Estonia in NATO

Why is Estonia in NATO?
NATO’s goal is the common defence of democracy. For Estonia, NATO is the main guarantee of external security. The goal of Estonia’s security policy is to preserve the country’s independence and sovereignty, territorial integrity, constitutional order and the security of its citizens. Thus, the guiding principle of the security and defence policy of Estonia is to be an active security provider and to participate in crisis management and peace operations led by various international organisations (NATO, UN, OSCE, European Union).
Estonia's accession to NATO and the European Union in 2004 significantly strengthened the country’s security. At the same time, Estonia became involved in the coordinated security and defence cooperation of these organisations in order to contribute to wider international peace and stability. Estonia’s membership of NATO, as a collective defence organisation, ensures military security, enables effective participation in international security cooperation and ensures the most effective defence of the state. Active NATO membership will remain a key security and defence priority for Estonia.
Read about Estonia’s journey to NATO accession and the view of Ambassador Jüri Luik also here.
Participation of Estonia in NATO missions
Estonia has been a full member of NATO since 2004 and has actively participated in international missions and operations. NATO’s success in international operations is very important to Estonia, as it helps to strengthen the security of NATO Allies, as well as many other countries and international organisations worldwide. More than 2,500 members of the Estonian Defence Forces have participated in international operations since 1995. Read more about missionshere.
Chronology of Estonia's accession to and cooperation with NATO
1991 – the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) was established at the NATO Rome summit. The NACC became the structure through which cooperation with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe was launched in the new political context. Estonia is one of the founding members of the NACC.
1994 – the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme was launched at the Brussels summit. Estonia was invited into the PfP and joined the programme on 3 February 1994.
1995 – NATO launched the Planning and Review Process (PARP) under the auspices of the PfP and Estonia also joined it.
1996 – Estonia started negotiations with NATO in preparation for accession. The action plan was named the Intensified Dialogue on the Questions of Membership.
1997 – the foundation for the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) was established at the meeting of NATO and partner foreign ministers in Sintra, Portugal. (Final communique in English here.)
1999 – 50 years since NATO was founded. At the Washington summit held to celebrate this, NATO recognised Estonia as a possible candidate for membership and the Membership Action Plan (MAP) commenced.
November 2002 – at the Prague summit, Estonia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia were invited to join NATO.
January to March 2003 – Estonia's accession negotiations with NATO were held. The Estonian negotiating delegation consisted of: Jüri Luik – adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time, head of the negotiating delegation (previously served as the foreign minister and defence minister, ambassador to the United Kingdom, member of the Riigikogu, ambassador to the US, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and NATO); Lauri Almann – adviser to the Ministry of Defence, Head of the Sub-group on Legal Issues; Margus Kolga – Undersecretary for Defence Policy at the Ministry of Defence, Head of the Sub-group on Defence, Information and Security Issues; Harri Tiido – Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Security Policy, Head of the Sub-group on Policy Issues; Margus Uudam – Undersecretary for Economic Policy at the Ministry of Finance, Head of the Sub-group on Financial Issues; Sulev Kannike – Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative to NATO; Oliver Kask – Acting Head of the Public Law Department of the Ministry of Justice; Toomas Kukk – Second Secretary of the First Bureau of the First Political Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Leo Kunnas – Major, Acting Commander of the Operations Department of the Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces; Alar Laneman – Colonel, Commander of the Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces; Tiit Noorkõiv – Head of the Defence Policy and Policy Planning Department of the Ministry of Defence; Gea Rennel – Head of the First Policy Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Hermann Simm – Head of the Department for Protection of State Secrets of the Ministry of Defence; Indrek Sirel – Lieutenant Colonel, Deputy Commander of the Analysis and Planning Department of the Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces; Sander Soone – advisor to the Permanent Representation of Estonia to NATO, secretary in charge; Kalev Timberg – Undersecretary for Internal Security at the Ministry of the Interior.
March 2003 – NATO member countries sign protocols of accession for Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in Brussels on 26 March.
March 2004 – the Riigikogu of the Republic of Estonia ratified the NATO North Atlantic Treaty (Washington Treaty) with all its annexes on 10 March.
29 March 2004 – the instruments of accession were deposited with the Government of the United States of America in Washington, D.C., which made Estonia a full member of NATO.
March 2004 – NATO aircraft started policing the airspace of the Baltic States.
April 2004 – the ceremony to welcome seven new NATO member countries was held in Brussels on 2 April. The Estonian flag was permanently hoisted alongside the flags of the other member countries in front of NATO Headquarters. Celebrations were also held in Estonia to mark this great historical event. Flag ceremonies, concerts and other public performances, as well as folk parties, took place in cities and county centres. The Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Estonian Defence Forces and the Estonian Defence League, organised a large public event at Vabaduse Square in Tallinn. The Defence League was a great help in organising public events in county centres. Military equipment was on display, everyone could try some “soldier's soup”, various speeches were delivered, bands were playing, souvenirs with NATO symbols were distributed, children’s drawing competitions and essay contests were held, etc. Allied planes made a celebratory overflight, special editions appeared in the print media, and there were also special television and radio broadcasts.
