Building Civil Society Resilience in the Baltics
The Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association (EATA) is part of the Atlantic Treaty Association family of organizations. Being established in 2001, the main purpose was to prepare Estonian society to join NATO by introducing NATO as an organization and its values to the people. After joining NATO in 2004, EATA’s activities have been very closely related to NATOs public diplomacy and promoting NATO among the Estonian people.
Over the years, EATA has concentrated on different topics related to important and timely topics at any given moment. By organizing public events, conferences, seminars, workshops and roundtables for the general public, experts and officials, many discussions were held and awareness of NATO and its issues has risen.
In previous years, one of the main topics for EATA has been the eFP troops on the Eastern flank of NATO. Based on the Warsaw Summit decision in 2016, Estonia hosts over 1,000 allied troops since spring 2017. As a nation with 1.4 million people, it is a big change which needs to be properly dealt with by civil society. EATA has held many informative lectures on this topic and also organized visits for civilians to army bases to meet our allies. It is important that we extend support to the troops of our Allies and that this supports stems from the ordinary Estonian citizen as well. Meeting and talking to them directly is a good way to achieve that.
The other important topic since Estonia gained its independence in 1991 has been Russian actions and its hostile influence campaigns against the West. As in previous years, this has been an important topic on NATO’s agenda, which is more relevant now than ever, so it has also been a topic for EATA and its activities. Even though the Baltics have experienced Russian influence for decades and are more or less resilient against this kind of actions, it is still important to inform our civil society against possible threats and counter active propaganda. NATO is a whole and this kind of experience and knowledge from the Baltics can also help our Allies to better understand Russian actions and influences in our societies. As we have seen during the previous year, Russia’s actions are more successful in the Western countries, whose societies lack this kind of experience, compared to the Baltic countries. But it is also important to keep up a schedule of informative activities in the Baltics for the youth.
Citizens who are informed and think critically are the key to a more resilient society.
The Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association has organized different events and debates regarding Russian actions in our societies and at the military level. During the last year, EATA has organized many informative seminars for different audiences about hostile influences in general but also specifically on Daesh activities and recruitment campaigns or Russian propaganda. The purpose of these events is to inform our society and build resilience from inside. Exposing propaganda is one of the most effective methods to counter this kind of activities stemming from an outside actor. Citizens who are informed and think critically are the key to a more resilient society.
NATO has to be more flexible than ever as threats are more complex than before.
It is important that NATO as an organization, together with its Member States, understands these threats in the same way. Coordinated and unified actions are what make us strong, both from the level of government and of civil society. As we have seen, NATO has to be more flexible than ever as threats are more complex than before. Hybrid threats, including cyber attack, propaganda, hostile influence etc. are threatening us every day and demand coordinated counteractions. We already have different NATO center of excellences, such as for Cyber Security in Estonia and StratCom in Riga for example, and different Think-Tanks or program, which are dealing with these kinds of threats from different angles. However, dealing with the civil society is also an important factor for building resilience in our societies against different threats.
NATO affiliated associations can play a great role here. In our democratic societies, maintaining our values such as openness precludes shutting down some webpages or channels, but they also mean that people need to have clear and true information. As ambassadors of NATO to the civil society, NATO associations can do a lot to mediate and transmit NATO messages and values to the society and help to inform people about exposures to hostile influence campaigns and propaganda.