Security in Flux: International Integration and the Transformations of Threat in Estonia

By Kuus, Merje | Demokratizatsiya, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Security in Flux: International Integration and the Transformations of Threat in Estonia


Kuus, Merje, Demokratizatsiya


National security has been a keyword in Estonian politics throughout the past decade. Although it has remained a prominent topic, the specific ways in which the concept of security is used in political debates have changed considerably as Estonia has integrated with the European Union (EU) and NATO. Estonia's foreign policies largely are undertaken in the name of security, yet these same foreign policies also change how security is discussed and acted upon. Furthermore, different political groups use the category of security for different, and sometimes divergent, arguments.

In this article, I analyze how security is problematized in Estonia-that is, how security is constituted as a specific type of a problem requiring specific types of solutions-and how these problematizations have changed in the course of Estonia's pursuits of EU and NATO membership. I do not ask the conventional questions of whether Estonia is becoming more secure, whether its people are feeling more secure, or whether Estonia's foreign and security policies accurately reflect its national interest and geopolitical context. Rather, I ask how the category of security is used in political debates and with what political effects. My concern therefore lies not with what different individuals "really" think, but with how they invoke security in their public statements.1 I analyze two foreign policy issues-EU and NATO membership and Estonian-Russian relations-of which the debates revolve largely around the notion of security. Instead of assuming monolithic categories of "the Estonian view" or "the Estonian interest," I investigate the differences among the claims put forth about, and in the name of, security. I thereby dissect the role of specific political groups, institutions, and individuals in defining what are Estonia's security concerns and how security should be approached in policymaking. The analysis shows that although security in Estonia is habitually viewed as thoroughly straightforward and unproblematic,2 that category in fact has multiple meanings and is hence used for multiple political strategies. Foreign and security policies are conducted internationally, but they are legitimized domestically. An in-depth understanding of these policies requires a nuanced grasp of their domestic legitimization.

The rest of the article is divided into three sections. The next section briefly outlines how the uses of (the concept of) security in the Estonian media, academia, and parliamentary debates have changed during the 1990s. I argue that Estonia's security has become framed not in terms of interstate military competition but in the more cooperative "soft" terms of multilateral cooperation in the new Europe. As the EU and NATO security rhetoric have changed,3 so have Estonia's articulations as to why it wants to be a member of these organizations. In particular, NATO membership has become construed not in terms of military defense, but as a codification of Estonia's European values and European geopolitical location. Likewise, in relations with Russia, statements about Estonia's national security have shifted from an inflexible and at times confrontational stance to a more cooperative mode. The third section concentrates on differences among the groups that employ the notion of security in Estonia. I argue that even though security is a matter of a strong consensus in Estonia, statements directed to different audiences frame security differently. By analyzing the role of Estonia's statecraft intellectuals-the state bureaucrats, leaders, foreign policy experts, and advisors who comment upon, influence, and conduct the activities of statecraft4-in the making of security in Estonia, I highlight their key role in reshaping how security is conceived in political debates. The concluding sec tion highlights the implications of these findings to our understanding of Estonian politics.

I do not analyze policy in this article. I outline the assumptions, claims, and modes of analysis that are used to construe certain policies relevant and feasible while framing other policies as irrelevant and unfeasible. …

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