Fifteen years ago, on 29 March 2004, after more than 10 years of effort and negotiations, the Republic of Estonia became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined the alliance at the same time while Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic had become members back in 1999. Our accession to NATO coincided with the reassessment of the organisation’s activities after the 40-year ideological confrontation between the East and the West. The end of Cold War was declared in 1990, and the alliance reviewed its strategy and goals, focusing on cooperation with its former adversaries, thus paving the way for its greatest enlargement ever. NATO membership grew from 16 to 26 countries. Besides military defence, the task of ensuring safety on a wider scale became more pertinent, including dissemination of the principles of democracy, freedom and rule of law. NATO’s expansion continued with the admittance of Albania, Croatia and Montenegro. North Macedonia is now awaiting the end of the formal accession procedure to become the 30th member of the organisation while already participating in joint decision-making. NATO’s “Open-door” policy has reduced tension, terminated conflicts and increased security through the improved welfare of all allies, proving to be a great boost to the attainment of the alliance’s goals.
NATO serves the interests of its members and adapts to changing security situation. In 2001, in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the USA, the allies, for the first and only time so far, used Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which stipulates the right for collective defence. They started the multinational operation in Afghanistan, joined by Estonia in 2003. Acknowledgement of the new threats of terrorism, energy-related issues and cybersecurity challenges resulted in NATO rethinking its activities once again. The new strategic concept adopted in 2010 set the balance between the three core tasks of NATO: collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security. Unfortunately, the “old” threats were not disappearing with the onset of newer ones. This became painfully clear when in 2014 Russia occupied the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula and started a war in Eastern Ukraine that is still raging today. NATO reacted to the new development at the summit in Wales in September 2014 by suspending its working relationship with Russia and strengthening collective defence. Furthermore, all allies committed to increasing their defence expenditure to 2 per cent of their GDP within the next 10 years. This so-called burden sharing means that each ally should improve their defence capability for protection against attacks on them and other allies. This approach improves our overall security. The decisions made at the summit in Wales were confirmed in 2016 in Warsaw. Among the updated decisions were the increased Forward Presence (eFP) in NATO’s East, the launch of the operation Sea Guardian in the Mediterranean region, the support for the anti-ISIL coalition, the declaration of cyberspace as one of NATO’s domains and the foundations for closer cooperation between NATO and the European Union.
In addition to Estonia’s self-defence capability, NATO is the main guarantor of our security. In addition to spending 2 per cent of the GDP on defence, the target that Estonia reached in 2015, we also cover the cost of Host Nation Support to allied forces in our country. The experience acquired here can benefit allies participating in NATO operations and missions. Implementation of the decisions made at the summit in Warsaw, including arrival of allied forces in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, has enhanced our security and substantially strengthened NATO’s deterrence and defence approach. The alliance’s eFP battle groups and the large number of countries eagerly contributing to Baltic Air Policing are among the finest examples of the unity of the allies. Estonia has been taking part in peacekeeping missions since 1995.
Support for NATO in Estonia remains strong. We contribute to security beyond our borders. Estonia has filled the role of the contact point embassy for NATO’s partners in Stockholm, Nur-Sultan and Minsk, and now in Helsinki, as was the case in 2004 and 2011. In the course of 10 years, we have rendered development and humanitarian aid totalling over 25 million euros. Estonia has security cooperation with such important NATO partners as Ukraine and Georgia, and also with Afghanistan and Iraq. In the last 10 years approximately 2,800 servicemen from the Estonian Defence Forces participated in foreign missions. Today there are 100 Estonian servicemen taking part in 9 field operations in 5 countries and regions, including some 40 servicemen in the NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. We are convinced that such operations ensuring peace and stability are an important component of maintaining international security, and we intend to maintain our participation in them at the current level at the least.
NATO is constantly adjusting to global challenges. At the summit in Brussels in 2018 we focused on how to further reinforce the deterrence stance of the alliance. For deterrence and defence to work our aim is to ensure via NATO planning that in the event of any threat, sufficient forces and capabilities are readily available in our region. At the end of this year the leaders will meet again. This time the summit will be symbolically held at the location of the first NATO headquarters in London. This is suitable opportunity to demonstrate that NATO is as important today as it was at the time of its establishment 70 years ago. The allies are united in their wish to protect the peace and security of their citizens. – This goal can never cease to be relevant. NATO has functioned well, displaying the ability to adjust, and it still counters all threats to Europe and North America. NATO is more than a purely military organisation. It can be said that this alliance is essentially a peace project. Estonia is honoured to be part of it alongside all our allies.