No Alternative to Unity: Transatlantic Security Beyond 2020
Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu at Heritage Foundation, 9 October 2019
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,
It is my distinct honour and pleasure to speak to you here today, as a representative of one free country in the capital of another. Indeed, it is this shared love for freedom – democracy, human rights, the freedom of speech and religion, our un-wavering support for the free press and open government – that unites Estonia and the United States, and the two shores of the Atlantic in general.
So yes – I will speak about freedom today, and about the challenges that confront us, and I will call for unity amongst freedom-loving nations, but before I do, I would like to thank our gracious hosts – The Heritage Foundation.
I cannot think of a better place for giving this speech – for years, you have been at the forefront of the freedom agenda, you have been strong supporters of a strong NATO, and leaders in recognizing that we are always stronger when we base our policies on what we think is right. Thank you for that!
I would also like to recognize some of Heritage Foundation´s staff here in the room. I see Vice President Jim Carafano here, and also Luke Coffey, who – it must be said – was among the first American think-tankers to start promoting the idea of Allied military presence in the Baltics – something that not only has by now become the norm, but a highly successful core element of NATO´s posture. Luke, you were way ahead of almost everyone else on that, and if I were you, I wouldn´t let anybody forget that. Thank you for your work!
Ladies and gentlemen,
This year marks a number of important anniversaries.
We are celebrating NATO´s 70th birthday; and for these seven decades, this Alliance of Western democracies has proven to be the most successful in human history, facing down the Soviets and defeating terrorists, providing for our common defence and helping spread stability around the world. Indeed, the existence of NATO has allowed democracy to survive.
This past August, we also celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way – a seminal event where millions of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians stood hand in hand in defiance of Soviet authorities and demanded freedom for our captive nations, striking fear into the hearts of KGB goons and attracting wide-spread international attention, so much so that even today, as people struggle for freedom around the world, the Baltic Way is often a source of inspiration.
A few days ago, we joined our German friends in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – a moment that led to the peaceful re-unification of Germany, and the collapse of communism in Central Europe, making not just German, but indeed all of Europe´s re-unification possible.
And finally, this year marks the 15th anniversary of us joining both NATO and the European Union – a moment that generations of Estonians had dreamed about and worked for, a moment of finally re-uniting with Europe, and regaining our rightful place in the Western world. That was indeed a dream come true, a sweet reward after decades of bitter struggle, a guarantee that’s meant to ensure that what happened to us in 1940, could never happen to us again.
When looking at our history through the lens of these anniversaries, progress may seem constant, and success unavoidable.
This, dear friends, is unfortunately not true. As Ronald Reagan once famously said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn´t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same”.
We are the next generation President Reagan was talking about, and it is now our turn to fight for what´s right, to preserve our democratic way of life, and do so with a clear-eyed understanding that just like for generations that came before us, “freedom is still not free”.
Allow me to be the “canary in the coal mine”, and say that today, the world is becoming an ever-more dangerous place for us all, for our shared democratic way of life.
This experiment with democracy of ours that both Americans and Europeans share, is not the only experiment out there. There are alternatives, and they are being actively promoted.
Tyranny, authoritarianism and aggression are again on the march. War has been back in Europe for the last 11 years. In Georgia, the evil line of occupation gradually calcifies, and innocent people are dying through artillery shelling in Eastern Ukraine.
We hear news of democracies being manipulated across the globe, and of politically motivated hit-jobs, some of them with chemical weapons, on the streets of Europe. Indeed, the old tricks of the KGB are back, but they are back with a vengeance, and with clear determination to divide the Western world, break up our alliances, and confuse us into paralysis.
Estonia feels those challenges first-hand. We are a front-line state, situated on the border of Europe, and the West in general. In 2007, we were the first to come under wide-scale cyber-attacks, a wake-up call for us and others. But allow me to be clear, and state the obvious: the canary may be the first to recognize the build-up of carbon-dioxide in a coal mine, but it is certainly not the only one affected by it.
Yes, dear friends, we are in it together, as democracies, both small and big, both those who happen to live on the border and those further from it.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
NATO allowed democracy to survive the 20th Century. Only by working together, by strengthening Trans-Atlantic bonds, can we ensure that Western democracy not only survives the 21st Century, but also thrives beyond that.
