A Forgotten Vision – Development of Estonian Maritime Defence Until 2010


  • Liivo Laanetu




maritime defence, coastal defence, national maritime defence, navy, territorial defence


The only naval capability that has been developed for the Estonian Defence Forces since its re-establishment in the 1990’s – naval mine countermeasures – has come under heavy public criticism during recent years. The Navy has mainly been accused of not being capable of contributing to the initial selfdefence of the country. However, it is a fact that in the 1990’s before Estonia officially started the process of joining the North Atlantic alliance, the military leadership was looking for a Navy with more balanced capabilities and it should have had a clearly defined role in the initial self-defence as well. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Finland offered a limited number of courses especially tailored for key leaders from the Estonian Defence Forces in order to enhance their level of military professional education. The aim of this article is to introduce the naval thought presented in the thesis of a former Commander of the Estonian Navy (1998–2003), Captain Jaan Kapp, written during the first-of-its-kind higher military studies course for Estonian military personnel at the Finnish National Defence University in 1999. Kapp, a former high-ranking Border Guard officer with a civilian maritime background, had little military education before his appointment as Chief of the Navy in 1998. In order to counterbalance his personal lack of military expertise, he asked for support from several contributors, mainly newly graduated junior officers from the Navy as well as from the Border Guard. According to Kapp, the overall aim of his thesis was to provide a vision for how the Estonian Navy and national maritime defence should be developed during the first decade of the new millennium. Kapp and his co-workers tried to find solutions to strengthen the naval self-defence capabilities of a small and non-allied country with very scarce resources, as Estonia was at the end of the 20th century. Despite Kapp’s high level ambitions, his vision was never fully implemented, and was probably abandoned as a basis for future development when he was still in office as Commander of the Navy. According to Captain Kapp, the overall military defence should have been based on the principles of territorial defence, including division of the country into territorial defence commands. In Kapp’s vision, the Navy’s role was to act primarily as an extension of the land forces against threats from the maritime environment. All territorial defence commands bordering the sea should have incorporated a maritime defence subcommand with a clearly defined geographical area of responsibility (territorial sea, coastline, designated coastal land area). The maritime defence organization was designed to consist of units being able to operate in the littoral – the fleet and the coastal defence units. It remains unclear if the fleet’s area of operations was limited to the defined territorial area of responsibility or not. The Western military district of the Estonian Defence Forces, due to its geographical conditions, was to be focused on maritime defence and commanded by a naval officer. It was clear that for a country with only limited resources development of a traditional balanced fleet was not thinkable. According to Captain Kapp, sea mines are the primary naval weapon for a small country. The main tasks of the Navy would have been related to the conducting of different naval mine warfare operations – mine hunting, minesweeping and mine laying. Captain Kapp envisioned three types of ships for the Estonian fleet in 2010 – mine warfare vessels as the high value assets, supported by auxiliary ships, and all of these protected by fast patrol boats. Openly recognising his lack of military and naval background, Kapp requested assistance from the best available experts in Estonia. Due to the overall shortage of professional naval officers in the Estonian Defence Forces, most of those individuals were actually junior officers, and in some cases, even cadets in their senior year at the naval academy. Instead of military theory, Kapp’s work was based on the then legal framework and reference books, as well as personal experience and previous studies of the author himself and his advisors. References were mainly of Finnish or Russian/ Soviet origin. Captain Kapp’s vision for developing maritime defence was written at the same time Estonia, along with the other Baltic states, was starting the official process of joining NATO, a progression that in a few years resulted in the major transformation of Estonia’s security posture – the role of a non-aligned small country was changed to membership in the world’s mightiest defence alliance. At the same time the West, including NATO itself, was adapting to the new world order, where due to the absence of a conventional military threat, an overall optimism about global and regional security perspective was taking place. Due to different reasons, only those priorities of development of maritime defence were operationalised which were implemented by Kapp himself. The abovementioned principal changes in Estonia’s security policy and the transformation from threat-based to capability-based defence planning were the main reasons why the rest of the vision was never realised. Notwithstanding some weaknesses, Captain Kapp’s vision is worth remembering primarily for two reasons: 1) it is a unique source of Estonian naval thought during that time, including its level and directions; 2) it is a deterrent example of how the value of a military vision is short-lived when it is not in line with the directions on the political level.


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