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Quo Vadis, Estonian Foreign Policy?

11. September 1994 - 8:41

Opening remarks by Jüri Luik, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia at the Estonian Foreign Service Annual Ambassadorial Conference
11-12 September 1994, Roosta, Estonia

Dear Colleagues,

I'd like to welcome you all here for our annual ambassadorial meeting. Since they began in the Summer of 1992, these meetings have served an important function, allowing those of us who deal with Estonian foreign policy in Tallinn to get together with you, who have come from all four corners of the globe, to exchange information and ideas, but also for all of you to do so among yourselves. It's always pleasant for old friends and colleagues to get together, but these meetings are absolutely vital for our work--it is a time and place where, once a year, we look at where we've been and where we want to go.

It's especially appropriate that we take stock of our situation now, two weeks after we regard the troop withdrawal to have been completed. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you, whether you serve at home or abroad, for the tremendous effort you've made over the last year toward achieving what has been our number one foreign policy goal. Without the evenings and weekends you put in, without the endless briefings and aide memoires, without your intellectual contribution, we would never have realized this goal. So, in a word, thanks.

Many problems associated with the withdrawal remain, ranging from the fact that troops have been demobilized on the spot to the need for substantial environmental cleanup. But I'd like to leave those aside for now in order to focus on the future. Rather than listing our specific priorities state by state and organization by organization, I would like to talk about some of the ideas that I see as our conceptual guideposts in this qualitatively new political landscape.

As we have seen it all along, security looks like a mathematical equation. That equation reads Security = Normalization + Integration. Naturally, normalization refers to normalization of relations with our Eastern neighbours, first and foremost with the Russian Federation.

The withdrawal of Russian troops from our soil has had a tremendous effect in bringing us closer to normalization. The troop withdrawal was also the first step toward achieving security in the Baltic region. But it was only the first step. The problem of Baltic security has not yet been solved, not by far. We are all painfully aware of the many problems that remain, the many issues obstructing our path. But I'd like to look beyond those problems, and discuss how we can move closer to real security in our region and in Europe.

Right now, both we and Russia enjoy an historic opportunity to improve relations. The potential of goodwill is in the air, and it is our duty, on both sides of Tartu Peace, to seize the moment and make that peace again. We might call this a policy of Positive Engagement. This would involve, among other qualities, mutual respect for sovereignty, mutual respect for national security interests, mutual refrain from verbal and other confrontation, mutual respect for international norms of behaviour, most importantly in the area of human rights.

The operative word here is mutual. This must be a reciprocal arrangement. Russia must not be accorded special rights by virtue of its size, not in a military sense, not in political discussions, not on human rights records. The standards that are applied to us and to the rest of Europe must also be valid for Russia. In other words, there can be no rubber rulers.

We are willing to expend considerable energy to repair a relationship that has been historically complex, to help integrate Russia with Europe just as we are moving in that direction. Furthermore, such a policy of positive engagement is not only in our interest, it is in Russia's interest and in the interest of regional and European security as well. I believe that policymakers in Moscow and in the West will give this idea the same serious thought and support that we saw during troop withdrawal negotiations. But if our efforts are met with ambivalence, or worse, are ignored, then we must be prepared to expend that energy in our national interest, even if this occurs in a less-than the most cooperative atmosphere.

Russia may be the largest state of our Eastern neighbours, but it is by far not the only one. It is time for us to direct far more energy to developing and further strengthening our ties with those non-Russian states referred to as members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

I do not refer to them as CIS states on purpose. The CIS is something of a misnomer that tends to lump very unlike countries into a category of dubious meaning. We should not assign to the CIS attributes it does not possess, in doing so inadvertently making of it a bona fide international organization along the lines of NATO or the European Union. As one Western diplomat said recently of the CIS, "those states have nothing in Common, they are not Wealthy, they are of differing degrees of Independence, and some cannot be referred to even as States." While this joke may contain some truth, the real message is that we should promote these states as the separate entities that they are.

Using that thought as a point of departure, it is time we embarked upon a policy of Sovereignty Reinforcement. As I see it, this means helping these non-Russian states to our East to strengthen their sovereignty as a means to greater overall security. We have a lot of work ahead of us in this area. One of our special priorities is Ukraine. By virtue of its geographical location, its historical legacy, the size of its population and the vitality of its political and cultural life, Ukraine is a quintessentially European state. More importantly, a secure and stable Ukraine is inseparable from a secure and stable Europe. This is our point of departure in our recent efforts to strengthen ties with Kiev.

But Ukraine is one of many. We also pay very close attention to developments in Moldova, and firmly support an early, orderly and complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova. Another state with which we have intensified contacts is Kazakhstan. We very much hope to become more involved with Belarus, and with the others, too.

I would turn now from the half of our security equation that deals with our Eastern neighbours to the other half, which consists of our continuing integration with the Euro-Atlantic community.