June 2004 – Estonia participated for the first time in the NATO summit in Istanbul as a full member of the alliance, with all the obligations, rights and opportunities that full membership entails.
May 2008 – the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE), which is an extremely important international security policy initiative of Estonia, was opened in Tallinn. The objective of the Centre is to be the main cyber security consultation, research and development institution for NATO and its member countries.
April 2009 – 60 years passed from the establishment of NATO and 5 years since Estonia joined. Special newspapers and photo exhibitions were used in Estonia in cooperation with the EATA to mark the occasions. And the preparations for the meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Tallinn started.
April 2010 – informal meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Tallinn. It was the largest high-level foreign policy event ever organised in Estonia. Among the participants were US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the foreign ministers of almost all NATO member countries and high-level representatives of international organisations.
29 March 2014 – 10 years passed since Estonia joined NATO. To mark the occasion, the Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association organised the family event NATO 65/10 at the Seaplane Harbour in Tallinn and published the book “Estonia’s NATO Story. 1991-2004“.
4 April 2014 – 65 years since NATO was established.
September 2014 – the Wales summit held in Newport on 4 & 5 September saw the adoption of the NATO Readiness Action Plan (RAP), which includes enhancing NATO’s rapid response capability, pre-deploying the necessary arms and equipment to NATO’s Eastern Allies and adapting NATO’s command structure to the new security situation. Guaranteeing the security of NATO Allies, collective defence, deterrence and enhancement of cooperation capabilities, conclusion of the mission in Afghanistan, the situation in Ukraine, further NATO enlargement and cooperation with candidate countries were discussed at the meeting. NATO reacted to the new changed situation in Ukraine at the summit in Wales in September 2014 by severing its working relationship with Russia and strengthening collective defence. Furthermore, all allies committed to increasing their defence expenditure to 2 per cent of their GDP within the next 10 years. You can read the declaration of the Wales summit here.
June 2015 – at the regular meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence, it was decided to establish NATO Force Integration Units on the territories of the Eastern Border Allies. The Estonian Force Integration Unit was established on 15 June. Force Integration Units had also started work in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary. The role of NATO Force Integration Units is to support the reception, support and training of NATO units on Estonian territory. The Force Integration Unit allows NATO forces to rapidly move to Estonia in the event of a crisis and also help to coordinate the activities and defence plans of the Allied Forces already present in Estonia. The Force Integration Unit also supports the conduct of exercises. The Force Integration Unit receives its tasks from the NATO Multinational Corps Northeast, but supports all levels of NATO, from tactical to strategic, with a broad-based information flow.
April 2019 – 70 years passed from the establishment of NATO and 15 years since Estonia joined.
June 2020 – the defence posture of NATO, protection of critical infrastructure and operations in Afghanistan and Iraq were discussed; the plan to also establish a space centre at NATO’s Allied Air Command was approved, and the recent decision to declare the Headquarters Multinational Division North, which is based in Latvia, a part of the NATO Military Force Structure that plans and leads defence activities in Estonia and Latvia was noted at the meeting of the Ministers of Defence.
September 2020 – the Estonian NATO Force Integration Unit celebrated its 5th anniversary and the persons who came to congratulate us included NATO Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum Lieutenant General Stuart Skeates, Deputy Commander of Multinational Corps Northeast Major General Ulrich Hellebjerg, Deputy Commander of Multinational Division Northeast Brigadier General Pavel Lipka, Minister of Defence Jüri Luik, Commander of the Defence Forces Major General Martin Herem and many other partners. In addition to the members of the Estonian Defence Forces, the NATO Force Integration Unit in Tallinn is staffed by allies from the US, the Netherlands, Canada, Norway, Poland, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Denmark, Hungary.
April 2021 – 20th anniversary of the Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association.
October 2021 – meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence in Brussels. NATO’s deterrence and defence posture, the situation in Afghanistan, NATO nuclear deterrence and NATO-EU cooperation were discussed. A new defence plan was approved, cyber defence and space policy were discussed, as well as NATO’s response to the missile threat from Russia. Conclusions are still being drawn from 20 years of engagement in Afghanistan, but it was acknowledged that it had strengthened NATO’s interoperability. The Memorandum of Understanding of the NATO Innovation Fund for the establishment the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) was signed, which will create a network of technology test centres and accelerators to better harness civil innovation for guaranteeing the security of NATO. The fund is expected to invest a billion euros in innovators across the Alliance working on new and breakthrough technologies. The research and development centres of the NATO member countries will be connected with DIANA to offer better support for the technological development of NATO. It is important to Estonia that through this, we can channel innovation to address defence issues that are important to Estonia. Estonia is holding negotiations to have a part of the development centres brought to Estonia. NATO Ministers of Defence also agreed on the Alliance’s first Artificial Intelligence Strategy, which establishes standards for responsible use of AI in accordance with international law. The Ministers also met with NATO’s close partners Finland, Sweden and the European Union to discuss global challenges and how to further strengthen cooperation.
Autumn 2021 – NATO mission terminated operations in Afghanistan. The Allies departed and all members of the Estonian Defence Forces have also left Afghanistan. Estonia helped organise the evacuation and reception of ten-dd Afghans who had helped Estonia.