Estonia wants increased US involvement in backing Baltic region security

U.S. President Donald Trump and the presidents of the Baltic states at a press conference at the White House. April 2018.
U.S. President Donald Trump and the presidents of the Baltic states at a press conference at the White House. April 2018. Source: AFP/Scanpix

In its relations with the U.S., Estonia considers its primary strategic objective to be ensuring the U.S.' active participation and involvement in all aspects of Estonian security.

"The U.S. is only country that shares the fundamental values that make up the foundations of Estonia's social structure with enough military, political and economic power to fend off attacks that may threaten Estonia on its own, if need be," a memorandum submitted to the Estonian government on Thursday reads. "Thus, bilateral relations with the U.S. are of unique importance to Estonian security, and U.S. policy essential to Estonia first and foremost from a security policy perspective."

A description of the current situation included in the document acknowledges a cooling in transatlantic relations, the most serious manifestation of which is decreasing trust in Europe in the political stability of U.S. security guarantees.

"Positions which call into doubt the prudence of previously formalized security guarantees remain in the minority in the U.S. for now, but are no longer marginal," the document reads. "In conjunction with other disagreements, increasing uncertainty regarding the constancy of U.S. security guarantees have forced several European leaders to seek alternatives alongside a NATO-based security solution, which in the long term significantly weakens transatlantic relations."

The memorandum also cites the low in U.S.-EU relations, marked by disagreements in trade as well as for example attitudes toward the Iran nuclear deal.

As the weakening of transatlantic relations threatens first and foremost small countries on the periphery, the U.S.' continued participation in ensuring European security is of vital importance, stresses the memorandum drawn up by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The document also cites the U.S.' rivalries with China and Russia, however, in which Washington may need Europe, should the latter act as a trustworthy ally capable of contributing.

"It is in Estonia's interests to support Europe's image as such, as well as make every effort to ensure that Europe's activities in addressing the Russian threat, including with regard to sanctions, do not appear to Americans to be smaller than the U.S.' efforts," it reads.

The memorandum rates Estonia and the U.S.' bilateral relations as positive, however it also acknowledges that the coordination and implementation via cooperation of foreign and security policy is only taking place in connection with a few issues.

"No strategic and ongoing discussions aimed at shaping policy are taking place between Estonia and the U.S. regarding matters related to the security of our region," the document states. "Americans mostly consider top-level meetings with Estonia to be courtesy meetings, which in the interests of simplicity are preferred to be conducted with all three Baltic states at once, and superficially and inconsequentially, in terms of content."

More constructive dialogue recommended to develop relations

In order to change the situation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommends taking security dialogue between Estonia and the U.S. to a more constructive level. In order to do so, high-level visits have to be better prepared for in order to better utilize them for more meaningful security dialogue. In addition, however, Estonia's views and message must be introduced to as many U.S. decision-makers as possible.

"This is why communication is necessary with Congress and think tanks, administration officials and journalists," the memo states. "Particularly useful are those opportunities when U.S. representatives visit Estonia."

One opportunity for strengthening relations and making political dialogue more meaningful is Estonia's membership of the UN Security Council in 2020-2021 and the Three Seas Initiative summit to take place in Estonia in summer 2020. Promised in the memorandum is the arrangement of political consultations with the U.S. on various levels regarding UN Security Council topics.

It is likewise in Estonia's interests to maintain existing bilateral contacts with the U.S. on cyber and digital issues, on development cooperation-related issues and between law enforcement authorities, as well as promote economic ties.

"It is also necessary for a solution to be found for the issue of real estate for the construction of a new U.S. Embassy building in Tallinn, which has been on the agenda for some time already," the memorandum stresses.

The document considers it to be of critical importance to maintain the reputation Estonia has already earned, as well as increase its positive visibility on both the national as well as the individual level.

"In the U.S., we are seen primarily as a successful democracy which fulfills its obligations, takes security seriously, and has managed to build up a modern and functional digital state in a short amount  of time," the memo states.

Goal to draw up Baltic defense strategy with US

The first of Estonia's defense policy goals for the next three years to be cited in the memorandum is the launch of regular dialogue on the strategic level regarding security and defense policy-related matters between the U.S. and either Estonia or all three Baltic countries in order to work out a joint strategy for the strengthening of the deterrence and defense posture in the Baltic region.

Other goals include agreeing on a schedule for the implementation of the Estonian-U.S. security cooperation plan for 2019-2024; regular contributions from and involvement of U.S. military units in exercises, which would allow for the rehearsal of collective defense operations according to existing plans in the Baltic region; the strengthening of planning coordination between the U.S., NATO and the Baltic countries, including the organization of regular tabletop exercises for the implementation of plans.

It is recommended in the memorandum to seek the continuation of long-term and predictable security assistance from the U.S. at current levels at minimum, i.e. approximately 10 percent of Estonia's defense budget, in support of the development of the Estonian Defence Forces' (EDF) capabilities; achieve strong support from the U.S. for strengthening NATO air defense in the Baltic states, including in the necessary preparations for a rapid transition by NATO from air security to air defense; pursue the regular cooperation of U.S. forces stationed in Europe in the Baltic states, including for the visible strengthening of defense and deterrence postures; work out a policy for allied air and naval presence, in addition to current land presence, in the Baltic states and on the Baltic Sea together with the U.S., and ensure the U.S.' regular involvement in at least one military presence format in such a way that the U.S.' contribution would be integrated into local forces as well as capable of fighting.

To strengthen transatlantic relations, the memorandum recommends actions that would help ease tensions between the U.S. and Europe. Regarding Russia, however, the document recommends maintaining the current level of sanctions and ensuring that global policy- and arms control-related agreements with Russia do not weaken the security of the Baltic Sea region. It also recommends supporting the establishment of a victims of communism museum in Washington that would introduce the crimes of the Soviet Union.

The document also provides for actions aimed at strengthening the image of Estonia as a credible partner. These include the arranging of various seminars and visits, the establishment of a center for Baltic studies at a U.S. university, the commissioning of at least one report regarding the region's security from a U.S. think tank, and the sponsorship of one large security conference per year. It also recommends considering dispatching an additional diplomat to the Estonian Embassy in Washington that would be tasked with addressing cyber-related issues, as well as sending an exchange diplomat to the U.S. Department of State.

The memorandum anticipates an additional €1.05 million per year for the fulfillment of these additional steps.

On taking office, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) promised that he would have the Ministry of Foreign Affairs compile a package of recommendations aimed at strengthening Estonia's relations with the U.S.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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