I refer not simply to Europe, but to the Euro-Atlantic community on purpose. While Europe will always be our greatest interest, given that it is our neighbourhood, the Atlantic part refers to another great Western power, namely, to our special relationship with the United States. Historians will one day write about the effect of the US-led policy of non-recognition not only on our morale during fifty years, but also on our recent struggle for independence. But to get more immediate, we would never have achieved the withdrawal of troops from Estonia without the active and supportive role of the US during the negotiation process. For this, the US deserves our thanks. Last week, a news report reached us of an alleged State Department policy paper outlining a new division of Europe, in which the Baltic states were "left up for grabs." Given the US's decades long dedication to our sovereignty, we anticipate in the nearest future official assurances that this ludicrous idea is not taken seriously in Washington. Such assurances would bolster our conviction that our special relationship with the US will become even stronger in this new era.

But to return to Europe, one of the primary priorities in our integration strategy is to come closer to the European Union, in economics, politics and ideals. We have made significant strides in this direction with the Free Trade Agreements signed a few months ago in Brussels. This is was a major accomplishment in keeping with our policy of "trade, not aid." Political dialogue is already becoming more frequent. All of these steps suggest that we are moving in the right direction domestically and in a European sense. We expect that once we sign Europe Agreements, we will be not only on the same train, but in the same railway car as other Central European countries headed for Union membership.

Union membership is also in keeping with another direction that will increase in importance now that the troops are gone. I speak of the primacy of foreign economic policy. We all understand that security is not only a military matter, but that security is founded on economic viability. As a small state, we understand with crystal clarity that trade patterns, for instance, are as much an indicator of the strength of our sovereignty as are naval base locations. For this reason, we need, in this new era, to focus on our economic interests, which in turn have great political implications.

I would turn now international organizations. While a lot of the day-to-day work on integration is bilateral in nature, most of it occurs within the corridors of the relevant international organizations, be they political, economic, military or humanitarian. These organizations are an important pattern of the net we are seeking to weave, a safety net, if you will, connecting us to the rest of Europe. It is through these IOs, and in conjunction with bilateral ties, that we advance our agenda of integration.

Many of these organizations have operated in a more or less efficient manner for decades, held together by norms based on common European values. In recent months, however, some states have proposed changing these norms--and with them those shared values--so radically as to alter beyond recognition the functions and goals of these organizations. The CSCE is a case in point. While we all recognize the need to breathe fresh life into aspects of the CSCE, the Russian Federation's recent proposal that the CSCE become a kind of European UN appears intended to change the very function of the process. The creation of the bureaucratic super-structure envisioned in the proposal would certainly decrease efficiency while exaggerating the influence of some states over others.

Another example of this tinkering is a idea of creating a NACC secretariat. This proposal demonstrates that not all PFP partner states understand that the NACC was conceived as a consultation forum for NATO itself, and that NATO assumes secretariat functions. Not only is this new NACC idea bewildering, it also looks like an attempt to disengage NACC from NATO, to distance two organizations that are organically, hierarchically and developmentally linked.

Our position is clear. In our efforts to further integrate with Euro-Atlantic structures, we have sought to bring our modus operandi into consistency with the standards of the organization to which we aspire. By doing so, we demonstrate that we share the common values upon which the organization is based. This is not only respectful, it is also logical. When the differences between Estonia and member-states of a given organization which we are seeking to join whither away, then it seems natural that we, too, would be in line to join. The same applies to IOs with which we want to strengthen our ties.

This is a position we share with most of the organizations under question. There is no need to bend the rules, to make it easier for new states to join organizations that are tried and true. To do so would weaken the organization, be it the CSCE or NATO, and would also, in the end, weaken ourselves. Our motto is, "if it isn't broken, don't fix it."

This motto brings me to another point of increasing importance now, which is human rights. I don't need to tell all of you gathered here that well over twenty fact-finding missions or representatives of missions have visited us and given us a clean bill of health. We could probably all cite these reports in our sleep. But this does not mean that implementation of our legislation is as efficient and user-friendly as it ought to be. It also doesn't mean that all is well in other parts of the world. As part of our new and broader worldview, we need to pay more attention to explaining what is happening at home, and to campaign for similar protection of human and civil rights abroad.

Speaking globally, we all recognize that our primary sphere-of-influence, to borrow a term, is Europe. Still, Europe is located on the planet Earth, so it is time to turn our attentions to and demonstrate our concern for wider phenomena. While we were dealing with troop withdrawals, a number of destructive developments and movements were and are gaining momentum. I'm speaking here of global phenomena such as the smuggling of radioactive materials, terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, disease, arms trading and environmental destruction. These developments know no borders, and they have come to our home. Despite our limited resources, one of our priorities must be to devote more energy to combating these phenomena.

I'll end my opening remarks on this global note. I wish us all a fruitful, interesting and pleasant two days of discussion, and I hope that, unlike the characters Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot, we will find an answer to the question, "what do we do, now that we are happy?"

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