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The President of the Republic At the Center for International Security and Cooperation of Stanford University 20 January 2006
20.01.2006


Honored Minister Perry,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for the opportunity to share with you my thoughts about international relations and cooperation in today’s world.

Estonia is a relatively young country whose independence was declared on 24 February 1918. Without doubt, this event had a connection with the principle of the right of self-determination of nations, which had been voiced so strongly by President Wilson in his 14 points one-and-a-half months earlier. However, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940.

The Estonian people could never reconcile themselves with this foreign domination and aspired to freedom, which we finally managed to win back. In the forthcoming summer, we will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the restoration of our independence. I would like to use this opportunity to thank the government and the people of the United States for their policy of non-recognition of the occupation of the Baltic States by the Soviet Union during these difficult decades. For us, this represents a powerful confirmation of a value-based foreign policy which remains crucial also today.

I have recently talked a lot about the importance of values in international relations. I did this also yesterday at the World Affairs Council of Northern California. Of course, the protection of values is a crucial principle especially for small countries, which occasionally face difficulties in standing up for their rights against the background of changing interests of big states. On the other hand, history has shown us the importance of adhering to values. Precisely this has made it possible for Estonia to survive the most difficult times and to preserve its identity. Third, there is certain indecisiveness in today’s world, certain difficulties to find answers to important challenges. In my view, it is precisely action based on values which can provide answers in complicated situations. This also makes it possible to distinguish long-term important issues from short-term changing interests.

For almost two years, Estonia has been a member of NATO and the European Union. For us, the two organizations complement each other, relying on similar values. Estonia is interested in a strong NATO and a strong EU as well as close cooperation between them. Political interests or confrontations of the day should not harm it.

NATO activities help to provide and ensure international security. For Estonia and other allies, this means unprecedented protection but also an obligation to contribute to providing international security. For a small country, the European Union opens good opportunities for economic and social development in a globalizing world, but also possibilities to contribute to international stability.

The principles of freedom, democracy and market economy neither exclude diverging business interests nor political disagreement. It is therefore not wrong if some divergence of interests emerges between the members of these organizations. Considering the media disputes of the last years, I consider it necessary to emphasize that Estonia firmly supports the development of the transatlantic dialogue. In this context, last year brought a number of promising tendencies. It is too early to assess whether this is a completely new start but the atmosphere of relations has clearly changed. In this context, we have noticed the contribution of Secretary of State Rice who is also closely attached to your university.

A rapidly changing world constantly poses new challenges for states. It is essential that we are ready to act in dynamic situations and possess the necessary military and civilian capabilities for that. The next NATO summit in the Latvian capital Riga will be an important step toward reforming NATO itself.

Estonia is interested in NATO being ready to effectively ensure the security of its member states, to contribute to the management of various international conflicts, and to make its contribution to the fight against terrorism. We must ensure the fulfillment of all these tasks also in the future when developing the capabilities of NATO. Within NATO, we must be ready to jointly create and develop capabilities necessary for the fulfillment of the tasks of the alliance and those of its members.

I can assure you that Estonia undertook serious preparations for NATO accession and has not made a halt in its development after that. Being a small state, we must of course particularly carefully consider how to develop our armed forces according to contemporary requirements. It is important that NATO has launched a number of international operations in which also our soldiers have participated.

In today’s world, also coalitions of the willing have proved necessary for well-known reasons. At the same time, there persists a necessity for the development of our collective defense ability and of our capabilities to participate in operations, including the NATO Response Force.

NATO is not only a toolbox from where different tools can be taken. It is an important mechanism for political and military cooperation among 26 states. We need it. Appropriate expenditure is unavoidable for the fulfillment of the goals of NATO and I am afraid that the earlier “peace dividend” has brought the pendulum perhaps too far. At the moment, Estonia is increasing the share of its defense expenditure in order to achieve the level of 2% of GDP by 2010. Please consider also that currently our economy is growing at about 8% per year.

An important course of action for us is the implementation of the approach developed by NATO regarding the mobility of forces and their usability in international operations. In this area, there is a lot of work for everybody. Also here, Estonia has made progress year-by-year. We are gradually moving towards the goal regarding the number of soldiers on missions.

I am pleased to say that Estonian soldiers participating in Iraq in the composition of the US forces have proved to be worthy combatants. Responsible tasks lie ahead of us in Afghanistan. The Estonian parliament has decided to send up to 150 soldiers at a time there this year. Allow me to recall that there are 1.4 million inhabitants in Estonia.

Military operations create possibilities to restore normal life in conflict areas by providing security there. At the same time, eventual success comes only through a free society, the rule of law, democratic principles and the reconstruction of authorities that follow them.

Therefore, we need considerably higher capabilities for the strengthening of the civilian component in crisis management and the following reconstruction than we have today, both at the level of states and international organizations. The more successful the reconstruction and the strengthening of good governance are, the faster our peace forces can be taken home from one or another state. In quite a few places, the functions of the soldiers to maintain peace and stability could be transferred first to military police and then to the police forces. Civilian missions may also be necessary in order to restore normal life in areas which have severely suffered after natural disasters.

Estonian society highly appreciates the role of NATO in providing our security - polls indicate a constant level of support of 65-70%. The majority of our people is also in favor of maintaining or increasing defense expenditure. The NATO airspace control operation in the Baltic States certainly plays a role in this context. Last year, also US planes contributed to it. We are grateful to the US government.

The rotating use of airplanes of NATO countries for the protection of the airspace of the Baltic countries is an important task for NATO. Although the question needs further discussion, in my view the operation should continue. So far, the Baltic States have made a contribution to the development of other capabilities while partners possessing a modern air force have guarded our airspace. We are ready to bear our part including the fair costs in this important work.
It is important for Estonia to make its contribution to the fight against terrorism. In addition to our participation in operations to fight terrorism, we enforce the relevant conventions and cooperate with other countries in different formations. The effectiveness of this fight requires the revision of a number of present approaches and foremost the readiness to share information.

From its part, Estonia is determined to be a credible partner. Among other things, this means making sure that our territory would not be used by terrorists to prepare operations, to move money or for any other purpose. We have had good cooperation with the FBI and other US authorities for training of Estonian experts at the highest level.

Certainly, international law needs to be developed further. A consensus must be found regarding the principles that would reflect the realities of the contemporary international system, strengthen democracy and the rule of law, and enable and oblige countries to react to risks.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To conclude, I would like to express my hope that you will find common research topics also with Estonian academics for example through joining forces to analyze the changes of the late 1980s and 1990s using all available information. As a Head of State and a former rector of a university, I would of course also welcome an active movement of academics and students between the University of Stanford and Estonian universities.

Thank you for your attention.


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