NATO’s Centres of Excellence in the Baltics
NATO does not only have military infrastructure on the basis of those nation states that are members of the alliance, but also a network of special centres scattered throughout Europe; however, these centres remain are under the formal jurisdiction of NATO HQ in Brussels. This mechanism does not only allow the organisation to entrench itself in different countries and engage professional soldiers in NATO processes, but also to involve civilians, even those from countries that are not members of the alliance. To do this, the method of strategic communications is used: a complex approach linking together education, mass-manipulation technologies, propaganda, science, and security.
A characteristic example of such a policy of “rooting” can be found in the Baltics: three specialised centres were opened in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. They are called Centres of excellence and focused on special vectors.
NATO has 19 fully-functioning centres and a further three are being formed. In this publication, however, we will examine only three.
The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence is the first organisation of this kind in the post-Soviet space, located in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. NATO representatives or American experts often state, that the decision to create the Centre was related to the incident surrounding a memorial to Soviet soldiers in 2007. Apparently, Russian hackers disabled Estonia’s cyberinfrastructure: banks were unable to operate and servers used by state services were paralysed. Actually, the request for the creation of a cybercentre in Tallinn was made far earlier in 2004, immediately after Estonia had joined the alliance. In 2006, NATO HQ definitively approved the decision, and negotiations about the creation of the Centre began in 2007.
The first memorandum was signed in May 2008 and NATO began to finance the Centre after its accreditation in October 2008. Then, it received the status of an international military organisation.
In relation to this, a question arises: might the myth of the Russian hackers not be an additional propagandistic element that secured stable finances for the Centre from EU countries? Judging by the fact that in 2007 and later a sharp rise in publications on this subject was visible in the Western media and that NATO experts and various centres for political analysis in Western countries and the US spoke of “Russian interference” and the need to create effective security measures, this hypothesis might be entirely grounded in fact.
The appearance of the so-called Tallinn cyber guidelines is also linked to this Centre. Although this document is only a presentation of expert opinions and not a field manual or strategy, it is frequently cited in the West as a fundamental set of rules for cyber conflict.
The Centre hosts technical trainings for specialists, as well as courses on the legal ramifications of actions in cyberspace. In this respect, it is worth it to remember, that clear international norms for the Internet that are respected by all members of the UN or at least the main players in world have not yet been developed. The work of the Tallinn Centre is geared towards monopolising an exclusively Western legal point of view.
With this goal in mind, materials dedicated to this subject are posted on the Centre’s site; these documents also provide the foundation for NATO’s approaches to cyber security. Apart from this, from 2012 onwards the Centre regularly executes cybermanoeuvres that, based on the uniquely global nature of the Internet, are not limited to NATO countries.
In 2012, the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence was created in Vilnius. Its mission is to help NATO Strategic Command and other subdivisions, NATO member states, and an array of other partners. Its main goal is to give expert advice on all issues of energy security, including logistics for military needs and cooperation between academic circles and the industrial sector.
The Centre organises courses and has places for student trainees (living and study expenses are paid by NATO).
In addition, thematic journals and research results are published; the latter publications frequently speak of the need for Europe to liberate itself from its “energy dependence on Russia”.
Russia as a threat to Ukraine’s energy security is one of the constant subjects of the latest issues. However, other regions of the post-Soviet space are not forgotten, as well as Europe itself.
Although the leitmotif of “energy war” with Russia is not present in the centre’s official tasks, it is clearly marked not just in the institution’s published materials, but also in the events it hosts. What is more, there are clear, constant attempts to pull neutral countries bordering Russia into the alliance’s orbit.
For example, a conference dedicated to “Innovative energy solutions for military application” which will be held in 2018 is organised with participation by the Georgian Ministry of Defence.
The NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, one of the newer subdivisions, is based in Riga. It began operating in January 2014 and received NATO accreditation on 1 September 2014. Its co-founders are representatives of Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Great Britain.
As is indicated on the Centre’s website, its functions and capacities include: public diplomacy, working with mass-media outlets to provide information about NATO activities, civil-military relations, informational operations, and psychological operations.
The Centre is accorded special significance because of the complex character of the tasks it executes. The Centre regularly hosts conferences and publishes journals and special research reports. The subjects it treats are very broad: memetic warfare, methods of informational warfare applied by ISIS, extremist narratives, EU security, cyberwarfare, nationalism, biometric technologies etc. Russia also receives special interest.
Thus, in November 2016, two documents dedicated to Russia were published: “When Hybrid Warfare Supports Ideology: Russia Today” and “The Kremlin Playbook. Understanding Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe”. These papers were preceded by materials on “Russian interference in Ukraine”, sanctions, information technologies of the Russian Army, work with European NGOs etc. The main peak in such publications took place in 2015 and 2016.
It is telling that these materials are interchanged with analogous studies dedicated to terrorist organisations and extremist groups. This is done deliberately so that, on a subconscious level, both the Centre’s target group and random visitors get the impression that there exists an interlinkage between both groups.
The use of partner materials provided by such entities as the RAND corporation, the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the British Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), and special NATO scientific centres in different countries creates an appearance of shared trust and interests, as well as helping to boost the site’s content.
It is interesting, that the Centre itself was created literally on the eve of the coup in the Ukraine, when the country was already in the grasp of protest actions supported from abroad.
Apart from their special areas of expertise, all three centres are also simultaneously NATO networked elements and political strongpoints that secure ideological and social influence on the citizens of their host countries.
Translated from the Russian by Yulian Orlov.