Opinion Digest: UN Security Council seat a complex victory ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Estonia's three national dailies (picture is illustrative).
Estonia's three national dailies (picture is illustrative). Source: ERR

Opinion on Estonia winning a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC) for 2020-2021 has mostly been positive, with the consensus being the experience and boosted profile the office should bring outweighs some of its challenges.

Erki Bahovski, Editor-in-Chief of Diplomaatia, newsletter of the International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS), noted, the importance of recognizing the efforts of all those who made the UNSC seat happen, thus raising the profile of the country for two years at least, in a piece for daily Postimees (all links in Estonian).

At the same time, with rights come responsibilities, and it is not only a case of protecting Estonia's interests, but also finding global solutions to global problems, without damaging Estonia's reputation internationally.

While Estonia is small, it is much larger and internationally represented than another of the new non-permanent members, St Vincent and the Grenadines, a country which significantly has representation in Venezuela, a country with strong bonds with Russia.

Another challenge is keeping Estonia informed about what happens in the UN headquarters – ERR has just the one correspondent in the U.S. - in Washington, not New York, Bahovski noted, and while international rallies get plenty of coverage when there's an Estonian star (i.e. Ott Tänak) taking part, there is a risk that too much public info will be disseminated via social media – not a desirable state of affairs.

A voice in the world's capital

A Postimees editorial also praised the hard work of the diplomats and politicians, who can rightly celebrate the culmination of Estonia's clear ambition and goals in this area and its new-found opportunity to help ensure that all countries respect international law and remain peaceful in resolving conflicts.

Lithuania showed what could be done in its term in the non-permanent UNSC role, but there is both the unfinished business of what happened with the 2014 annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation (one of the five permanent members-ed.) not to mention the makeup of the current coalition at home, and whether there is political support for the diplomats working at the UN, the piece continued.

Indeed, EKRE leader and interior minister Mart Helme said Sunday that the accession to the UNSC is a double edged sword, evoking the story of Kalevipoeg, who (fatally) cut off his own feet with his own sword, and that Estonia will now get involved in conflicts which have nothing to do with it.

All this in spite of some principles which Helme has, such as a desire to move Estonia's Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – in any event Estonia will need to take sides on difficult issues there, or on Venezuela, which the country is likely to clash with Russia on.

Ultimately, whatever the arguments regarding how much the UNSC membership will cost, and despite opposition to it from both former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, and Mart Laar, the first prime minister after the restoration of independence, the experience will be irreplaceably invaluable, the editorial said.

A victory for Estonian diplomacy, now waits for substance

An editorial in daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) also picked up the sporting theme, likening Kersti Kaljulaid to Estonian olympians (discus thrower) Gert Kanter and (decathlete) Erki Nool, with the key distinction that whereas athletes careers have an end, this is just a beginning for Estonian diplomats.

The risk of making new enemies on having to take sides in conflicts which Estonia previously, due to its distance, would not have done before, is certainly there, though neutrality is always also an option, the piece suggested.

And distance is subjective – the aftermath of some conflicts, for instance the Syrian civil war, do in some small way reach even Estonia (a small number of people from Syria were relocated to Estonia under the EU migration plan-ed.).

Moreover, the value of expertise in conflicts in far off places in Africa, Asia or Latin American outstrips any headaches that some of the security council's votes, which will necessitate compromises between values and interests, as does a better understanding of immigration at a time when over half the Estonian population still regards immigration into Europe a major threat to world peace and security.

Benefits outweigh costs

Foreign policy expert Karin Kaup Lapõnin, in a piece for ERR's online Estonian news echoed the thanks due to all those who worked hard behind the scenes to win the UNSC seat, adding the work done by the president, who has perhaps done more to promote Estonia than any foreign minister in the past decade and a half.

Estonia does not need to be in a crisis to understand it needs friends in the world, and the financial cost is not a cost to the state in that sense, she wrote.

The result in favor of Estonia over Romania was undoubtedly influenced by the latter's moving its embassy to Jerusalem, which lost it the bulk of the Arabic nations' votes, even as Romania has more embassies in African countries, including French-speaking ones, which may have attracted more votes from other Francophone countries, she thought.

Since the ballot was secret, we do not know who the two abstainers were, which would be interesting, but in any case an improved knowledge of the situation in Africa – a continent with a real paucity of Estonian representation (indeed there is not an embassy in any of sub-Saharan Africa, Lapõnin added).

You have to get to know the countries and their outlooks in order to formulate an opinion on them – which also has a benefit for Estonia's own security, and this can't be done solely by listening to UN briefings in New York, Lapõnin wrote.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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