The Evolution of Estonian Security Options During the 1990s

Publication Type:



Athena Papers, Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes, Volume 4, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, p.92 (2005)


NATO enlargement, small state theory, Sovereignty, structural realism


This paper illustrates the complex mental navigation that decision-makers need to perform to effectively steer a course for their small state, between the attraction of a successful alliance (NATO) and the appetites of a nostalgic former empire. It also implicitly considers the other structural pressures on newly independent countries; the question of legitimacy; the difficult transition from a command to a market economy; and the tension-filled relations between the Russian minority and the Estonian majority. Not to be forgotten are the gamut of ordinary challenges that face modern societies: environmental responsibility, agricultural policy, human resource and social development, health care, democratic turbulence -- all these factors are intimately intertwined with the general notion of security. This study is original because it places the notion that NATO membership was not automatically the preferred solution back into consideration. Neutrality and alternative regional security arrangements were also considered very seriously by many of these newly independent states, an--as this publication shows--there was also significant lobbying in Estonia in favor of these options by regional powers that faced a security dilemma of their own. This paper sheds new light on the development of such security options, seen from an insider’s perspective. From an analytical point of view, these debates cannot be divorced from the strategic consequences for the region and wider Europe, nor from the domestic implications of pursuing a given course of action. This paper demonstrates how Estonia made the sovereign decisions that would guarantee its security, so as to secure the appropriate amount of “residual” sovereignty necessary for internal stability.