President Karis: Belarus shows NATO collective security as crucial as ever

President Alar Karis addressing the ABCD conference in Tallinn on Wednesday.
President Alar Karis addressing the ABCD conference in Tallinn on Wednesday. Source: Office of the President of the Republic of Estonia

The recent events on the Belarus-Poland border demonstrate that the collective security embodied by NATO is more important than ever, President Alar Karis says. The shifting geopolitical balance and the implications for Trans-Atlantic security, together with advancing technologies and the emergence of China as a major player make this as crucial as at any time in NATO's 70-plus-year history, something which the alliance itself acknowledges, the president adds.

Giving the welcoming speech at the Annual Baltic Conference on Defense (ABCD) in Tallinn Wednesday, President Karis, who took office a month ago, said that for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the alliance is facing a new geo-strategic reality.

Nonetheless, the alliance must still stick to its founding values, he said.

"This is also why I believe in the continued commitment of the U.S. to NATO, and a strong American role in European security."

"If there is a lesson learned from the past 70 years, though we in Estonia can directly only speak for the past 17, it is that we are stronger together. Europe needs the U.S. and the U.S. needs Europe," the president went on.

This makes collective defense key.

"Collective defense is in the DNA of NATO, and we must address the future requirements of deterrence and defense with the seriousness that it deserves. Including in the Strategic Concept," he went on.

The hybrid attack on Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, all EU states, with the last of these sharing a lengthy border with Estonia, was an escalating crisis and demonstrates that peace and stability in Europe cannot be taken for granted.

"It also reminds us that there are dictators in Europe who care little for human life and suffering. Make no mistake - what President Lukashenko is doing is an attack on the integrity of the borders and security of three European nations, three NATO allies. We must support them, and show that we are determined, and united. In NATO, in the EU, and on a national basis."

The president also decried the increasing use of such strategies.

"It seems to be increasingly normal to use any and all instruments in pursuit of political objectives, including military pressure, hybrid warfare, cyber weapons and information operations. As I already emphasized, this is happening in Europe as we speak," he continued. "Autocratic regimes are eroding the international order based on rules and norms. They aspire to substitute it with a world where the strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must."

"The Belarusian hybrid attack against Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. The build-up of Russian forces on the borders of Ukraine, and attempts to use energy blackmail in Moldova. The Russian challenge to stability and security in Europe is less and less disguised. NATO cannot afford to miss a beat, and if needed, strengthen its posture in the Baltics and Poland," he said, adding that the emergence of China as a state with major global ambitions meant international security was increasingly structured around the great power competition in the Pacific, and further afield.

"In the past years, we have seen a jump not only in China's assertiveness globally, but also in its military power. According to the new U.S. Department of Defense annual report, the Chinese Navy is now the largest in the world. This is just one example," the Estonian president said.

The emergence of new tech mirrors this, he continued.

"NATO has always had the technological edge, and we need to make sure that we are relevant not just in the realm of 20th century warfare but of the 21st. How well allies do in developing new and disruptive technological capabilities will be a key factor in NATO's ability to ensure the security of the Euro-Atlantic area."

NATO is and will remain the cornerstone of Estonian, European, and Trans-Atlantic security and community, one which is united by values, and by trust, friendship and solidarity, the president added.

Foreign minister Eva-Maria Liimets (Center), speaking before the UN Security Council in New York Tuesday, called the situation with migrants being virtually forced to cross the border from Belarus into the EU an act of mass and transnational repression.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) and interior minister Kristian Jaani (Center) have all joined Liimets and President Karis in condemning the actions of the Alexander Lukashenko regime.

Lithuania, whose capital, Vilnius, lies barely 30 km from the Belarusian border, has also declared a state of national emergency.

Estonia joined NATO in 2004, the same year it joined the EU.

Estonia's two-year non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council expires at the end of this year.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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