What is psychological defence?


The Propastop library in July introduced „ Psychological Defence of Estonian Security Policy as in the approach of its architects’, a 2015 Master’s degree thesis by Taavi Narits, a student at the Academy of Internal Affairs.

Psychological Defence in Estonia has been unduly attributed to national brain washing or propaganda. Ilmar Raag began to organize the country’s psychological defence from the beginning of 2015, and introduced his finished Masters degree on this theme in the Spring of the same year. Today, more than three years later, when reading the Master’s degree thesis, you get a good overview of how the public arena was influenced at that time due to a lack of information.

The Master’s degree thesis as a whole is valuable as material for understanding the meaning and goals of psychological defence, both in the world and more specifically in Estonia. The first part of the work focuses on introducing various theoretical concepts and the second part analyzes the current state of psychological defence based on Estonian national documents and interviews conducted.

The author has set the aim of the Master’s degree thesis at explaining the meaning, function and potential implementation of the Psychological Defence of Estonian Security Policy as in the approach of its architects’ and to propose, based on the knowledge gained, proposals for the further development of the concept of Estonian Psychological defence.

The author uses three research questions to achieve his results:

  1. What is the meaning and function of psychological defence as shown in public Estonian national documents?
  2. How do Estonian Security Policy architects understand psychological defence?
  3. In what ways should psychological defence be realized in order to ensure Estonia’s security?

In addition to the extensive theoretical base collected in the Master’s degree thesis, the work analyzes national documents and conducted 12 interviews with experts, which provides a valuable insight into the state of psychological defence at the beginning of 2015 in Estonia. Experts include Ivi Anna Masso, Martin Arpo, Ilmar Raag, Ants Laaneots, Uku Arold, Vahur Koorits, Raimo Poom, Raul Rebane, Kaarel Tarand, Margit Sutrop, Ahto Lobjakas and Kerstin Oudekki Loone.

Although the full texts of the interviews have not been added, a good overview of the author’s summary and conclusions is included.

An analysis of theoretical materials revealed that psychological defence means the development, maintenance and protection of common values related to the coherence and feeling of security for society. The main function of psychological protection in national defence is to ensure the security of the information room and its protection against hostile influence, to increase the defence of the people and enlargement of coherence, to prevent moral panic, to educate society, to preserve the image of the nation and to protect international views / interests and increase citizens’ confidence in the state.

According to the author, the interviewees expressed the opinion that psychological defence is a concept  that is related to the field of communication and protection of values in a military context but a large part of the interviewees also admitted that this is a confusing and hard to comprehend concept.

The most commonly viewed perspectives of the interviewees were the psychological defence of the function of protecting the mental level of society from hostile information flow in a military situation where the Russian Federation was seen as the main threat to Estonia.

The interviewees pointed out that psychological defence should be based on a strong educational system in society and a culture of free debate culminating in agreed upon values.

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Also, the most common part of the opinions were that psychological defence should be carried out through explanations and informative work in an educational way through the media, prophylactic activities were also considered necessary, that is, the observation of the information field and accordingly the transmission of preventative messages.

At the end of the thesis, the author presented his proposals for the development of psychological defence:

  1. To formulate in cooperation with relevant interest groups, specific values that are most important for Estonia and whose focus on the defence and development of PD will be focused on further.
  2. To take into account the current problems in understanding PD and to pay more attention to providing journalists and opinion leaders with further information events and forums to involve these named interest groups in the development of PD
  3. To make media subject analysis compulsory in the curriculum for high schools and vocational secondary schools and include PD studies as a course in Universities.
  4. To popularize PD research related to the field of science in order to facilitate public discussion and further research at the academic level.
  5. To develop popular and easy to understand PD literature on paper (brochures, printed matter) as well as in digital form (flash drives, websites, social media accounts), to provide an overview of PD, its necessity and the dangers that make it essential for Estonian National Defence emphasizing the nature of its democratic values.
  6. Provide regular, free training for journalists and media professionals, providing an overview of the latest trends in the field of hostile informational influence activities and provide examples of educational events in both the foreign and local media landscape.
  7. Funding project related aspects relevant to the security of Estonia from the PD perspective and directing the field to be reflected and analyzed by an additional number of journalists and media experts.
  8. Create a PD website and a social media account that brings out intrusive and security related misleading information on a continuous basis as well as providing accurate and factual information as a counter measure.
  9. Continue collaborative development of PDs, focusing on network based development and avoiding the creation of a single independent PD center.
  10. Create opportunities for private media-,communication- as well as public relations companies to participate in PD
  11. Carry out PD primarily through educative and informative work using media assistance and avoiding compulsory mechanisms.
  12. Focus on preventative activities in the implementation of PD, which includes monitoring the information field and forwarding preventive messages from the government to the public.

These proposals set goals for Propastop’s editorial staff to raise people’s awareness by promoting critical thinking and exposing influence activities, active media monitoring and analysis as well as network collaboration in developing psychological defence.

Today more than three and a half years later one can ask where are we now.  The Propastop blog launched by volunteers with a media-monitoring environment, Propamon is developing two of the three significant capabilities and has also been featured in several international studies.

We hope that the Strategic Communication Team initiated at the beginning of the year at the State Chancellery will very soon put into realization the other recommendations as well.

Photo: Alex Indigo/Flickr/CC