Estonia’s former president named visiting fellow

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Estonia's former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves delivers a speech to the European Parliament in France in 2016. Starting in January 2017, Ilves will be the Bernard and Susan Liautaud Visiting Fellow at CISAC.
Photo credit: 
FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former president of Estonia, will join Stanford University as a visiting fellow in January.

Ilves, whose title will be the Bernard and Susan Liautaud Visiting Fellow, is set to work at the Center for International Security and Cooperation in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He served as the fourth president of Estonia from 2006 to 2016. During his career, he has been a diplomat and journalist, and was the leader of Estonia’s Social Democratic Party in the 1990s.

Ilves’ tentative start date at CISAC is Jan. 9, and his appointment will run through June 30. Afterwards, the Hoover Institution will extend his appointment for another full year. During his time on campus, Ilves said he plans to delve deeply into the intersections between information technology and security policy, areas that have long fascinated him during his career.

“Stanford has long been a place I enjoy visiting as one of the few if only universities to have top minds from both realms,” Ilves wrote in an email interview, noting how many Stanford scholars are studying these types of issues. He has some big projects in mind.

“After spending the past quarter of a century on digitizing Estonia, a country also faced with daunting security challenges, I plan to write a book on the foundations of a functioning digital society,” he said.

Ilves added, “Much of what we have seen in the past decade – massive hacks, data theft, privacy violations – come from fundamental weaknesses in the haphazard way our digital world has developed, where security is primarily an afterthought and a patch.”

He said that a secure and functional digital society has to be based on both legally and technically sound foundations. “I have argued and written for years that it’s the analog, legal basis of our digital world that determines if we are technologically secure.”

Parallel to this topic, Ilves said his most recent speeches and articles have examined the “challenges of an increasingly fissiparous and nationalist Europe.”

Michael McFaul, the director of FSI, said that Ilves’ interest in FSI and CISAC is a reflection of their scholarly reputations around the world.

"As president of Estonia, Toomas Ilves emerged as a world leader on issues related to cyber security, e-governance, and liberal ideas more generally. His intellectual and policy agenda fits perfectly with what we do at FSI,” McFaul said.

He noted, “We are very lucky to have him as the first Bernard and Susan Liautaud Visiting Fellow.”

Ilves also served in the Estonian government as the minister of foreign affairs from 1996 to 1998 and again from 1999 to 2002. In that position, he was in charge of European Union enlargement and NATO issues. Later, he was a member of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2006.

Ilves believes the challenge for all small European countries, Estonia included, is to maintain a functioning European Union as well as a strong NATO, the primary treaty basis of trans-Atlantic relations. Many significant political and security issues exist on the Continent, he noted.

“With elections across Europe increasingly demonstrating a turn toward nationalism and populism, the EU and NATO currently face their greatest challenge since their founding. As a small country that has consistently supported the EU and NATO as a matter of national security, for Estonia, this is a question of national survival,” said Ilves.

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MEDIA CONTACT

Clifton B. Parker, Center for International Security and Cooperation: (650) 725-6488, cbparker@stanford.edu