Editorial: finding friends not foes

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Photo: Mihkel Maripuu / Postimees

To those current with foreign and security policy, not much is added by fresh Security Police annual review. Even so, the book comes with at least two benefits. Firstly, it puts the important information in a format easy to read by those unable to keep up with the constant news, studies and analyses. The annual review is recommended reading to those desiring a brief overview of information war and its tools. Secondly, on the basis of it weighty conclusions can be drawn, partially extendable to the agency’s own activities.

From Estonia’s point of view, global events important in 2014 come under two keywords: subversive leverage in Western states following Russian aggression in Ukraine, and activities by extremist terrorist groupings. Meanwhile, these are the two main issues most pressing for the entire Western world starting 2014, and regarding European security issues the region is broadly split in two. The more Westward, the more Islamist extremism issues played a role; the closer to Russian borders, the sharper the sense of danger from behind these. The phenomenon, named «diverging threat» by analysts, pointed to defence policy based on the connected vessels principle: defence resources being always limited, the Russian danger and Islamist danger are competing for priority as problems and thus the countermeasures. 

The proportion of the two problems for Estonia is also reflected in emphasis of the review. Not surprising that the greater emphasis is on hybrid and information war. Also predictably, the review is more cautious and calculated than before – rather to be expected in information war context. More than the hindsight coverage of events, the events as such may have raised issues: one wonders, why risk with the expulsion of some second or third class lecturer when the risk of him being here may probably have been lesser that the damage done by information attacks triggered by the expulsion.

This, in turn, leads us to the other important aspect of the review, as hinted above and concerning public reaction to the annual review and to Security Police activity as a whole. Among the information war tricks described in the review is so simple as to border on the banal: with Russia assuming is as its strategic goal to find supporters in the West, it went by a very simple principle: find friends not foes in the West and once these are found, strengthen the ties.  Leaving alone the others tools in information warfare – and some of these, like propaganda based on lies and half-truths, democracies cannot adopt if for the questionable ethics – one aspect is worth remembering. Namely: an institution’s message is as weighty as is trust towards that institution. Not always in society does the divide run between a country’s domestic and external forces; often, it is between state and community activities. For a community to take vital messages seriously, friends not foes need to be found in the community. Not always easy, from the position of power.