NATO Ambassador: The aftermath of 9/11 is still with us

Former defense minister and now Estonia's ambassador to NATO Jüri Luik.
Former defense minister and now Estonia's ambassador to NATO Jüri Luik. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Just as entering Afghanistan was necessary 20 years ago, so too has been the U.S. withdrawal from that country, says Jüri Luik, former defense minister, and now Estonia's ambassador to NATO, on the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Luik also said that the aftermath of 9/11 smoothed the way for Estonia's NATO membership, rather than obstructing it. Other ways the terror attacks on the Twin Towers continue to make their effects known 20 years later include the ramping-up of human rights abuses by regimes in totalitarian states like Russia and China, under the guise of cracking down on terrorism and extremism, Luik said.

Luik told ERR that it was: "Clear that 9/11 completely transformed the global security picture."

"It transformed the relationship between states, and even changed the definition of warfare from one of conventional war using tanks etc. to a war of special forces operations," Luik, defense minister in three stints between 1993 and this year, continued

September 11th helped pave way for NATO membership

The timing of 9/11 and the subsequent U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq was also key for Estonia, which was aiming for NATO membership at the time, Luik added.

He said; "It was also a significant event for us, [but] perhaps even from another point of view. At that time, we were a candidate for NATO membership, and it was important for us that the war on terrorism wiped those old conflicts off the table."

The major question of defending Baltic states against Russia, and the prospects of Russia being agitated as a result of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joining NATO – which they duly did in 2004 – was also deferred by 9/11, Luik added, since Russia under Vladimir Putin, who had been in office less than 18 months when the attacks happened, were on the same page regarding terror at that tie.

"Wholly paradoxically, the global war on terror, in which Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush were on the same side, also facilitated the admission of the Baltic states to NATO," Luik added.

Luik: Biden decision to withdraw from Afghanistan has logic behind it

As to the current situation and the recent withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops after 20 years in Afghanistan, Luik said that the international picture with Russia, and now China, had changed.

The withdrawal: "Has its logic, because opposing China and Russia will require a radical change in America's military system. We need to focus on heavy weapons, which require a completely different strategy."

This would not mean that another situation like the 20-year presence in Afghanistan will never happen again, Luik continued.

"I would be very careful to say that we will never do anything like this Afghanistan-type operation again," Luik added, with the stress on "we" as in the West as a whole.

"We never know what might happen, and it is quite clear that if we were to face a situation similar to the one we had 20 years ago, it is perfectly viable that many of the decisions we made at the time would be made in exactly the same way again," he continued, noting that U.S. President Joe Biden had cited the situation with China and Russia factors behind withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

U.S. decision to go into Afghanistan in 2001 still valid

NATO's armed forces will thus be able to focus on other things, Luik said.

The original U.S. decision to enter Afghanistan the month after 9/11 was still valid, he added.

He said: "We can criticize it with the benefit of 20 years' hindsight, but at that moment I cannot see that we had any choice in the matter, if we wanted Afghanistan to cease to continue as a haven for terrorists."

Al-Qaeda was present in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban when 9/11 happened, he said.

Luik: Totalitarian regimes have ramped-up activities under guise of war on terror

Another result of the 20 years since 9/11 has been security crackdowns which have both blurred the understanding of the rights of citizens, Luik went on, though in reference to existing totalitarian regimes, rather than democracies.

"Totalitarian countries such as China or Russia, which, also in part as a nod towards the war on terror, have launched a total surveillance system, a system where it is very easy to arrest people," He continued noting that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's anti-corruption organization has been labeled in Russia as extremist, a label which permits its closing down and the persecution of its supporters.

Luik added that this was unlikely to change any time soon.

"So many aspects of the global war on terror are ones that are likely to remain with us for a very long time and where authoritarian states take advantage of these elements, but which, of course, were never intended that way," he said.

On the plus side, the tragedy of 9/11 led to stabilization operations not only in Afghanistan but later in Iraq and also Libya, he said.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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