Estonian Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo
His Excellency Jaak Aaviksoo,
SECURITY IN THE BALTIC SEA AREA
When “Security in the Baltic Region” was given as a title for this panel, I thought at first, What is meant by the Baltic Region? Is it the three Baltic States and some of the surrounding territory, or a much broader and more extensive Baltic Sea area? It is hard to address the issue of security in the Baltic Region on its smallest scale if we do not see the area in its broader context. If we put together Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania population-wise, we reach more or less the same size as Sweden. If we add to the three Baltic States the populations of Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, all eight countries together are smaller than Poland. If we take Poland and add it to those eight, this sums up to a little bit less than Germany. And if we sum up all the aforementioned countries, this becomes a little bit less than Russia. So I think this hierarchy shows how complicated these relations around the Baltic Sea might be.
The second point I would like to make is that, whenever we discuss security, a fundamental concept is threat perception. This is increasingly true in the case of democratic countries where the threat perception of the population directly and indirectly influences the political decision making and the formulation of a security policy, a defense policy, international cooperation and so on and so forth. This means that threat perception in the minds of the millions of people in our countries is a strong consideration, if not the most important one, in devising security strategies. To be straightforward, we have to acknowledge the fact that many people in the three Baltic States are afraid of Russia. Vice versa, it is a somewhat surprising fact that, if asked, many people in the Russian Federation will say that they are afraid of Estonia, Georgia, NATO and the United States. If this is true, we have to address the problem. I think that dealing with the differences in threat perceptions is a very complicated issue and most probably this was the most complicated task that the twelve wise men and women had to tackle when devising recommendations for the NATO Strategic Concept. If some people are afraid of lions and others are afraid of mice, it is very hard to agree on a defensive policy.
So I think that we have to live with the reality of these differences in threat perceptions. Within the Nordic region around the Baltic Sea, these differences are reflected in the very different histories of these countries during the last large scale conflict, namely the World War II. Just look at the track records for Denmark, Norway, neutral Sweden, and go alone Finland, who was forced into a friendship with Germany. Then there were the three Baltic States who simply lacked guts or maybe had too much in the way of brains and not enough guts to fight the Russians, after Hitler and Stalin had agreed to divide Eastern Europe into zones of influence. These perceptions still remain, I think, in the minds of people among the different nations around the Baltic Sea area. Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians are perhaps the ones who are the most united in their threat perceptions today.
In addition to this historic experience, our threat perceptions concerning security and defense issues are shaped by the way in which our people understand the modern world. We have particular problems understanding the new threats, especially asymmetric threats, in a modern globalizing world which is getting smaller and smaller security wise. At the same time, we have too many people who still do not understand and do not want to understand what we are doing in Afghanistan. They do not even understand what we are doing off the Somali coast. If they do not understand the dangers coming from these areas and if it is not in their threat perception, we are running into a strategy problem. So a lot has to be done to bring those different national threat perceptions closer together, to build public confidence on threat perceptions. Let’s take for example North Korea. I am sorry to be blunt but I think Estonians do not care about what is happening in North Korea. At the very least, North Korea is not on their list of top security threats as they understand them. And I am afraid that the same thing is true in the case of European vis-à-vis the American threat perception concerning North Korea. This may or may not be true, but I think there is a difference. In any case, I do believe that over the last ten to twenty years, the three Baltic States, now members of both NATO and the EU, have built a threat perception of their own that is increasingly close to the way the Europeans at large and especially European countries in NATO perceive the threats around them. Maybe we could all have a more positive view if it were not for exercises with 40,000 men that were held last year 200 km from the Estonian border or the armed conflict in Georgia two years ago, which shifted back what we had achieved over the last ten to twenty years. Another argument may be important to know: On May 9 of this year, we all celebrated on Red Square the end of World War II that, as formally stated, ended sixty five years ago. Nonetheless, some countries, particularly Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, welcomed the withdrawal of the Soviet Army in 1994. So for us, World War II ended sixteen years ago.
HOW DOES THE BALTIC SEA REGION ADDRESS THE SECURITY SITUATION?
How do we address this security situation around us? How do we decide what is important? What do we have to do (and what must we not do) under those circumstances? I think that the most important thing is to build a rational, open, forward-looking, self-confident understanding of our national interest. It is not an easy thing to do taking into account the fact that all our three countries, with a minor difference in the case of Lithuania, had only twenty years of independence between the two world wars. And even now, as I said before, we have enjoyed our regained independence for less than two decades. This means that we have to solve our internal problems and provide a safe environment for our citizens and all inhabitants in our three countries since we inherited a large proportion of non-nationals on our territories. And we must build our own self-defense in order to be able to solve minor problems. As the old saying goes, “Pray to Allah but tie up your camel yourself.” This also means spending a fair amount of our national wealth on defense. We are trying hard to reach that 2% goal. Some countries are more successful than others but I think we have a strategic commitment to meeting that goal. It is just part of our self-confidence, our self-perception. If we are able to deliver that, then we can be sure that this is reciprocal.