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President of the Republic to the Transitions Online on November 21, 2002

Small Nation, Big Plans

Estonia's president tells TOL that NATO's acceptance of Estonia could mean "45,000 square kilometers more stability and 1.4 million more people willing to defend it."

TOL: Why should NATO accept Estonia?

Estonian President Arnold Ruutel: Joining NATO is a process that started with Estonia and the other candidate countries wanting to join and then fulfilling the necessary requirements.

When we think about the events in the world within the last decade, we can say one of the key words has been "voluntary association" into different blocks and unions. In Europe, we talk about the EU and NATO; further examples could be NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations]. In this light, we can think of NATO enlargement as a totally organic process in which one shouldn't look for signs of trying to create bipolarity or new isolation lines. NATO is an open organization that every European country can try to join.

We share the same democratic values as NATO countries and are ready to protect those values. This unites us, and I believe this is the reason that we will be accepted.

With us [in NATO], the reach of Euro-Atlantic security will increase. The formation of new gray zones in Europe wouldn't be right, and I think therefore that NATO should accept Estonia as well as the other Baltic countries.

NATO enlargement is one part of the European development process. One can presume that in the future, EU and NATO membership will overlap more and more, and an area of unitary values will develop. Armed conflicts between the countries belonging to that area are not likely, and possible tensions can be solved within the structure.

TOL: What role do you believe Estonia will have within NATO?

Ruutel: As noted, joining means accepting certain rules of the game. These establish specific rights and duties of the member countries. Therefore Estonia's role in NATO will be equivalent to that of other NATO countries.

The role of NATO in assuring safety and stability has grown year by year. Estonia wishes to do its part in this work. For us, it means a transition from consuming security to producing security. We have prepared for this, and for some time already Estonia has been contributing to peace operations. For example, our de-mining unit is in Afghanistan.

The tragic events of 11 September in the United States inevitably changed the situation in the world, and this has had its impact on NATO activities as well. The global fight against terrorism has become one of the priorities for cooperation, which includes Estonia as well. In a world of ever-increasing globalization, the geographic position and size of countries is no longer important. What counts is the wish to contribute to the common goal.

Here is an example of this cooperation: NATO has been for decades an organization with one wing -- the United States and Canada--on the continent of North America. Yet the Atlantic Ocean has never been a barrier blocking mutual understanding. In addition, since the creation of NATO, one of the smallest countries in Europe, Iceland, has been part of it. These are good examples of friendly cooperation of small and large countries.

A country with 1.4 million inhabitants doesn't add much to the statistical potential of the alliance. But from the other point of view, every square kilometer of peace and stability in Europe is important, no matter where it is situated. According to polls, our people strongly support NATO, are continuously ready to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense, and are ready to participate in defending the country personally if necessary. So adding Estonia to NATO would mean 45,000 square kilometers more stability and 1.4 million people willing to defend it.

Even today, Estonia is among the first in Europe in terms of the proportion of [soldiers] in peace operations to population.

TOL: What do you see as the future role of NATO in the world?

Ruutel: The role of NATO is basically already formed, and I don't believe in the need for radical changes. Enlargement is a process that doesn't change the essence of the organization, but broadens its perspectives and makes NATO stronger.

Of course, the international situation will have its surprises. NATO must be flexible and able to adopt changes quickly. We have already experienced that unexpected dangers and challenges leave just a few short moments to make political decisions. A lot depends on quick reaction.

NATO has never been as global as it is now. Its grasp will definitely broaden even more in the future. At the same time, evaluating lurking dangers is becoming more complicated. Therefore the alliance must be flexible and able to react very quickly. Forestalling crises, using political means, and constantly communicating are, of course, important.

It's in the interest of Estonia that transatlantic bonds develop according to the new challenges and based on common values. I believe that forming a democratic world based on cooperation and protection of common values will remain the main purpose of NATO in the future as well. Granting peace and stability in the world is in the interest of all of us, and NATO has a key role in realizing those aims.

by Kristjan Kaljund

Small Nation, Big Plans

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