As we look ahead to NATO´s upcoming Leaders´ Meeting in London, we must take stock of where we are, what we´ve accomplished and what remains to be done. The progress we´ve made is not insignificant – rather to the contrary; in many areas, it’s quite impressive.
First, on defense expenditures – or burden sharing – we´re finally moving in the right direction. President Trump has made clear that when it comes to the promise of funding our common defense, American people expect Europeans to deliver. And I´m glad to note that Europeans have delivered. We have, collectively, increased defense spending by more than a hundred billion dollars, and the number of Allies who are at or above the required 2% of GDP defense expenditure level is increasing.
Estonia – as you know – has always taken defense seriously, and has been in the so-called 2%-club for years, because we´ve always understood that defense spending is good for our own defense, a contribution not to others, but to self.
In the world of military capabilities where technological change is fast, and inflation even faster, sustaining, and even more so enhancing the capabilities of our forces is becoming more expensive by the day. An increased defense budget means better capabilities and enhanced readiness; it means modern equipment and better training; it means better pay for our soldiers, and better care for our veterans. And yes, it also means that a promise made is a promise kept.
While progress on defense spending has been great, a lot remains to be achieved. This is why I join our American friends in calling for all Allies, especially those that are yet to reach the 2% goal, to continue this progress, to continue to raise their defense budgets.
Second, NATO has made enormous progress on re-invigorating collective defense. But here – too – a lot remains to be done. I´ll start with progress.
It was just a few short years ago, when even discussing defense and deterrence was almost a taboo. These days are now behind us: not only have we been discussing defense and deterrence, we have been taking action to enhance them. At the Warsaw Summit, NATO agreed to establish enhanced forward presence in the Baltic States and Poland. Today – this has become an established fact. We have enhanced NATO´s military structures, and brought readiness to the center of the debate. We have set up NATO´s Hub for South, as the Alliance must be ready to deal with all threats in a 360-degree manner. So in London, our Heads of State can be proud of what we´ve accomplished.
But work on collective defense can never end. And our deterrence posture is never “done”. No – this is not the way the world works – certainly not in an era of great power competition.
We need to get better on readiness and speed of decision-making, on planning and exercises, we need to get better in our ability to reinforce all regions of the Alliance, even in a crisis, even those where our adversaries may deny us free movement by utilizing their anti-access-area-denial capabilities. And we need to posture our forces in a way that communicates clearly – we are ready to defend all of NATO, all the time, on land, in the air, on and below the sea, and in cyber space, and that when provoked, we will stand together, fight together and win together, as Allies. That, dear friends, is an important message that we need to convey – not just through speeches and declarations, treaties and statements, but through the actions we take, and by the way we´re postured.
Estonia contributes to NATO´s security first and foremost by increasing our readiness on the Eastern Flank. That – readiness – has been our mantra, our goal, and our core principle for years; that is what we spend the overwhelming majority of our defense budget on. We have grown stronger and more capable, but as a small nation on the border, with only 1,3 Million people and a territory to defend that´s bigger than Switzerland, the Netherlands or Denmark, we cannot do it alone, and hence continue to rely on Allied assistance.
This is why American military assistance has been and continues to be of such great importance. I assure you, that every dollar the American taxpayer has spent on Estonia´s defense, has been more than doubled by our own Euros. This assistance is important from a substantive point of view, but also as a symbol; a signal of American involvement, and support. We´re grateful for that.
As we keep watch on the Eastern Border, and work to enhance NATO´s posture in our region, we are also aware that this Alliance of ours is based on solidarity. Just like we need Allies to be physically present in the Baltic States, so too are we present in places where Allies need us. That is why Estonia has been a steadfast contributor to international operations, why we contribute in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, why we value our commitment in the Hub for South, why our airmen contribute to NATO´s Air Policing operation in Iceland, and why we deploy our naval vessels to NATO´s Naval Groups. Every time we deploy our forces, we do so without caveats, and as our track record from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere proves, we adhere to the principle “in together, out together”.
The role of the United States in European security has always been great. Americans liberated half of Europe in the Second World War, and helped secure it in the Cold War. Americans led the struggle against Soviet tyranny, and helped unite Europe after Communism collapsed. The United States led in expanding NATO, and is now leading in making it stronger. We will always be grateful for American leadership, and for the role that this country plays in our common security.
