A surprise awaited Estonia’s president on March 19 in Washington, D.C. when he spoke in the Atlantic Council’s global leadership discussion series. Frederick Kempe, president of the Council, asked Mr. Andrew Prozes, the director of the Council’s board to introduce Mr. Ilves because Mr. Prozes and Mr. Ilves had something in common. As it turned out, Mr. Prozes, who is also CEO of LexisNexis, also has Estonian parents, from Saaremaa. The Prozes family fled to Germany where Andrew was born, and emigrated to Canada in 1948. Mr. Prozes, referring to Mr. Ilves’ background in psychology, called him Estonia’s First Therapist.
Thus warmed up, an audience of about 100 State and Defense Department policy analysts, diplomats, think tank foreign policy experts, and media representatives harkened to Mr. Ilves’ discussion of The Future of NATO: A View from the Edge of the Alliance.
Starting with trans-Atlantic relations, Mr. Ilves observed that the anti-Americanism in Europe that had reached its crescendo during the previous U.S. administration has abated considerably. Now both sides of the Atlantic meet regularly and have a common understanding of issues relating to Iran, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and terrorism. A matter of great concern is cyber warfare. It is very difficult to ascertain where the attacks originate, even more difficult to determine a proportional response. If a NATO member’s electric power grid were taken out by a missile that would clearly call for an Article V response (an attack on one member is considered to be an attack on all). If the same strategic damage is caused by a cyber attack, then the matter of determining who is the aggressor is much more complicated, and that goes for the appropriate response as well.
As far as the U.S. is concerned, Mr. Ilves said that Europe is now whole and free, and that there are now other problems that need to be solved. From Estonia’s point of view, the enlargement of both the European Union and NATO must go forward. However, right now there is no consensus on these matters comparable to the previous twenty years. Presently, Croatia is the only country on a clear path to EU and NATO membership. There is no longer a sense of moral obligation to fulfill the promises made during the cold war. In the case of Europe, Ilves said that the economic crisis is the main concern and that there is not much of a common position on foreign policy. Institutionally, Europe needs to sort out who’s in charge.
As for security architecture, Ilves said that August 2008 invasion on Georgia was a transformative event. It destroyed the Helsinki agreement world—no change of borders by military force. The EU response was basically, Ilves said, “thank god common sense prevailed.” In other words, do nothing. And that will come back to haunt us in the future, Ilves concluded. The task, according to Ilves, is to bring the European Union and NATO to an agreement about security matters. At the present there are seemingly irreconcilable differences despite the considerable overlap of policymakers. While the same individual may have the same level of responsibility in both organizations, it’s as if he can’t talk to himself, Ilves said. He also remarked on the lack of personal interaction between policymakers, a matter that calls for remedy.
On the matter of Russia’s membership in NATO, Ilves pointed out that NATO is a values-based organization, human rights and democratic principles. If Russia respects human rights and has real elections, it deserves to be in NATO. A representative from the Russian news agency TASS asked that if everybody agrees that the security architecture is broken, why not bring everybody, including Russia, together to fix it. Mr. Ilves found that it is disingenuous on the part of Russia to treat security matters as if Russia had no part in breaking the Helsinki security agreements by invading Georgia. As for the change of borders by military force, the Russian reporter brought up Kosovo. The president reminded the audience that genocide had been going on for a couple of years had to be stopped. As for the border change by force in Georgia, a Russian military buildup had been going on for months. There is no analogy here, Mr. Ilves summed up.