Estonia ex-leader calls for 'digital alliance' to combat cyber threats

07/26/2022 08:52 PM
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Former Estonia President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. CNA file photo
Former Estonia President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. CNA file photo

Taipei, July 26 (CNA) Visiting former Estonia President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on Tuesday called on the world's democracies to form a "digital alliance" that is bound not by geography, but by shared values, to combat growing cyber threats in a new digital era.

Speaking at a virtual security forum hosted in Taipei, Ilves said that in this age of digitalization, virtually all industries and communications, as well as politics, are mediated by digital platforms.

Heavy reliance on computer technology has led to new security threats, which has significantly changed the nature of modern warfare, said Ilves, who served as president of the Republic of Estonia from 2006 to 2016.

It does not mean, however, that traditional kinetic warfare has disappeared, as exemplified by the "brutal" Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ilves said.

The invasion of Ukraine can also be seen as the "first case in modern history of a great power with near-peer cyber capability waging a major conventional war," he said.

According to Ilves, Moscow's cyber operations had shut down Ukraine's electrical grid in 2015 and has since expanded.

After the invasion of Ukraine in late February, Russian forces disabled Ukrainian satellite communications and embarked on an online disinformation campaign, he said.

The growth of cyber threats has led to one dramatic change in the security issue, which is that "geography no longer matters," Ilves said.

However, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), for example, represents only a regional bloc, and it excludes other liberal democracies like Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan, he said.

"All of this leads me to argue that we need a digital alliance like NATO but one that is really and truly value-based, that includes all liberal democracies that wish to be a part of it, and is not bound by geography, but by shared values," he said.

After all, the threats faced by liberal democracies are no longer geographically bound, he stressed.

As technology changes, so should the nature of conflict and security, Ilves said.

"The West as a whole, meaning all of us here, continue to build, or at least plan to build, castles that are more in the air than grounded in reality, while our adversaries are busy producing ever better gunpowder," he said in the closing address at the virtual one-day "Ketagalan Forum: 2022 Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue."

(By Joseph Yeh)

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