unit (30 soldiers) to the Danish battalion in northern Kosovo on 8 February 2010. Currently Estonia contributes one staff officer to KFOR headquarters. Since Kosovo is an issue within Europe and its resolution is important to both NATO and the EU, Estonia will continue contributing to KFOR for as long as necessary.

Libya – The NATO-led NATO operation Unified Protector started on 31 March 2011 and continued for 7 months. This was in many ways a special operation for NATO, which could be characterised by three words: speed, success, completion. Estonia did not participate in the military aspect of the operation, but it did support the operation politically. The operation was created to enforce UN Security Council resolution 1973 and its goal was to protect civilians and civilian living areas from attack.

NATO Response Force (NRF) – The NATO Response Force, created in 2003, is capable of deploying to a conflict zone with 5 to 30 days’ notice within a 15000 km radius of Brussels to carry out a variety of missions. The Response Force is not a single prepared unit but rather a response-ready multinational force package that allows for an appropriate unit to be created for the task at hand.

Since 2005 Estonia has contributed to the naval component of NRF with the staff and support vessels of the Estonian Navy “Admiral Pitka” and the mine-hunters “Admiral Cowan” and “Sakala”, and to the land forces component with mine-clearing and military police units and a movement co-ordination unit. In the first half of 2010 Estonia participated in a joint NRF battalion along with Latvia and Lithuania, with a unit of 204 soldiers. In 2010 Estonia participated in the ranks of NRF-15 with the mine-hunter “Admiral Cowan”.

The Defence Development Plan for 2009-2018 foresees the continuation of Estonia contributing its military capabilities and units to NATO and EU-led international operations.

For more information, see International Operations.

Air policing

Air policing is a routine security activity of NATO during peacetime that has the goal of consistently guarding the airspace of member states. Since Estonia lacks the capability to ensure the safety of its own airspace, the military planes of our allies have worked on a rotating schedule to ensure airspace security in Estonia since we joined NATO in 2004. Estonian airspace is guarded along with Latvian and Lithuanian airspace. The base for planes is located in Siauliai, Lithuania. The three nations are gradually increasing their contributions to the implementation of the air policing operation. In this respect the opening of a military airbase in Ämari in the fall of 2010 was very important for Estonia, as it should in the near future provide the opportunity to help implement the air policing mission from Estonia and also improve the operational capacity of Estonia’s air force.

For Estonia, NATO air policing is important both practically and politically because it demonstrates NATO collective defence, which has been a cornerstone of NATO since the birth of the organisation. (See also: Baltic Co-operation and

NATO partnership and co-operation

The best support for the advancement of Euro-Atlantic relations is a wide network of partnership relations that includes countries and organisations all over the world. Nations that share both common values and security interests with NATO can be found among NATO’s partners, as well as nations with whom the alliance primarily discusses common interests, mainly security interests. Based on this fact, the scope and depth of co-operation with partner states varies.

In talking about NATO’s partnership relations one must first and foremost understand the broadest co-operation, for example the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) and Partnership for Peace Programme (PfP), as well as more regional co-operation formats like the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Co-operation Initiative (ICI), and bilateral partnership relations like the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC), and the NATO-Georgia Commission (NGC).

One particular partnership that deserves attention and further development is NATO-EU partnership, especially considering the number of common elements—21 member states overlap in the two organisations. Partnership with the UN is necessary primarily in the context of co-operation and co-ordination for crisis management and humanitarian operations.

Possible threats to Estonia’s security are mostly of a global nature, which is why Estonia values effective dialogue and co-operation with all of the nations in NATO’s partnership programmes in order to ensure Euro-Atlantic security. Estonia supports a flexible approach to partnership relations that would allow co-operation in the name of ensuring Euro-Atlantic security to take place with all of the nations that are tied to NATO by common values and interests.

At the Lisbon summit in November of 2011, the heads of state and governments created a task to work out a new partnership policy. NATO’s partnership policy strategy, made up of three main documents and known as the “Berlin package”, was approved at the informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin from 14-15 April 2011.

NATO and the European Union

The EU and NATO co-operate to help prevent and resolve crises and armed conflicts within and outside of Europe. To date, co-operation between the two organisations has taken place based on the Berlin Plus (2003) agreements. The agreements allow the EU access to NATO’s collective resources and capabilities to be used in EU-led operations in certain cases. NATO allows the EU to use resources that NATO itself is not using at the moment and that can be recalled quickly if needed. The EU and NATO’s first practical co-operation framework was called “Berlin Plus”, within which the operation CONCORDIA (March-December 2003) in North Macedonia was carried out.

Estonia supports initiatives that help to intensify EU-NATO co-operation on both the political and operative levels. Good examples are co-operation in relation to the EU’s civil missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan, as well as co-operation in the fight against piracy near the Horn of Africa (the EU naval operation ATALANTA, the long-term NATO operation Ocean Shield, co-operation within the framework of the African Union Mission in Somalia).

NATO’s Strategic Concept calls the European Union a unique and essential partner. An active and effective European Union supports the general security of the Euro-Atlantic region. With 21 common member states sharing the same values, the know-how and resources of both organisations can be utilised, and therefore the close partnership is productive and useful for both operative and financial reasons. This essentially means that in many cases the military demands of NATO and the EU are the same, and it is necessary to determine priority sectors and reach an agreement in terms of co-operation and information exchange. By sharing defence expenses more equally and making smarter expenditures, better security and a more effective NATO could be achieved with a smaller price tag, which is beneficial for the governments and the taxpayers of member states.

More information

Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, EAPC

After the end of the Cold War, NATO set its sights on closer co-operation and dialogue with the Balkan, Eastern European, Southern Caucasus and Central Asian countries that lay outside the alliance. In 1991 the North Atlantic Cooperation Council was created, which was further developed at the 1997 NATO summit in Madrid to become the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), making the security forum more expansive and profound for the states involved.

Today 50 states sit at the table of the EAPC, of which 28 are NATO member states and 22 are partner states.

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Partnership for Peace, PfP

Partnership for Peace is a partnership programme created in 1994 to facilitate practical NATO co-operation for helping the Central and Eastern European nations participating in the programme develop democracy, restructure and build up their military structures, and participate in NATO-led peace support operations. PfP gives partner states an opportunity to develop co-operation with NATO in accordance with their own priority co-operation sectors.

Estonia participated in both the EAPC and PfP programmes starting in 1994, which provided us with a good framework for preparing Estonia’s state defence structures for NATO membership. A significant contribution came from the PfP’s training programme for officials dealing with the Defence Forces and security policy, but the experience of co-operating with members of the alliance in peace support operations was also invaluable.

More information

NATO-Ukraine Commission, NUC

As a partner country Ukraine has made a significant contribution to creating and supporting peace, having participated in all NATO peace support operations to date.  NATO and Ukraine’s close co-operation and partnership is based on the Charter for a Distinctive Partnership from the 1997 Madrid summit, according to which the permanent NATO-Ukraine Commission was created. The commission gives evaluations on the implementation of the charter and makes proposals as to how to improve and develop co-operation.

Although the current government of Ukraine does not consider accession to NATO one of its goals, this has not reduced the practical co-operation between Ukraine and NATO.

At the Lisbon summit in 2010, the leaders of the member states expressed their respect for Ukraine’s non-bloc status and welcomed the Ukrainian government’s commitment to continue Ukraine’s comprehensive partnership with NATO. The open-door policy will also continue, which means that in accordance with the decision made at the 2008 Bucharest summit, Ukraine could become a NATO member in the future.  More information

Estonia has shared its experiences with compiling an Annual National Plan (ANP) with Ukraine, as well as other reform experiences gained during the accession process. In May 1997 a NATO Information and Document Centre was opened in Kiev, which was the first centre of its kind to be established by a NATO partner country. Currently there is also a NATO Liaison Office functioning in Kiev.

In November of 2008 Estonia organised a meeting of the NATO and Ukrainian ministers of defence (NUC) in Tallinn.

NATO-Georgia Commission, NGC

Georgia has been an active co-operation partner of NATO since 1992 (EAPC, PfP). In 2002 Georgia officially expressed its desire to become a full NATO member state and in 2004 it began fulfilling an Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), which provides practical aid to a nation in carrying out democratic, institutional and defence reforms.

Georgia participates in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, where its contribution per capita is the highest among ISAF nations.

At the beginning of 2008, Georgia announced its desire to begin a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP). At the Bucharest summit it was decided not to give Georgia a MAP yet, but that Georgia would certainly become a NATO member. Following that, an Intensified Dialogue began with Georgia. In September 2008, largely as a result of the Russia-Georgia conflict in August, the permanent NATO-Georgia Commission was formed to maximise NATO’s aid to Georgia and make structural co-operation and dialogue with the aspiring member state more effective.

