Baltic Security Challenges: An Estonian View
Prime Minister of Estonia Tiit Vähi

Coming just two weeks after the meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers, one week after the meeting of NATO Defense Ministers, and five days after the first round of the Russian Presidential elections, our Workshop discussions were both timely and necessary. They were also an opportunity for NATO member-states to once again witness not only the desire but the ability of applicant states to contribute to NATO structures and debates. Last year in my address to the Twelfth Workshop, I touched upon two themes. The first was that the post-Cold War world is not static, but a highly dynamic place. The second was that things not only change, but they change fast. The events of the last year have proven this to be true. Therefore, I would like to include these same two themes--the dynamics of our time and the pace of change--in a discussion of Baltic security.


Our view of security in the Baltic region has changed dramatically during the last five years, as has our view of European security. The collapse of Soviet domination turned enemies into partners. The withdrawal of foreign troops from Baltic Sea states removed a potential security threat. The continuing development of democratic structures and free markets is reuniting areas of the Baltic Sea region with Europe. These changes, in addition to the new dynamics of the Baltic Sea region, are redefining our approach to security in Northern Europe. For example, NATO and its member-states are now actively engaged in promoting stability in the Baltic Sea region through cooperation and dialogue with newly restored democratic states. In addition, traditionally neutral states such as Sweden and Finland are increasing their ties with NATO through Partnership for Peace, although they have stated their desire to remain outside of military alliances. The Baltic States and Poland seek NATO membership and the security this alliance provides. Our security concerns, which some refer to as a dilemma, stem from our recent as well as our distant past, a past plagued by numerous invasions, occupations, and back-room deals. Our current concerns have increased because of statements that seek to include the Baltics in outdated "sphere of influence" concepts, despite our desire to belong to a multilateral, democratic framework. Another aspect of Baltic security is Russia. Russia is, and will remain, a major player in regional and international affairs. The extent of Russia's cooperation with the West, as well as its commitment to democratic reforms and its respect for the sovereignty of neighboring states, will determine our security concerns and policies. Estonia welcomes the peaceful means by which the recent Russian Presidential elections were held, and hopes that Russia will continue to move forward, not backward. The blossoming regional economic activity of the Baltic Sea area is another important dynamic of regional security. The mutual contacts, economic links, and wealth created by trade are certain to aid regional stability and increase the importance of maintaining it. With these dynamics in mind, let me now discuss the basic premise of Estonia's approach to Baltic security, and how the rapid pace of change, especially in NATO structures, can lead to stability and prosperity for all countries bordering the Baltic Sea.


Estonia believes that a truly secure Baltic region has yet to be established and that the potential risks of the area have yet to be eliminated. The Baltic States and Poland remain outside two of the most important European institutions. Democracy in Russia is struggling to take hold, and, as the Presidential elections show, the outcome remains uncertain. Although there are no immediate threats to Baltic security, problems may arise in the long term if our security concerns remain unaddressed. Estonia and other regional states seek to address these concerns through European integration, as well as through NATO membership. We also seek to contribute to regional security and stability through strengthened regional cooperation and economic growth. Regional cooperation with our Baltic Sea neighbors, especially Finland, Denmark, Germany, Norway, and Sweden, and the assistance these states have provided in supporting defense initiatives and NATO integration, have been excellent. So too is our cooperation with Latvia and Lithuania. Forces from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania continue to train together and will soon create the first-ever Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion. We are, and will remain, committed to regional cooperation in defense issues. While welcoming our regional defense ties, I must stress, however, that they are not enough. Addressing issues in a regional context is not a cure-all for security concerns. Regional emphasis is useful under some conditions, but regionalization in the Baltic region or anywhere else can lead to neglect of security issues that potentially affect the whole of Europe. I do not exaggerate when I state that Estonia's security is dependent upon the willingness and ability of the West to integrate us into its structures. For Estonia, as well as for Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, NATO is a viable and proven option for securing our newly regained independence. However, I am aware that Western integration is neither as simple as some would wish nor likely to happen as quickly as some would desire.

In managing an ever changing and uncertain world, NATO has adapted remarkably to the challenges before it, especially in regard to Central Europe. The decision to enlarge NATO is necessary, for the organization, for European security, and for Baltic security alike. The Partnership for Peace program is an important instrument for those states preparing for NATO membership. For some PFP members, the process has brought them within their goal of being ready and able to join NATO. For those who continue this process, PFP should remain a classroom of active learning and preparation, but with an enhanced curriculum for striving applicants. For neighboring states of Estonia with no present ambitions to join NATO, such as Russia, Finland, and Sweden, PFP should remain a mechanism for defense cooperation and dialogue. Estonia's experience with PFP has been positive. Through PFP, our forces receive training to meet future security challenges, hold exercises with other PFP member-states, and gain the skills required for international operations with NATO forces. The growth of our forces under the guidance of NATO states and the transparency of this process through PFP create an atmosphere free of suspicion. The next phase of NATO enlargement--the "who" and the "when"--will soon be discussed. It is of vital importance to the Baltic region and especially to the Baltic States that the security concerns of the northern European region be addressed during this debate. While welcoming the accession of new members, we also hope that NATO will have a strategy to strengthen the security level of non-named states. Estonia believes that the often-stated principle that the strengthening of one state's security cannot be at the expense of others must be upheld. Not being chosen for immediate membership must not be viewed as a rejection by NATO. On the contrary, it should be followed by greater measures to aid integration. Plans to increase dialogue, as well as deepen and broaden cooperation beyond the present PFP framework, would help enormously to continue the integration process and extend a protective hand to applicant states.

The evolution of NATO's structure will bring benefits to the Baltic Sea region. The implementation of IFOR under NATO has been one of this year's greatest security successes. Estonia, as well as other Baltic Sea states, is actively participating in this program--the first opportunity for non-members to be involved in a NATO operation, to be under NATO command structures, and to serve alongside NATO troops. As we participate, we are learning as much about NATO as NATO is learning about us. Of special importance to future Baltic security is the close cooperation between our regional forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Estonia's platoon, for example, is stationed within Denmark's battalion, which is serving under the Nordic-Polish brigade. Russian participation in the area is a positive step as well, and illustrates that NATO enlargement is not aimed against them, but aimed against threats to stability and democracy throughout Europe. Another beneficial change in NATO's structure, resulting from the success of IFOR, is the development of a permanent Combined Joint Task Force to handle similar operations in the future. Estonia welcomes this development and hopes that preparation programs for non-member states will be increased, so that when the task force is activated, we all will be prepared. In addition to handling IFOR-type operations, the task force will also serve as a vital means of expanding NATO's multilateral security involvement in Europe.


Baltic security rests on two points: the integration of the region into European security structures, such as NATO, and the democratic development of Russia. While we cannot directly influence the development of Russia, we can influence and advance the process of integration. NATO's decision to enlarge is vital for our future security, but it will also benefit European security as a whole. To date, the effectiveness and credibility of NATO have not been compromised by its changes; on the contrary, its changes have strengthened it. Our challenge now is to address the continuing dynamic issues through similarly dynamic responses. Judging by the events of the last year, I believe that NATO has the foresight, the will, and the means to do so.

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