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Watch again: Lennart Meri Conference 2023

Lennart Meri Conference.
Lennart Meri Conference. Source: Annika Haas/Lennart Meri konverents

The 16th Lennart Meri Conference, which focuses on defense, security, and foreign policy was held in Tallinn May 12-14. ERR News will carried live broadcasts from the conference throughout the weekend, which can be watched again right here.

The theme of the conference this year is "Incipit Vita Nova – So Begins New Life." It is taken from the text "La Vita Nuova" by the 13th-14th century Florentine poet, Dante Alighieri. The meaning of this phrase has often been debated, but in the context of the conference it refers to the new security and international order arrangements that will be needed following the return of large-scale war to Europe. As Fiona Hill has asked: How do we reconfigure ourselves internationally to deal with this?

A year after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the war is still ravaging Ukraine with far-reaching implications not only for Europe, but also for other regions, for the system of international organizations, and for the rule of law. It has marked the end of the post-World War II security architecture in Europe and threatened the wider international order. The LMC 2023 will consider the new, emerging international system and the changing roles of different countries, regions, and institutions.

The keynote speakers include Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Latvian PM Krišjanis Karinš, Lithuanian PM Ingrida Šimonyte, British historian and author Timothy Garton Ash, European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager. The "Incipit Vita Nova" debate to start at 5.05 p.m. on Friday will be moderated by Constanze Stelzenmüller.

The broadcasts will kick off at 3 p.m. on Friday with the pre-event – All Men Dream, But Not Equally: Prospects for the Middle East.

Featuring: Faisal J Abbas, Mustafa Aydin, Anna Borshchevskaya, Seth G Jones, Hanna Notte, Jörg Lau

The strategic shift of the U.S. towards East Asia and Europe's preoccupation with Russia have led to reduced Western attention on the Middle East. This may be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, security in the region depends on a degree of Western engagement, for example, in moving forward the stalled JCPOA deal, and the West's absence may open avenues for other possibly less benign actors, such as Russia and China, to assert their influence. On the other hand, the West's approach is also far from altruistic, perhaps even hypocritical. For example, it has been ready to ignore the impact of Iranian weapons exports on the Yemen war, but not on the war in Ukraine.

How do countries in the Middle East perceive the U.S. role in their region? What are Russia's interests and actions and how have these changed since the beginning of the war in Ukraine? How will Turkey navigate the complex political relations and security concerns it has in the region? Does the relationship between Russia and Iran have a sound strategic basis, or is it a temporary marriage of convenience? How will the war in Syria be affected by the changing international positions and behaviour of Russia and the West?

Opening session: Incipit Vita Nova – So Begins New Life. (5:05 p.m. Friday)

Featuring: Timothy Garton Ash, Kaja Kallas, Krišjanis Karinš, Ingrida Šimonyte, Margrethe Vestager, Constanze Stelzenmüller

Russia's aggression against Ukraine has forced Europe to begin rethinking its approach to security. In an era of increasing strategic competition, Europe must adapt to geopolitical and geoeconomic confrontation and learn to thrive despite economic and political crises. Europe's success will depend on its unity and solidarity, its ability to sustain its economic power and competitiveness, its enhanced ability to act, and its resilience, including in times of war. Russia's war has exposed the hollowness of Europe's defense industrial base and highlighted the need to bolster defense industrial capacity. It has also, like the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrated the value of trusted connectivity and secure supply chains. Furthermore, the war has underlined, once again, the value of a strong and thriving transatlantic relationship.

How can Europe sustain unity in the long term? What steps should it take to continue the current revival of the transatlantic relationship? Does Europe need new approaches to key issues such as an aggressive Russia, trade, and China if it is to continue to benefit from positive relations across the Atlantic and beyond?

Panel discussion: They Rise or Sink Together: NATO on the Road to Vilnius (10 a.m. Saturday)

Featuring: David Cattler, Xavier Chatel, Eliot A Cohen, Margus Tsahkna, Elina Valtonen, Ana Isabel Xavier 

NATO's summit in Vilnius will be another step on the pathway to building a new European security architecture. NATO leaders will consider the further changes needed to their defense posture to ensure the credibility of the Alliance's updated collective defense plans, perhaps raising difficult questions about defense spending, and exposing gaps between the eastern and other Allies in threat perceptions and appropriate strategies for response. NATO enlargement will also be a key topic, with Sweden still waiting in the wings over Turkey and Hungary's objections, and many Allies seeking at least some form of security guarantee for Ukraine. Meanwhile, a rising China and continuing instability to Europe's south demand an international response.

What more does NATO need to do to counter the threat from Russia? How can Alliance unity, strengthened enormously after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, be preserved? What can NATO offer Ukraine? What is NATO's role in relation to the growing ambitions and belligerence of China, and to challenges on its southern borders?

