Internal and external perceptions of small state security: the case of Estonia

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Series Details Volume 28, Number 4, Pages 449-472
Publication Date December 2019
ISSN 0966-2839 (print) | 1746-1545 (online)
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This article concerns small state security from a cognitive perspective and investigates Estonia as a security actor as perceived by all littoral Baltic Sea states. Drawing on unique elite survey and interview data, the article unpacks similarities and differences among internal (Estonian) and external perceptions of security, threats, and capabilities. The investigation is theoretically informed by research on perceptions, specifically image theory and role theory.

Our analysis indicates that there are generally speaking quite similar perceptions among internal and external respondents regarding Estonia’s security situation, threat context, and the importance of EU and NATO membership. When it comes to capabilities in the security field, Estonian respondents have a somewhat more positive view than external respondents. Notably, Russian perceptions stand in stark contrast to those of others regarding most dimensions. Relating our results to previous research on national role conceptions, the perceptions we have explicated correspond to three distinct role conceptions – protectee/faithful ally, sub-system collaborator and regional leader.

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