The Baltic Security Foundation reaches five years with new partnerships

  • 2024-02-13
  • Otto Tabuns, director of the BSF

Security of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has been increasingly important internationally, and this also applies to the wider Baltic Sea region. The nations of the region, their independence and collective security arrangements (or the lack of them) have had a global security and defense impact for over a century now. Baltic security matters to allies and partners because it forms the external border of both the NATO and the EU, and is the best developed gateway to the Arctic region. This is also what makes the region a very useful target for those international players which prefer to challenge the European and Transatlantic cooperation for their own benefit. Since the full scale invasion the Russo-Ukrainian war has simultaneously highlighted the regional vulnerabilities that have been identified separately with a varying intensity before February 2022. Such include societal security, energy security, cybersecurity, the sustainability of critical infrastructure and security of supply for critical goods and services.

The Baltic Security Foundation (BSF), established in 2019 by Olevs Nikers and Otto Tabuns, focuses on the said points in its mission to promote and foster Baltic security and defense. The foundation achieves this primarily via research and public education. The non-governmental organization is mostly funded privately and is not affiliated with any governments or political organizations. 

Lessons learned from the Russian aggression in Ukraine are among the BSF research priorities at this time. The BSF team also helps the Ukrainians who have found refuge in Latvia due to the war. More than 700 Ukrainian refugees have improved their English skills, enhancing their employment opportunities and informational security under the guidance of head teacher Kristofers D┼żons Akenfelds, volunteer manager Joseph Horgan and many volunteers. The project has been funded primarily by the United States government as well as some Latvian, Dutch and American private donations since August 2022. 

The BSF Transatlantic Security Exchange saw new participants in 2023. Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service students led by Professor Gabriela Thornton developed and completed their Masters Capstone research project in Riga with the BSF the fourth year in a row. The research, analyzing the tendencies of conventional, societal, economic and cybersecurity is going to be published in Spring 2024. Furthermore, graduate students Teague Broquard from the Texas A&M and Sigmund Brandvold from the Groningen University completed their internships with the BSF and gained research and organizational experience in several BSF activities with good results. 

The BSF also established new partnerships with Stanford University and the Tufts University. As a result, academically outstanding visiting scholars Ashley Meyer and Natasha Wood carried out research with the BSF on matters of regional, European and Transatlantic security and defense. Another new cooperation has been established with the American Latvian Association (ALA) to provide professional experience for young leaders focused on European and American security cooperation. Erik Lazdins set a high standard representing ALA as a BSF visiting fellow, contributing to research, charitable activities and international outreach of the BSF.  

Publications form another result of the BSF work. Our sixth book deals with the influence of the People's Republic of China in the Baltic Sea region and the implications for national and Transatlantic security. This was researched and published together with one of the leading American think tanks – the Jamestown Foundation. Support for this collaboration was provided by the Baltic-American Freedom Foundation. The resulting book was opened at the United States Congress in March 2023 together with the House of Representatives Baltic Caucus. Furthermore, the BSF team was invited to present the book at the 34th World Congress of Political Science in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The publications and the associated discussion has made it possible for BSF team members to join forums for security stakeholders and decision makers. Most recently, Olevs Nikers joined the Baltic Sea Region Task Force at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. in September 2023. At the first meeting, the European and American experts of the task force focused on maritime security, energy security and transatlantic defense cooperation and is reconvening to develop recommendations for action. 

Additionally, Otto Tabuns joined the Cyber Security and the Middle Corridor Conference, hosted by the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy in Switzerland. The conference was a collaboration between The Heritage Foundation, The Danube Institute and the Parliamentary Intelligence-Security Forum. Tabuns joined Dr. Emily Goldman, the director of the US Cyber Command/National Security Agency Combined Action Group, Pavel Popescu, a member of the Assembly of Deputies of Romania, and Zaklina Peshevska, a member of parliament at the Assembly of North Macedonia to discuss cyber issues and opportunities in Europe. This was followed by briefings on lessons learned from information operations, analysis of global cyber policy trends, as well as a panel discussion on NATO digital integration.

BSF team continued the established cooperation with the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, noted for their strong focus on European security and extensive work on the Baltic region. BSF fellow Markuss Kozlinskis contributed the Baltic defense perspective to the FPRI Track 2 Dialogue in Partnership with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the US Department of Defense on Nuclear Stability and Escalation Risks in Europe, held in Brussels. Otto Tabuns contributed to the conference "Changing Tides in the Black Sea Region" hosted in Tbilisi, discussing issues common to the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea states including NATO Eastern Flank resilience, regional energy security and comparative analysis of Russian influence.  

A particular highlight in 2023 was the BSF's participation at the 32nd Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference, hosted at the German federal parliament (Deutscher Bundestag). The conference was opened by the president of the German parliament Ms. Bärbel Bas, followed by addresses of German, Finnish and Estonian ministers of foreign affairs. The participants debated Baltic Sea Region cooperation, relations with regional neighbours, as well as societal and environmental priorities in addition to energy security and defense. Otto Tabuns discussed democratic and digital resilience together with member of the Icelandic Parliament Hanna Katrin Fridriksson, member of the Åland Parliament Wille Valve, members of the German Parliament Anna Kassautzki and Stefan Seidler, Advisor of the European Commission Paul Nemitz, as well as the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Youth Forum representatives. The participants of the conference were also hosted by the President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Bellevue Palace, reiterating the shared understanding of many of the concerns raised at the conference.

The Education Program that the BSF launched in Summer 2023 has amalgamated the public education activities promoted by the foundation. Most notably, BSF formalized cooperation with the History and Social Studies Teacher Association of Latvia. The Association represents Latvia at the EuroClio - European Association of History Educators, as one of the 83 member associations across 47 countries of the Council of Europe. As the first step of the cooperation, Otto Tabuns hosted a workshop for 30 members of the association on current global security and international law issues which are relevant for the curriculum of history and social studies in schools. In addition to this, Tabuns participated in the Association's discussion on the national study curriculum, joined by the Minister of Education of Latvia. The cooperation will allow for the BSF to contribute to the further professional training of educators on topics associated with the mission of the foundation. 

The BSF's cooperation with the Civic Resilience Initiative (CRI) in Lithuania is strengthened by our newest collaboration in countering disinformation and increasing youth media literacy, supported by Google. On the one hand, CRI and BSF have started systematically tracking disinformation and influence campaigns in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to identify disinformation sources and trends. Olevs Nikers, fellow Ieva Remerte (Geneva Graduate Institute) and intern Lillian Mullins (George Mason University) form the core of the BSF team in this effort. The results of the monitoring is going to be analyzed and the findings made publicly available. This will serve as a basis for recommendations on how to better fight disinformation at national and European levels. On the other hand, the partners develop a interactive game to improve Baltic youth media literacy skills by gamified learning. The resulting game will be offered for free to educational institutions in the Baltic states, including a free training for educators who wish to include the game as a method of their work.