20th Anniversary of the Baltic Defence College

Today is a special day for the Baltic Defence College (BALTDEFCOL). 20 years ago, on 25th of February 1999, the College was formally opened. Today we celebrate its 20th Anniversary. A lot has changed over the past 20 years. BALTDEFCOL has developed into a widely known, attractive, modern and future-oriented Professional Military Education institution for military and civilian leaders from the Baltic states, as well as NATO and partner countries.

On this significant occasion, we asked Major General Andis Dilāns, Commandant of BALTDEFCOL, to share his thoughts on the past, present and future of the College. 

What is your personal experience with the Baltic Defence College before you became the Commandant of the College?

My very first experience was based on the relations with the first Commandant of the College Brigadier General Michael H. Clemmesen, who at that time held the position of the Danish Defence Attaché. I was serving then in the Baltic Battalion (BALTBAT), which was the first common Baltic defence cooperation project. Clemessen believed in the necessity and possibility for the Baltic states to establish a general staff level military education institution based on the best practices, traditions, leadership and ethics of the Western countries. He was actively advertising the idea and looking for personnel for the College faculty as well as for the first course members. When, at the end of 1998, I finished my duties in BALTBAT, I started working in the Ministry of Defence of Latvia in the International Relations Branch where I was responsible for Baltic defence cooperation projects including the BALTDEFCOL. In spring 1999, we were introduced to the College’s possibilities. As the opportunity arose, I volunteered for the first staff officers’ course, became a student, and graduated in 2000.

In a very similar way, selected and picked by Brigadier General Clemessen, of course approved by Latvian authorities, I became a course member of the pilot course of the Higher Command Studies Course in 2004. After the graduation, I was “left” in Tartu to plan and organize the follow-on course in 2005 and remain in the College in the capacity of the Director of Higher Command Studies Course until summer 2007. All in all, it is my fourth return to the College and you can say that my experience working and studying in this institution is from Major to Major General in 20 years. Needless to mention, I have been very honoured and proud to have this chance to lead this great educational institution and my thanks goes to the framework nations (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) for their trust in me.

During the beginning of the College, what were the most important factors for the Baltic Defence College project to succeed?

The key factor, actually the key person during the beginning of the College was Brigadier General Clemmesen who had an excellent overview of personnel and students and an outstanding contact network in the Baltic and Nordic states and beyond. I have learned from him that you must have the will and ambition to make an effort and invest a lot into the preparation if you wish to succeed. The right moment or opportunity is of great significance - do not miss it. You cannot just hope that something is going to happen by itself; you must have the vision, intent and will-power to get there. Think things over, plan properly and act accordingly. This is especially important with a pilot project. Altogether we saw lot of team effort, not only by the framework nations, but also of the Nordic countries and other contributing nations and international supporters. It was a truly common endeavour. In fact, the multilateral approach for small nations is a must. An alliance with like-minded nations and friends really makes you stronger and more capable. It is a two way process. Now we are self-sustainable and at the same time, we acknowledge the support of other nations. I am sure that back then and also now the international community is appreciating our college and possibilities it offers.

How do you see the development of the College?

As I have just mentioned, small nations have to rely on cooperation and at the beginning, the Colleges greatest asset was the support from our friends and allies. Within few years, however, the College went through the so-called “baltification”, meaning that it matured enough to take the bulk of expenses and management on the shoulders of the Baltic states. Even though the College is owned by Estonia, Latvian and Lithuania, I have never regarded it as “solely Baltic”. The College must remain a multinational Professional Military Educational (PME) Institution focused on its triple “E” mission- Educate, Engage and Enhance.

EDUCATE the military and civilian students and deliver the high quality educational programs at operational, joint and strategic level in meeting our customers’ requirements.

ENGAGE in Security and Defence Policy-related research and academic activities in the field of PME, with the main focus on Baltic Sea Region and Russia as well as have a wider look and address the importance of Transatlantic link for the region.

ENHANCE Multinational Cooperation by applying NATO Standards and Procedures and conducting education in English for needs of Allied nations and partners.

And, for all the above mentioned, in my opinion, we must get the NATO institutional accreditation and offer courses certified by NATO and it should then have some unique capabilities to be the hub of expertise in certain areas.

We are staying on this track very well, I believe. Right now, we are truly multinational – we have 14 nations in the staff and when adding students we have 23 nations in the College. We have started the process of NATO certification and accreditation and it is under way. We are already recognized as the hub of expertise on Russia and, for instance the Annual Conference gathers around 300 professionals, academics, students and subject matter experts from numerous countries to discuss this very topical matter. Most importantly, this flagship conference is an integral part of our curriculum for our core courses.

Finally, the biggest success of defence is not in technological power, but it is in skills and wisdom of people to remove the causes of a war. I am sure we are giving a substantial part to it and contributing well to the regional security efforts and deterrence by educating our future leaders thus enabling them to deal with unexpected. In fact, the quality of education is the outmost priority for me and for the team and to the College as a whole and we are putting a lot of emphasis and investing significant efforts to enhance it.

What should be the main qualities of the professional military education nowadays?

Our vision is to be modern, attractive and adaptive. I have already described our mission triple “E” principle, therefore I would like to focus on being adaptive. Usually everybody studies wars that have been fought, it is not a new phenomenon. Sure, we have learnt from these lessons, but at the same time, we have to be ready for new scenarios and developments, not only in the Baltic Sea region, but also to have a global outlook. In addition, we must be ready to help our allies and partners. We are not only a security consumer, we are also security contributors and we have to be prepared for such a course of action, if required. Everything in the global world and with current technological capabilities is interconnected. Moreover, we have partners and responsibilities towards them. Thus, we have to be flexible and ready to adapt to various challenges in different parts of the world. Undoubtedly, the geography plays a big role, so we will still have a strong focus on our region, especially now when our biggest neighbour is continuously producing turmoil while striving to become a great power. We should not reduce the focus here.

One rationale for the establishment of the college was the cultural change in military education. Culture and traditions do not change overnight, they change because of the leadership, clear guidance and the people who cultivate and implement them. Therefore, I would like to thank all men and women for their commitment, dedication, service and duties for the College and for the nations.

Happy birthday, dear College!


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