NATO's Baltic Allies: punching above their weight

Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Talinn, Estonia on 19 January 2012

  • 19 Jan. 2012
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  • Last updated 23-Jan-2012 10:34

Minister, dear Urmas, thank you for those kind words,
Rector, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,

For a Dane it is always a pleasure to visit the Baltic region -- and in particular to travel to Estonia. Our countries have much in common. We share a lot of history. We are roughly similar in size. And by working together, we can be influential and have a positive impact on the world.

Let me give you an example: Skype. I have children and grandchildren in the United States and Denmark. From my computer in Brussels, Skype allows me not only to talk to them. I can even see them. And that’s why I use it often.

Now I know there is some debate as to how, and where, Skype originated. But most people agree that it involved several Estonians, a Dane and a Swede. And it shows us that small countries can achieve great things – especially when we work together!

I want to address three issues today. First, the strong commitment of Estonia and its two Baltic neighbours to NATO. Second, NATO’s equally strong commitment to its three Baltic Allies. And third, how the Baltic Allies’ response to the difficult economic climate holds valuable lessons for the entire Alliance.

First – the Baltic commitment to NATO. Almost eight years have passed since Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania became members of NATO. Yet even before you joined, you were real providers of security. In the 1990s, you each made valuable contributions to NATO’s efforts to restore peace and stability in the Balkan region. Because you understood that our shared values -- freedom, democracy, human rights – were under threat right there, at the heart of Europe.

You also understood that the terrorist attacks of “9/11” signalled a fundamental change in the strategic environment. You understood that our security and shared values had come under threat from new, global challenges – terrorism, proliferation, and state instability. And you understood the importance of working together in NATO to meet those challenges.

Today, as members of NATO, you and your Baltic neighbours play a key role in making sure that Afghanistan will never again be a safe haven for terrorists. That they will never again threaten our nations, our security and our shared values. I particularly welcome the fact that Estonian forces are operating in Afghanistan without restrictions. Because that means they can be deployed quickly whenever, and wherever, extra troops are needed to improve security.

Let me use this opportunity to pay tribute to the brave soldiers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who have lost their lives or been injured in Afghanistan over the past few years. And to stress that their sacrifice will not be in vain.

We are now entering a crucial period in our engagement in Afghanistan. Afghan army and police have begun to take charge for the protection of half of the population. And the transition of our security responsibilities to the Afghans is on track to be completed by the end of 2014. But we must – and we will -- continue to stand by Afghanistan after that date. And I am confident that Estonia and your Baltic neighbours will be part of that enduring engagement.

It is not just on operations that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania demonstrate their commitment to NATO. They also take an active part in our political discussions. They raise interesting new issues and perspectives. And they help to find, and to foster, the consensus that lies at the heart of everything that we do in NATO. Because the voice of each Ally counts, regardless of its size.

So you and your Baltic neighbours are making valuable contributions to NATO. And NATO too is also helping its Baltic Allies. That is the second issue that I want to raise.

NATO remains the world’s gold standard in security cooperation. The Alliance is a unique, multinational organisation. Where 28 of the world’s most important democracies work together on a permanent basis. And which allows each member nation to shape its security policy in close cooperation with its Allies.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are serious about security. And you are serious about NATO. That is why you played an active part in the development of NATO’s new Strategic Concept that we agreed just over a year ago.

Our Strategic Concept is our plan for the future. It lays out what we want to achieve. It describes the threats we face. It explains how we will deal with those threats. And it identifies the political and military tools we need to do that.

Our new strategy re-confirms that the security of each NATO Ally is directly linked to that of all the others. And it reassures all Allies regarding the defence of their territory and populations against attack. Because it reiterates the firm and binding commitment of all Allies to Article 5, the collective defence clause of NATO’s founding treaty.

Our new strategy also makes clear that we face a broad and evolving set of risks and threats to our security. Today, defending against a territorial attack within Europe may be among the least likely things NATO will need to do. But all 28 Allies agree that being prepared for such an eventuality – including by patrolling, training and exercising – is the best way to keep it like that.