In accordance with the new Strategic Concept, NATO’s partnership relations with Georgia (and Ukraine) will continue and undergo further development through the respective commissions, based on the NATO decision approved at the Bucharest summit in 2008 and taking into consideration the Euro-Atlantic tendencies and efforts of both countries.

Supporting and helping Georgia by sharing its reform experiences has been one of Estonia’s foreign policy priorities, and it has been done regularly on the bilateral and multilateral levels in NATO and other international organisations.

More information

NATO-Russia Council (NRC)

NATO-Russia relations go back to 1991, when Russia became a member of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (now the EAPC). The goal was to develop open dialogue and create trustworthy relations with Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1997 the NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security was signed. By the end of the 90s NATO-Russia relations had greatly improved and practical co-operation gained momentum. In 2002 the NATO-Russia Council was formed, a permanent co-operation forum in which to hold dialogue on relevant security policy topics and develop practical co-operation in sectors that are of mutual interest.

NATO-Russia relations cooled off considerably due to the conflict between Russia and Georgia in August 2008—political dialogue and military co-operation were brought to a complete halt. Starting in 2009, co-operation has been gradually restored in various sectors based on mutual interests (Afghanistan, terrorism, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, piracy, etc.). However, there are also still items on the NATO-Russia Council’s agenda over which there are differing opinions (the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), NATO enlargement, and Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity).

At the Lisbon summit in November 2010, a meeting between the heads of state and government of alliance members and President of the Russian Federation Dmitri Medvedev took place in the NRC format. The political and co-operation-oriented message from President Medvedev at the meeting was welcome, but actual co-operation is expected (regarding Afghanistan, terrorism, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, piracy, etc.), which would require more openness on Russia’s part.

NATO’s new Strategic Concept confirms that NATO-Russia co-operation is strategically important, as it helps to create a common space of peace, stability and security. As NATO Secretary General Rasmussen has repeatedly stated, NATO does not represent a threat to Russia, rather the other way around—NATO desires a true strategic partnership with Russia and acts accordingly, and expects Russia to do the same. The last meeting of the NRC on the level of foreign ministers took place on 19 April 2012. There will be no NRC meeting on the level of heads of state or government within the framework of the NATO summit in Chicago.

More information

Co-operation with Mediterranean Dialogue (MD) states

The founding idea of the Mediterranean Dialogue comes from the declaration of the Brussels summit of 1994, in which the NATO heads of state and government referred to the positive results of the Middle East peace process. In February 1995, Egypt, Israel, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia were invited to take part in a dialogue with NATO. In November 1995 the invitation was extended to Jordan and in February 2000 to Algeria. Now Libya is also expected to join the Mediterranean Dialogue. The goal of the dialogue is to support stability and security in the Mediterranean region, to achieve better understanding, and to correct the notions that states participating in the Mediterranean Dialogue may have about NATO. Based on a decision from the 1997 Madrid summit, the Mediterranean Co-operation Group was created to formalise co-operation. In April 1999 at the Washington summit, the leaders of the alliance decided to expand the political and practical dimensions of the dialogue. NATO’s co-operation with Mediterranean Dialogue countries gained importance following the terror attacks on the USA.

Co-operation within the MD takes place based on Individual Co-operation Programmes and annual Work Programmes with the goal of advancing political dialogue and creating practical co-operation based on the interest and needs of the partners. The Mediterranean Dialogue focuses on practical co-operation in the security and defence, information, civil emergency aid planning and science sectors. Also essential are the fight against terrorism and matters related to maritime security (primarily the fight against piracy) and co-operation in energy security and public diplomacy.

Istanbul Co-operation Initiative

During the NATO summit in Istanbul in 2004, it was decided to offer the opportunity to co-operate through the Istanbul Co-operation Initiative (ICI) to the greater Middle Eastern region. By June 2005, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had joined the initiative, and the door is open to other nations of the Persian Gulf Co-operation Council—Oman and Saudi Arabia. The ICI is based on joint ownership, which means that the mutual needs of NATO and the participating nations are emphasised while taking into account the countries’ diversity and specific needs. The goal of the ICI is to promote multilateral co-operation as well as mutually beneficial bilateral relations with nations in the region, primarily in the areas of defence and security. Co-operation between NATO and ICI partners takes place in the following areas: the fight against terrorism, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, ensuring energy security, and the fight against piracy.