Panel discussion: Ukraine: What We Live For, What We Die For (12 p.m. Saturday)

Featuring: Samuel Charap, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, George P. Kent, Tara Varma, Andriy Zagorodnyuk, Michal Baranowski

As Ukraine fights Russia's aggression for a second year, much is still at stake for the country itself, for Europe, and for the world. While Western support has been indispensable, it is not certain that Europe's assistance would have been so extensive and cohesive without American leadership. But now there are signs of war fatigue—across the Atlantic where U.S. support to the war may become a factor in the upcoming elections, and in parts of Europe.

Can the U.S. maintain its role as the leader of the Western coalition supporting Ukraine? Can Europe preserve unity if the war endures for a prolonged period? How can Ukraine deal with the multiple challenges of fighting corruption, preparing for EU and NATO membership, strengthening democratic governance, rebuilding infrastructure, sustaining the economy, and returning refugees, all while fighting a brutal war? What must be done to ensure that Ukraine emerges from the war as a strong democracy with a successful economy? Who should do it?

Panel discussion: What's Past is Prologue: The West and Russia (4:15 p.m. Saturday)

Featuring: Sergey Radchenko, Gunda Reire, Mary Elise Sarotte, Sergey Utkin, Carl Bildt

The philosopher Ivan Krastev has observed that following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the West has moved from one extreme of having no Ukraine policy to another extreme of having no Russia policy. While some form of future relationship with Russia is inevitable, it is not obvious what shape it should take, or that the West will be able to find consensus on this. Domestic forces may drive the U.S. and Europe to disagree, and Europe itself to be divided. But the rich history of the intertwined relationships between the U.S., Europe, and Russia may offer patterns on which to build.

What can we learn from the historical relationships between the U.S., Europe, and Russia to guide the construction of a stable future? What shape might EU-U.S. relations take and how will the West's dealings with Russia be impacted by them? How will they be affected by relations with China? How can we preserve Western cohesion in dealing with Russia?

Panel discussion: A Sea of Troubles: The Indo-Pacific Region (6.45 p.m. Saturday)

Featuring: Akiko Fukushima, Matthew D Johnson, Bobo Lo, Jonathan Miller, Rebecca Strating, Justin Vogt

The busy sea lanes of the Indo-Pacific region make it a major center of global geostrategic interest. As the contest between China and the U.S. has heated up, the stakes have only grown higher: Washington seeks to demonstrate its commitment to the freedom of navigation and to the security of Taiwan, while China wishes to become the region's clear hegemon. Competition among regional powers is also growing, as countries such as Australia, India, and Japan pursue their interests and seek to balance China's influence. Meanwhile, although the war in Ukraine may seem distant, it has had profound effects on the region, where many countries have tried to maintain a delicate balance in their relations with Russia. What can the loose constellation of regional powers do better to balance Chinese influence and improve regional security? How can actors from outside the region contribute? Under what circumstances might China attack Taiwan?

What can be done to deter China's military ambitions in the region? How might the outcome of Russia's war in Ukraine influence the security dynamics of the region?

Panel discussion: I Dwell in Possibility: Global Perspectives after the War (10 a.m. Sunday)

Featuring: Abdullah Baabood, Jessica Berlin, Monica Juma, Chilamkuri Raja Mohan, Peter Van Praagh, Bobo Lo 

The Western perception of the war in Ukraine as Russia's imperialistic aggression against a former colony is not necessarily shared worldwide. As voting in the UN has indicated, other countries may have contrasting perspectives or be indifferent. In the global south, the collective West is often accused of hypocrisy, of being unsympathetic to the food and energy security challenges of others, and of controlling a disproportionate share of global wealth. This provides opportunities for the power ambitions of other global players. Russia seeks power in Africa and Asia using tools that range from diplomacy, through arms sales, to the deployment of the Wagner Group. China seeks the same through economic coercion, loans, and investments. A long confrontation between Russia and the West would partly be a confrontation between different value systems, requiring the West to fight for hearts and minds in the global south.

Panel discussion: A Time to Build: Principles for a New Security Architecture (12 p.m. Sunday)

Featuring: Thomas Bagger, Christopher G Cavoli, Nathalie Tocci, Pierre Vimont, Daniel Fried, Kersti Kaljulaid

The security upheaval born of the brutal destruction of Russia's war takes multiple forms and impacts societies worldwide. The war has rejuvenated NATO, including its essential transatlantic bond, and highlighted the vital role of the U.S. as the chief guarantor of Europe's security. It has forced the West to reconsider its place and ambitions in the global political structure. Russia will continue to be Europe's most serious security threat, while the ambitions of China will remain a primary concern for the U.S. A confrontation between the West and the non-democratic world is clearly plausible in the mid- to long-term. This prospect demands both intellectual and moral reflection. Our values matter.

How can we ensure that the renewed understanding of the relevance of a strong transatlantic bond endures? How strong is Europe? Who can lead it to be stronger? What more can be done to help Ukraine win? What price is the west ready to pay to preserve its global standing?

The above segments can be watched live on the day or viewed again after the event, from the same embedded video link.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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