WEB EDITION
No. 2 - Apr. 1994
Vol. 42 - pp. 7-10

ESTONIA, NATO AND PEACEKEEPING

Lennart Meri
President of the Republic of Estonia


From the time my country reinstated independence in autumn 1991, we have made security our number one foreign policy priority. First and foremost, security means normalizing relations with Russia, and specifically, to witness the withdrawal of the 2,600 Russian troops remaining on our soil. Despite the fact that our negotiations with the Russian Federation have been drawn out and difficult, we are confident that this year, 31 August - the deadline for the last soldier to leave Estonia - will supersede the traditional Estonian celebration of the summer solstice as the highlight of our season of White Nights.

No less important than the troop withdrawals, however, is the other part of the security equation, that is, further integration with European and Atlantic security structures. We in Estonia firmly believe that NATO is now, and will be in the future, the primary guarantor of security on the Continent. For this reason, Estonia warmly welcomed the Partnership for Peace (PFP) programme formally introduced last January, and became one of the first states to sign up.

PFP is an important first step. Without a doubt, however, our long-term goal is eventual full membership of NATO. We regard this goal - and that of a NATO expanded in strength - as part of a natural and completely normal progression within the overall process of European integration. By initially demonstrating our readiness and ability to be a true partner within PFP, we believe NATO will come to see that we, too, have much to offer the Alliance, for instance by participating in joint peacekeeping operations and by strengthening NATO's presence in Central and Eastern Europe.

Strict adherence to PFP standards

Perhaps more acutely than most, we in Estonia understand that any discussion of PFP must, necessarily, include Russia. We are concerned over the current debate being waged in newspaper columns and the corridors of power over whether Russia deserves a special role in the new European security framework. We cannot agree, for instance, that "in today's world, NATO is inadequate", as Russian Federation Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev wrote recently in the pages of the New York Times. Mr. Kozyrev added that even PFP "should not be viewed as a true joint partnership in world affairs", and instead called for reaffirmation of "the principles of strategic partnership set out in Vancouver in 1993 and Moscow in 1994".

We would take issue with these sentiments. Any suggestion that NATO has outlived its usefulness, and that the United States and Russia would form a condominium, jointly assuming responsibility for guaranteeing the security of Europe, represents naivety at best and Cold War era thinking at worst. Furthermore, proposals to delineate Europe into "spheres of influence" are not in keeping with the spirit of integration and cooperation of the late 20th century. Along with the rest of Eastern Europe, Estonia benefited from just this sort of security guarantee divide between NATO and the Warsaw Pact Organization for over 50 years. We want to be a secure and stable state, but not as secure and as stable as we were for over 50 years!

Instead of establishing a special role for Russia, as Mr. Kozyrev and other Russian Federation leaders have suggested, we would call for strict adherence to the principles and standards outlined for PFP. These are set out quite precisely in the Framework Document, (1) and include, among other objectives, democratic control of defence forces, transparency in defence planning and budgeting, not to mention safeguarding freedom, justice and peace through democracy. We welcome Russia's joining PFP as an intention to fulfil those conditions, and, more broadly, we would welcome the development of a firmly rooted democratic tradition in our large neighbour to the East.

If last December's parliamentary elections in Russia are any indication, however, it may take longer than we would hope to establish in Russia the kind of domestic political culture consistent with NATO PFP standards. Above all, NATO cannot afford to accord a "special role" to any state in which election results could alter the very direction of democratic change. To do so would not only weaken the Alliance, but would also call into question an axiom of collective security, namely that democracies tend not to go to war among themselves.

Moreover, the beauty and the elegance of PFP lies in its celebration of diversity. Under PFP, each partner enjoys the same rights, has access to the same opportunities and should be held to the same responsibilities as any other partner, regardless of size, geography or demographics. As American President Abraham Lincoln said in 1859, "those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves". It does not bode well for Europe's future when one state in pursuit of its own interests, seeks to diminish the legitimate interests of others, thereby threatening to stymie the ability of other states to realize their full potential. We have already gone too far in our efforts toward integration to turn back time in this manner.

Until we joined PFP, our main contact with NATO was through the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC). As founding members of NACC, we have found the organization to be a useful forum for consultation. Some NACC member states have evidently found the forum so useful that they have suggested that NACC could become an umbrella organization comprising NATO, the Western European Union (WEU) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). For two reasons, however, Estonia, supports NACC's continuation in its current function as a consultative forum of NATO.

First, it is dangerous to assign to the CIS attributes which it does not possess. Unlike the WEU and NATO, the CIS cannot be characterized as a collective defence organization. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case. In intra-CIS disputes ranging from Moldova through the Caucasus to Tajikistan, the intervention of Russian Federation troops may have exacerbated armed conflict or may have aggravated already existing tensions to the detriment of overall stability. This does not sound like collective defence to Estonia.

Second, we in Estonia believe that a great future is in store for NACC. In its current form, NACC could become an integral part, or the very foundation, of the new European security framework. While the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) presently fulfils part of this mandate, a greater emphasis on the "S" - for Security - in the CSCE would be to the general good.

Peacekeeping

Finally, a few words should be added on another NATO function that seems certain to gain in importance under PFP, namely peacekeeping. We regard prospective peacekeeping activities under a PFP aegis as a positive development for two reasons.

First, it will provide us with an additional avenue for training our own defence forces. Estonia's defence forces are small - the number of reserve former Soviet military officers residing in Estonia, in fact, is five times greater than our own 2,000-strong armed forces. Our forces are not only small, but they are also poorly trained and equipped. We are doing our utmost to improve this situation, and with Western help, our men under arms are starting to receive the training they need. One specific project toward which we are channelling training and materiel funds is a joint Baltic peacekeeping battalion. Along with Latvia and Lithuania, we have established such a battalion which we hope will soon be ready to participate in NATO peacekeeping operations.

We also believe that peacekeeping under PFP is a good thing because it can inject a much needed element of military coordination and control into international peacekeeping activities. Estonia remains convinced that the time honoured principles upon which peacekeeping is based - neutrality, international sanction and case-by-case involvement - are solid ones, from which we cannot deviate willy-nilly.

During the last few months, however, we have noticed a growing tendency among some states to interpret the concepts of peacekeeping in a capricious fashion, selectively borrowing only those ideas that happen to confirm with the political agenda of the moment. We believe this tendency of selective borrowing is dangerous, because it can lead to an international blessing being given to activities which, by any standards, clearly do not constitute peacekeeping.

We believe that military coordination and control of peacekeeping operations under PFP can help combat this tendency. By establishing this sort of solid framework of principle under PFP, peacekeeping could regain credibility as the honest activity it was intended to be.

We live in a time of tumult, in which states are using high politics as a smoke screen for their own political ambitions. We see this in Bosnia with peacekeeping, we hear this in talk of "spheres-of-influence" and in proposals to supersede NATO. We nurture the hope that if this pattern continues, we will, this time, remain on the right side, the NATO side, of the Great Divide. But above all, we hope that this pattern will not continue, and that the strength of democracy will prevail.

(1) For text see NATO Review, No.1, February 1994, pp.29-30

© Copyright by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1994.