Opening remarks

by the President of Estonia, Alar Karis and Chair of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer at the official welcome ceremony of the Military Committee in Chiefs of Defence Session, Tallinn, Estonia

  • 16 Sep. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 19 Sep. 2022 09:03

(As prepared)

President of Estonia:

Mr Chairman, Chiefs of Defence, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends!

I’m honoured to welcome you in Estonia, in Tallinn, for deliberations which will shape NATO and our collective defence for years, if not decades, to come. There is a solid basis for this work from the Madrid Summit. Now all of us, and you - NATO’s most brilliant military leaders –in particular, are faced with the hard job of translating these guidelines into something tangible. Something that will ensure the security of the Euro-Atlantic area at this critical moment in our history. That will determine, if this space remains whole and free. This is an existential question for Estonia.

But right now, an existential battle is being fought in Ukraine. I’m sure we have all felt relief because of Ukrainian gains on the battlefield in recent weeks. Not just relief and hope for Ukraine but for the future of Europe. And we may even feel a certain pride - many of us have contributed to that success through supporting the training of the Ukrainian armed forces or providing military equipment, armaments, sharing intelligence. If anyone still needed proof that Ukraine is worthy of those efforts, then I think we now have plenty.

Right now is the time to ensure that Ukraine can continue to build on those initial successes on the battlefield. We all know that the war is far from over. This means keeping our military support going, whatever it takes. Failing to capitalise on Ukrainian gains would be a major error. An unfinished or frozen conflict in Ukraine would be a festering wound at the heart of Europe and would keep us in a cycle of confrontation with Russia for years to come.

We must do what we can to help Ukraine restore control over its territory as soon as possible, for the sake of the Ukrainian people but also for our own sake. What we have been witnessing around Kharkiv are indications of organisational breakdown of the Russian army. That may present a window of opportunity to decisively turn the tables in this conflict.
I also want to address the question of eventual Ukrainian victory, a defeat for Russia. I know that there are some concerns as to what this would mean for European security. There may even be a worry that a military defeat in Ukraine would lead to a disintegration of the current power vertical in Russia. A disintegration of Russia itself, perhaps.

My first recommendation is to not build a policy towards Russia that is based on fear of instability. We have been there before. In the late 1980s and 90s the importance attached to the stability of the Russian leadership caused Western leaders to turn a blind eye to the political trajectory Russia was taking. Both Gorbachev and Yeltsin played on the fear that their losing power would bring unpalatable figures to the helm of Russia. Sadly, this happened anyway.

Looking back, it was a mistake to not squarely acknowledge nor address early signs that Russia had not let go of its imperialist aims, and that it was willing to compromise on crucial democratic principles. Not to mention – disregard human rights. The West was offered the same social contract as the Russian population – stability and economic prosperity in return for accepting backsliding in democracy and aggressive international conduct. Let’s not fall into that trap again.

Instability in Russia may be a risk. However, the current form of stability where Russia feels able to invade its neighbours and to undermine our Western democracies through corruption, energy blackmail, information war and influence operations, cannot be the status quo we wish to maintain. From the perspective of European security and stability, the most effective strategy towards Russia continues to be containment, both economically, politically and militarily. In the military domain, this means NATO’s truly credible deterrence and defence capability in the form of forward defence to counter potential Russian aggression.

We may be certain that whichever internal political struggles may be unleashed by the coming defeat in Ukraine, the ideology of Putinism that dictates re-establishing control over Russia’s sphere of influence, the fragmentation of Europe and the destruction of the transatlantic bond, will not disappear. And so, our resistance to those objectives must remain unbreakable. This is what our policy should take as the objective. We are not responsible for helping Putin and the rest of the Russian leadership save face. They are and should be treated as fully responsible for the crimes committed and mistakes that were made in attacking Ukraine, and its broader consequences for Russia.

But let’s now return to the work that lies ahead in the coming days: how do we best defend ourselves – across the NATO territory? Russia may be losing but it would be a mistake to underestimate the danger to NATO, which still remains acute. And we cannot forget the growing threat of jihadist terrorism in key regions of the world that are of critical importance to NATO.