Here in the Baltic region, we demonstrate that strong NATO solidarity 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week. NATO Allies are taking turns to patrol the Baltic skies. On a clear day, you may notice their aircraft flying past. And on a cloudy day, you can’t see them – but let me assure you they are still there. Contributing to your safety, your security, and your stability.

And because Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania don’t have to buy expensive aircraft, they can focus their defence resources on areas where they can really make a difference – for instance on flexible forces for our mission in Afghanistan.

This leads me to the final issue that I want to raise. How you have managed to achieve greater security at a time of limited resources. And the lessons from that achievement for the Alliance as a whole.

Four years ago, like most other NATO Allies, Estonia was hit by the economic crisis. But this past year, you again achieved economic growth of around 8 per cent. And I believe there are important lessons to be learned from how you made this economic recovery – for example, by focusing on innovation, liberalising labour laws, and keeping taxes low to encourage business.

But as you and your Baltic neighbours tackled the economic crisis, you also managed to enhance your security. By spending smarter. And getting greater value for money. Let me give you three examples.

First example - you used the economic crisis as an opportunity to implement substantial defence reforms. By streamlining your military structures and making them more efficient, you were able to make substantial savings. You have used these savings to invest in higher priorities -- in operational needs and in more useable capabilities. And that is one important lesson for the Alliance more widely.

Second example - you have worked more closely together as Baltic Allies. And you have stepped up your cooperation with other countries in this region. For example, in armaments cooperation with your Scandinavian neighbours. This regional engagement also helps to multiply individual efforts. It is a positive and pragmatic path for building greater security with limited means. And it is another lesson for Allies to draw upon.

And third example - innovation. The Baltic Allies are at the forefront of meeting some of the most complex new security challenges. Latvia plays a particularly important role in our lines of communication with Afghanistan. Lithuania has been instrumental in focusing the attention of its NATO Allies on energy security. And after your country suffered a massive cyber attack in 2007, Estonia has successfully fostered closer Allied cooperation on cyber defence.

But you are also taking other, innovative approaches. For example, Estonia and Lithuania work with a number of NATO and non-NATO nations to operate several C-17 aircraft. These are big transport aircraft that are vital to NATO operations. And to our humanitarian missions.

Individually, none of the countries participating in the C-17 initiative would be able to afford such an expensive capability. But by pooling their resources they share the cost of buying and maintaining these aircraft. And they can book flying hours for either military or civilian purposes, much like a timeshare.

Transformation, cooperation, innovation. These are key words to describe the way in which you and your Baltic neighbours have come to grips with the economic crisis of the last few years. But they also describe how you have enhanced your own security, and the security of the Alliance as a whole.

Today, many NATO countries still face serious economic difficulties. Many are cutting their defence expenditures to balance their budgets. But I have to say they must also balance their security and their economic needs.

Maintaining an adequate level of defence spending remains essential for our security. Many Allied Governments are finding this difficult at the moment. That is why I particularly value the Estonian Government’s decision to increase its defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP this year. This is indeed a significant achievement, and a most welcome commitment. And it sets an excellent example.

NATO’s Baltic Allies have shown that, even when nations cannot spend more, they can certainly spend better, and get greater value for money. By taking fresh approaches. By focusing on areas where they can really make a difference. And by working together with other nations to provide capabilities which they cannot afford on their own.

I have called this “Smart Defence”. And I am encouraged that all Allies have agreed to adopt this approach.

It is my goal that, by the time of our next NATO Summit meeting, in Chicago in May, “Smart Defence” will be a real guiding principle for our Alliance. And Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania can take considerable credit for having shown the way.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The three Baltic countries are sometimes described as small. But when the challenges to our security and common values are global; and when risks and threats know no borders, even the biggest nation may feel small, vulnerable and dependent. The economic crisis has only underlined how much we all depend on one another.

In an age of austerity and uncertainty, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are demonstrating that it is possible to stay serious about building security. You are all making valuable contributions. You can count on your NATO Allies. And through transformation, cooperation and innovation, you can set a real example.

Estonia and its Baltic neighbours are punching well above their weight. And with your support, I am confident they will continue to do so.

Thank you.