“New Threats”

Cyber security

The co-ordinated cyber attacks against Estonia in 2007 focused more of NATO’s attention than ever before on the need to ensure the security of this vital infrastructure. Comprehensive and co-ordinated attacks on communication infrastructure can seriously affect communication among NATO allies or national institutions and cause significant damage by disrupting civil life or allowing information leaks. Cyber attacks could prove to be a serious threat to the effective implementation of NATO’s collective defence in a crisis situation, and therefore ensuring cyber security is a justified priority for NATO.

The principles of NATO’s cyber defence policy and the action plan for its implementation were approved by the defence ministers of the alliance in March 2011. The central goal of the policy is to guarantee NATO’s ability to adequately fulfil the alliance’s fundamental principles of collective defence and crisis management within a changing security environment.

The NATO Co-operation Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence was established on Estonia’s initiative on 14 May 2008. Currently eleven NATO member states have joined the Centre: Estonia, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, the USA, Poland, Spain, and as of April 2012 the Netherlands.

The Cyber Defence Centre is an international military organisation founded on agreements between countries that has received NATO accreditation. Although there is close co-operation with the alliance, the centre does not belong to NATO structures – it is rather an independent unit with a mission to advance the cyber defence capabilities of NATO and its partner countries through consultations, training, and research.

The centre’s most noticeable outcomes so far involve the legal questions related to cyber defence, the organisation of technical cyber defence trainings, courses focused on the technical aspects of information technology, and an annual international conference. The centre has successfully co-operated with both European universities and the private sector and has established good ties with the US National Defence University and the US military’s Cyber Command.

Fight against terrorism

Terrorism threatens the security of nations, the values of democracy, and the rights and freedoms of citizens. The spread of terrorism has become a global security threat. Fighting the threat of terrorism is a great challenge for nations, and the foundation of success in this battle is close international co-operation.

Estonia, sharing democratic values and being a part of the global security system, is committing more attention and resources than before to the fight against terrorism.

Based on the National Security Concept of the Republic of Estonia (2010), Estonia condemns all possible forms of terrorism and considers political violence and international terrorism to be a significant threat to international security and peace.

For more information about Estonia’s fight against terrorism, see

Energy Security

Energy security is directly tied to national security, and Estonia’s national security is a part of NATO’s collective security. Therefore energy security-related activities in certain sectors are also under NATO jurisdiction.

NATO acts from the standpoint that ensuring energy security is first and foremost the responsibility of each nation, and NATO’s role and added value in ensuring energy security should consist of:

  • Monitoring and evaluating risks and developments related to energy security;
  • Energy security-related consultations with different NATO partners and other international organisations;
  • Supporting member states in protecting their critical infrastructure upon request;
  • Consequence management.

NATO’s relations with the public

From year to year, NATO pays more and more attention to developing public diplomacy. The public diplomacy division at NATO Headquarters deals with media, research and inquiries, as well as sharing information about NATO with the public. The division helps the governments of member states and partner states expand the role of NATO and increase the public’s understanding of the organisation through various programmes and activities.

There are also Atlantic Treaty Associations founded in various member and partner countries that help to introduce NATO to the public. For information on the activities of the Estonian Atlantic Treaty Organisation, visit their website.

Beginning in 1992, a system of NATO Contact Point Embassies was worked out in NATO with the primary goal of co-operating more closely with partner countries to mediate information. For this, a system was developed in which every NATO member state accepts the responsibility to represent NATO’s public diplomacy through its embassy in one or more partner states during a two-year period. The goal of sharing information is to regularly clarify NATO’s goals and activities to the public, academic interest groups, and NGOs in the partner country through organising various seminars, lectures and visits.

The alliance has information offices in Moscow and Kiev and Contact Point Embassies in more than 30 partner states.

Estonia as a NATO Contact Point Embassy

Estonia has represented NATO by serving as a Contact Point Embassy since September 2004, when the Estonian Embassy in Helsinki began working as a Contact Point Embassy. The representation fulfilled these responsibilities until February 2007. From 2007-2010 the role of NATO Contact Point Embassy was filled by the Estonian Embassy in Stockholm. From 2011-2012 the Estonian Embassy is once again the NATO Contact Point Embassy in Helsinki.

Last updated: 16 February 2019

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