American forces in Europe were crucial in the first seven decades of NATO, and they will remain equally crucial in the next seven decades, and more. This is why we welcome recent increases in American military presence in Europe, including recent decisions on increasing presence in Poland. This development is positive for NATO, for Europe and for our region, as we now expect to see more Americans in the Baltic States as well.
But this relationship of ours is not a one-way-street: we, Europeans, contribute to American security as well. No just indirectly, by helping maintain security and stability on our continent, but quite directly as well, by participating in American-led operations all around the world. As we speak here today, there are thousands of NATO soldiers deployed in harms way all around the world, a significant percentage of them from European states, each and every one of them risking their lives for our common security, for the security of our common way of life.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
NATO is not just a military organization, it is a political organization as well. The Alliance was created to provide for our common defense, but also to provide for a forum, where likeminded nations could consult with each other on all issues that relate to their security. We need to make sure that this aspect of NATO remains as prominent today as it was in the past.
The challenges that confront us are increasingly complex, and more often than not, they present themselves in domains that do not fall in the traditional realm of conventional military affairs. Take cyber security, for instance. Large-scale cyber operations, such as WannaCry, NotPetya, and the recently attributed Cloudhopper cyber operation have the potential to disrupt the stability of states – regardless of their size. Technological innovation opens new possibilities for economic development and previously unthinkable benefits, it also brings vulnerabilities that can lead to catastrophic results for our national security, and our very way of life. This is especially true for 5G-technology, where democracies need to take extra care to maintain our security.
For NATO to remain relevant, it will have to remain the main forum where Allies discuss, and coordinate, our responses to these new challenges. Yes, we are and will be a Trans-Atlantic Alliance, but we need to recognize that many of the challenges that confront us are global in nature. Hence, no topic that concerns Allies´ security should be off NATO´s table.
NATO can only succeed if the over-all atmosphere in trans-Atlantic relations is good. On this – frankly speaking – we´ve had better days. In recent times, we´ve focused too much on matters where we disagree, and too little on issues where we agree; we´ve spent too much time focusing on differences, and too little time on that which unites us. This has to stop. We must realize, that while our disagreements are mostly tactical in nature, our strategic interests align. And we must remember, that in a world that´s becoming more dangerous for democracies everywhere, we´ll succeed only by standing together. As Presient Niinistö of Finland recently said while visiting Washington – Europe needs America, and America needs Europe as well.
As you´ve probably realized by now, I am a strong believer in trans-Atlantic relations. But I am also a strong believer in a strong Europe that can and should carry a larger share of our common weight, the weight of defending our common democratic way of life.
This is why the European Union has decided to enhanced its role in security policy, by initiating, during the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, permanent structured cooperation or PESCO. Let me be very clear – PESCO is not meant to displace NATO and the United States, or to provide for our collective defense. It is meant to help EU nations, most of whom are also NATO Allies, achieve greater cooperation in building capabilities; something that is very valuable for NATO as well. The EU can and should take onto itself a greater role for increasing stability in Europe´s neighborhood, thus helping NATO to concentrate on the task of collective defense of Alliance territory. This, too, requires a more capable, and better-organized, European Union.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Please allow me to conclude my remarks by highlighting some of the priority-areas where we believe Estonia can contribute to our common security.
As you may know, we have been elected to the United Nations Security Council, and will take our seat at that table for two years on January 1st of next year. We recognize our election to that seat as an honor, and a huge responsibility that we intend to take seriously. At the Security Council, we will work to uphold the rules-based international order, and defend the notion that “right makes might”, not the other way around.
As a Member of the European Union, we will work tirelessly to improve relations between the EU and the US, and strive towards more coordination and closer cooperation between NATO and the European Union.
We will also remain active on the cyber front, and provide our expertize and the expertize of the Tallinn-based NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence on how to best secure our way of life online, including in the context of emerging 5G-technologies.
And recognizing that infrastructure development is becoming a matter of strategic importance, we have decided to organize the next Summit of the Three Seas Initiative in Tallinn, with the goal of better connecting the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas with modern physical, as well as digital infrastructure.
In all of the topics above, we strive for close coordination with the United States of America. We strive for closer trans-Atlantic relations. And we strive for a stronger NATO, which remains a critical foundation for our current, as well as future, security.