In Estonia we have a saying – the saving of the drowning man is his own responsibility. It doesn’t imply that Estonians believe in helping those in trouble. Rather, it sets the focus on preparedness, on being able to help oneself. Therefore, while NATO and the transatlantic bond remain the bedrock of Estonian security, Estonia fully intends to be prepared to defend itself. In the first six months of this year alone, the Estonian government has allocated an additional billion euros for defence spending. We are already working on developing new capabilities, and making our reserve army system more agile. We are committed to building a division in Estonia, with the support of our Allies, and to enhance accommodation and training facilities to NATO troops here. Polling data show that our nation’s will to defend our country is higher than ever, and nearly 70 per cent of Estonians are ready to directly participate in Estonia’s defence.

And I know that it is said often – however, it cannot be said often enough: Estonia is deeply grateful for the contributions NATO Allies have made and keep on making to our defence. As all of you know, our discussions in NATO can be heated and we don’t always agree on everything. However, I know, and all Estonians know, that we can rely on our Allies, and we will never forget this. So let me, on behalf of the Estonian people, thank all of you, and your troops who have been working here with us.

Thank you!


Chair of the NATO Military Committee:

Your Excellences, 
Chiefs of Defence, 
Strategic Commanders, 
Distinguished guests, 
Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Tere ohtust (good evening)

Mr President and General Herem, 

on behalf of all the Chiefs of Defence present today, let me start by extending our gratitude for hosting this NATO Military Committee Conference in Tallinn.

I’m not sure if we are NATO’s most brilliant military leaders, but we have good staffs. 

(And unlike our Russian counterparts: we encourage them to tell us when we’re making the wrong decision…)

Thank you for receiving us in such splendid surroundings. 

I believe the location of this welcoming ceremony symbolises Estonia’s most important strength: connection. 

As one of the biggest and busiest passenger ports in the Baltic Sea region, it connects people from north, east, south and west. 

With beautiful 13th to 16th century architecture and forward leaning, innovative port facilities… it connects the old with the new. 

And because it’s situated in one of the most advanced digital societies in the world, it also connects offline and online systems. 

Estonia has a unique ability to embrace change, innovation and creativity. 

And it is a country that is firmly rooted in the democratic traditions that NATO holds dear. 

This inspires us all. 

Especially in a time when security in the Euro-Atlantic area is under immense pressure.

Mr President, as you rightly put it earlier this year:
“There are those who have not given up the desire for the future of Europe to be shaped, not by the free self-determination of nations, but by the right of the one who is stronger”…

It is true that Russia jeopardises our democratic values, dishonours our common history, and purposely tries to destroy the entire international rules-based order. 

But there are also nations, free and democratic, who would stand up at all cost to protect it.

To protect the sovereign right for each person and each nation to choose their own destiny.

Estonia is such a nation. 

The three Lions on your coat of arms represent your courage to fight for freedom. 
Even when the enemies were bigger and stronger, you stood up – you found strength, resolve and determination in your unity.  

The Estonian people have fought and fallen in the name of peace and democracy…

… refusing to remain silent… persevering through conflict and occupation…

Today, you can fiercely proclaim that Estonia has been free and independent longer than it was occupied.  

Estonia has always found its way through difficult times, both as a State and as a people.  

You have always found a common path forward... A path that turns hopes and dreams of freedom into reality… 

And you found friends and Allies who wanted to walk on that path with you. 

Eighteen years ago, Estonia, alongside Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia walked through our Open Door……becoming an inherent part of the strongest defensive Alliance in the world.  

An Alliance that – for over 7 decades – has been able to turn dreams and ideas into reality. 

To recognise the value of working together on matters of common interest…

… by pledging to come to each other’s aid in case of an attack… 
… by pooling resources, knowledge and defence capabilities… 
…by building our security together as free and independent Nations. 
Today still, this pledge of collective defence – one for all, all for one – is at the core of NATO.

Today, our 30 Nations, soon to be 32, are CONNECTED. 

… proclaiming that what unites us is far bigger than what divides us…. 
… turning our diversity into our biggest strength…. 
… and forming the biggest band of brothers and sisters in the world. 

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, 

The reason why this location is so fitting, is because NATO Allies are more connected than ever. 

More united than ever. 

More ready than ever to protect every inch of Allied soil and every single one of our 1 billion Allied citizens.

As we stand shoulder-to-shoulder, let us raise our glass:

  • to freedom. 
  • to the courage of our Ukrainian friends… 
  • and to the values that CONNECT us all.  

Thank you.