Estonian ambassador in US: New president's security policy important to Estonia

Estonian Ambassador to the US Eerik Marmei in Washington. Nov. 2016. (ERR)
11/8/2016 11:43 AM
Category: News

Speaking in an interview with ETV’s "Välisilm" program broadcast the night before Election Day in the US, Estonian Ambassador to the US Eerik Marmei said that in the current security environment, the new US president’s foreign and security policies will be especially important.

Marmei, who has been involved in politics for over two decades and was appointed Estonian Ambassador to the US in May 2014, explained that given how important and complicated this year’s presidential race in particular is, it is effectively part of his and the Estonian Embassy’s everyday job to monitor and report on what is going on in the US elections.

"The US is Estonia’s most important ally and partner both in bilateral relations as well as in NATO, and first and foremost in the field of security policy," Marmei explained. "Thus, when you consider the security environment in Europe and the world in general, what kind of foreign and security policies the next American president will begin to pursue."

Commenting on Obama’s legacy in Estonia, Marmei recalled the first time President Barack Obama attending a NATO summit, the Strasbourg–Kehl summit in 2009, where in response to then-Prime Minister Andres Ansip bringing up the issue of Estonian and Baltic defense, Obama raised his hand and asked if it was true that the Baltics did not have defense plans. After it was admitted that this was indeed the case, the US president stressed that no matter what a member state’s size and geography, all NATO member states must have defense plans of their own.

"And if we now skip forward five years, then we all remember Obama’s visit to Tallinn, which was clearly the highlight of Estonian-US relations during his administration," the Estonian ambassador recalled of the US president’s Sept. 3, 2014 visit to the Estonian capital. "In Tallinn he very clearly stated — publicly, in his speech — that Estonia would never be left alone again."

Congress would keep president in check on NATO-related decisions

While Marmei found that Obama and his administration had clearly contributed to strengthening European security policy and spoke favorably of America’s return to Europe, and found that much of current GOP candidate Donald Trump’s publicly expressed doubts about the timeliness of the alliance as well as potentially worrying comments made regarding NATO and Estonia’s neighboring Russia could be chalked up to campaign rhetoric, he also found that it was not worth underestimating his comments on the matters either.

The Estonian ambassador did, however, say that one must keep in mind that even the US president does not have the power to make decisions on his own regarding the alliance, and that Congress plays a key role in this.

"When Jimmy Carter ran for president [in 1976], one of his campaign promises then was to withdraw troops from South Korea," Marmei recalled. "And after a year, whe he had been sworn into office, he had to abandon this plan because of opposition from the Congress in particular. Thus the president has great powers in foreign policy, but Congress can also very effectively control and direct these initiatives."

Surprisingly negative race

As the presidential elections in the US are a democratic process, the Estonian ambassador continued, it is Americans who will make their choice and everyone else will thereafter have to live with this choice. "I certainly wouldn’t panic," said Marmei. "I also wouldn’t want to say or predict who will be elected president. Let that remain up to the Americans to decide."

He did, however, note that this year’s elections have stood out for him as being surprisingly negative in nature. "I would perhaps like to [have seen] more focusing on the issues, the debate and world views, which have unfortunately taken a back seat to [the candidates’] criticizing one another," commented the ambassador.

As for the Estonian Embassy, work will continue there as it does following each election, according to Marmei — during the transition period from the outgoing president to the incoming one, diplomats, including those from Estonia, will begin working on establishing ties with the officials of the new administration.

Tuesday, Nov. 8 is Election Day in the US, the results of which should be clear by Wednesday morning Estonian time.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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