Marko Mihkelson: Estonia-US relations after Biden's victory
Joe Biden's victory at U.S. presidential elections is not something all sides to the Estonian government welcome. This is a shame because Estonia's relationship with the United States has never nor should it depend on who is president in America, Marko Mihkelson writes.
The most important strategic goal of Estonian foreign and security policy is to maintain and strengthen the allied space of democratic countries at the heart of which lie the United States of America. Cavalier of the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana Joe Biden winning the presidential election created good premise for cooperation and unity in the free world. It is also the victory of dignified and respectful policy.
Joe Biden's victory holds at least three positive aspects for Estonia-USA relations.
NATO members can breathe easy because the new U.S. president will not be toying with the idea of abandoning its allies to face deepening international challenges alone. U.S. military presence in Europe will be retained, while Biden is not likely to overlook Europeans' modest defense spending or violations of the principles of rule of law and protection of minorities in some European countries.
Secondly, Biden perceives Russia as the greatest threat to national security. In rising to this challenge, Biden will restore the intelligence community's trust in the White House and peace in the field of national security, especially in the presidential administration and the state department. Biden will continue to pursue close cooperation with NATO allies, prioritizing the alliance's eastern flank in order to deter Russia.
Thirdly, Biden will immediately bring the U.S. back into the Paris climate agreement. Unlike Trump, international cooperation matters to Biden both in terms of addressing global problems and promoting allied relations.
It is likely that USA-EU relations will come to concentrate more on finding common ground that could ideally lead to a restart of trade talks. The latter would be the most anticipated move to counter growing Chinese influence.
When it comes to Estonia-USA relations, we need to concentrate on upgrading working level contacts and creating new ones at the start of the Biden era. It is especially important for Estonia and USA to fully staff their embassies again.
While our current ambassador in Washington Jonatan Vseviov is set to become secretary general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in February – and the new ambassador's credentials will inevitably take time – USA has not had an ambassador in Tallinn for years. While this is not a hindrance in terms of communication between the two countries, an ambassador lends significance and diplomatic visibility to the embassy.
In addition to the new administration, Estonia must retain lobbying efforts in the U.S. Congress where the Republicans have kept the upper hand in the Senate and the Democrats held on to the House of Representatives. Because congressmen and senators include newcomers and those who are not up to speed on what matters to Estonia, meetings to draw attention to our interests are in order.
This needs to consider the fact that just like Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the Biden administration will have to concentrate on China. Pressure from Beijing must not be allowed to change the United States' focus that needs to be kept on Europe.
That is why cooperation with U.S. think tanks to influence U.S. policymaking toward stronger allied relations and, for example, bigger defense investments in the Baltics needs to continue. For this, cooperation must first become closer between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
And finally – Biden's victory is likely not welcomed by all sides to Estonia's current government. This is a shame because Estonia's relationship with the United States has never nor should it depend on who is president in America.
However, I recommend Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) concentrate on implementing Estonia's value-based foreign policy in a way that would see our words match our actions instead of taking steps to constrain the rights of minorities (for example, prohibiting ambassadors from joining statements made in defense of LGBT minorities or keeping silent on rule of law problems in Hungary and Poland). The same goes for the entire government.
This would greatly help us to find common ground with the new U.S. administration quicker. It would also benefit Estonia-USA relations and Estonia's wider reputation among our Western allies.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski