THE CHANGING SECURITY ENVIRONMENT IN EUROPE
Speech in the Riigikogu, 16 October 2014
Matter of significant national importance
President of the Riigikogu,
Dear colleagues and guests,
Never before in the history of our continent have nations lived in such wealth and freedom as today. And probably never before has the global community offered Europe such varied security challenges as we see and feel today.
It tends to be a fact around the world that the post-WW II international relations system of the world has become under massive pressure. The real issue is whether the world can rejuvenate by applying the current international law, or are we facing more significant oppositions or even conflicts.
European security is being challenged simultaneously by Russia’s aggressiveness, growing expansion of Islamic extremism in the Middle East and North Africa, seemingly irrevocable rise of China to the global leader, and transnational global phenomena, such as cyber terrorism or poverty migration. When all is said and done, we must be very serious about fighting the deadly Ebola virus which is spreading rapidly. The World Health Organisation predicts a weekly increase by 10,000 victims by the end of this year.
During the Cold War, the world seemed much simpler, at least from the outside. This was reflected in the divided Europe of the time, with the free world face to face with Russian imperialism behind its mask of communist ideology. Today, the sheer number of centres of power and influence around particular countries, not to mention other factors, has made it much more difficult to understand the world, or to shape the best policy.
It is no secret that the changes which affect us and our neighbourhood are largely linked to the growing aggressiveness of Russia, which we have been observing for several years now. In fact, Russia could be the number one challenge for the integrity of the whole Western world.
If any pivotal moment is to be pinpointed in the recent history of the European security system, we cannot bypass the speech made by the Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Munich Conference on Security Policy in February 2007. This was a speech where the Russian leader of the time and of today gave us a clear signal that Moscow is not happy with the leading position of the Western countries – particularly the United States – in the world, and is ready to progress from words to actions.
Many of those who witnessed Putin’s speech in Munich remember their utter shock at that moment. Despite the bloody Chechen war, oppression of opposition, centralisation of authority, restriction of the freedom of speech, and many other internal policy developments, the Western view of Russia had been eclipsed by the end of the Cold War. Justified hope prompted the assumption that Russia had more to gain from international trade and partnership with Western countries, not from opposition.
Yet the currents that had guided Russian history as far back as the 19th century turned out to be stronger and took us back to influence policy. Vladimir Putin, who saw the collapse of the Soviet Union as the largest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, set out to implement his words and goals after the speech in Munich.
The first signs of the changed situation in the European security appeared in summer 2007, when Russia withdrew unilaterally from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. This gave Moscow free reign to place its military in any quantity it wanted to strategically important locations, which at the time mainly centred around the Northern Caucasus region.
In August 2008, the whole world saw that Russia meant business with its so-called independent foreign policy and creation, preservation and extension of its sphere of influence. The aggression against Georgia and the occupation of one fifth of its territory meant the first real steps against the Western world. Russia did not hide that the attack on Georgia was mainly aimed at putting a stop to NATO expansion.
Less than six years later, the world is witnessing a new and sadly an even more serious conflict, which has been unravelling in front of our very eyes for several months now. I am of course talking about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The occupation and annexation of Crimea were a wake-up call to many who had so far not formed a clear opinion on the changes that had already started to take place in the European security situation.
All these and many other changes in the wider security environment prompted the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu to launch extended hearings on the security of the Nordic and Baltic countries in 2012. At the time, we set our timeline until 2020.
As you can see, we were still assuming a couple of years ago that no rapid changes were foreseeable in the security environment. Trends, of course, could be perceived, particularly the more active pressure policy of Russia, but no one could predict the war against Ukraine back then.
Our Committee has the custom of asking for opinions and political recommendations from think tanks on wider issues. This is how, at its 26 January 2012 meeting, the Committee discussed commissioning a security study, and submitted a proposal to the Research Department of the Chancellery of the Riigikogu for a study on the Developments in the Security Environment of the Nordic and Baltic Region until 2020.
Out of the three offers, the choice was made in favour of the International Centre for Defence Studies. The report was compiled in cooperation with the working group of the Defence Research Agency of Sweden (FOI), and the final text was presented to the Committee on 13 September 2012.
The authors of the report, headed by Researcher Riina Kaljurand from the International Centre for Defence Studies, gave us a 24-point list of political recommendations, which included extra-regional factors as well as the strengthening of regional security identity and cooperation.
The report was presented at a seminar in the Riigikogu Conference Hall on 15 November 2012, organised in cooperation of the Committee and the Centre. invitations had been sent to security experts and researchers, representatives of Estonian authorities, ambassadors residing in Tallinn, and journalists. The study is now available for everyone on the home page of the parliament.
The joint recommendations of the Estonian and Swedish researchers included a highlighted recommendation to achieve the political and defence related presence of NATO, by large, and of USA, in particular, as the latter is the central ensurer of security in the region. The recommendations of the report stressed that “in view of the European deterrence plan of the NATO, it is in Estonia’s interests to maintain a balance between the conventional weapons, ballistic missile defence and tactical nuclear weapons. In order to retain our deterrence ability, we must improve the preparedness, the positioning and the capability of the Northern European military forces”.
The good quality of the report submitted to the Foreign Affairs Committee is proven by the fact that a number of the recommendations presented by the Centre of Defence Studies two years ago have by now become a reality. For example, Finland’s and Sweden’s special partnership with NATO and the ever expanding defence cooperation between the Nordic Countries and the Baltic States are a reality today.
One recommendation, that has not been realised yet, concerned Estonia’s cooperation with our Nordic neighbours in the Arctic issues. The Centre of Defence Studies recommended Estonia to seriously consider applying for observer status in the Arctic Council, like Poland, in order to be informed about the developments in the Far North and the activities of the parties operating there, including the European Union and NATO.
In the opinion of the Foreign Affairs Committee, this is a very serious proposal. Estonia’s observer status in the Arctic Council would give us the possibility to be more directly involved in solving of the problems of the region that is becoming increasingly important in the global context through, for example, research cooperation or environmental issues, and it would also enable to expand our cooperation framework with our good Nordic neighbours.
In addition to the research ordered from the Centre of Defence Studies, the Foreign Affairs Committee in more than two years conducted more that 44 hearings connected with the field of security. Besides that, we had sittings at the NATO Cyber Defence Centre, the Information Board and Tallinn maritime rescue centre, and also regular sittings together with the National Defence Committee were held at the General Staff of the Defence Forces, and a visit to international exercises took place.
The ratification of the Estonian-Russian border treaties, initiated by the Government of the Republic on 10 March, is directly connected with the security of Estonia. In connection with that, the Foreign Affairs Committee has conducted a number of hearings, and on 13–14 March visited the border regions of Narva and South-Eastern Estonia.
In recent years, security issues have been on the agenda of all working visits and important international meetings of the Foreign Affairs Committee, including our working meetings in Japan, the Republic of Korea, the USA, Russia, Finland, Indonesia, Singapore, China, Poland, and also the regular meetings of the foreign affairs and national defence committees of the European Union, the Foreign Affairs Committees of the Baltic parliaments and the chairmen of the foreign affairs committees of NB 8.
This year the Foreign Affairs Committee is also planning visits to Finland and the USA, where the changed security situation in Europe will without doubt be one of the central issues of discussion.
At its sitting on 23 September 2013, the Foreign Affairs Committee decided to prepare a committee report on the basis of hearings. But taking into account the sudden and quick changing of the whole security situation during this year, last month the committee proposed to hold a debate on the matter of significant national importance at the plenary sitting of the Riigikogu on 16 October 2014. With today’s sitting, the committee is in a way ending its cycle of hearings, but naturally the general security issues will remain one of the most important priorities of our work.
The National Security Concept prepared by the Government of the Republic is a central framework document of Estonian foreign and security policy. The last updated version of this document is from 2010.
It has become a good practice in the cooperation of the Riigikogu and the Government to review the provisions of this document from time to time and, if necessary, amend the policy recommendations.
The most recent reviewing took place on 14 May 2013, when the detailed analysis of the Government of the Republic of the implementation of the national security concept was discussed at the joint sitting of the Foreign Affairs and National Defence Committees.
In the report submitted to us, it was stressed among other things that although the validity of the document is not time-specific, it is provided in the National Security Concept that it will be reviewed when the security situation changes significantly and there is a need to update security policy.
In the opinion of the Foreign Affairs Committee, especially in recent years the changes that require the reviewing and amending of the security policy of Estonia have taken place directly in our and in a wider sense the whole European security situation. The Government of the Republic should do that as soon as possible.
In today’s world, the countries who have strong allies and who are themselves active in the international security cooperation are successful in guaranteeing their security.
Here Estonia can boast of long-time and purposeful effective activities, thanks to which we can firmly state today – Estonia’s security has never been so well protected as it is now. Its central axis is formed of our membership in NATO, and continuously improving bilateral relations with our allies, including Estonia’s very good neighbours Finland and Sweden.
Estonia’s reliability among our partners, which is first of all based on fulfilling our commitments, allows us to influence the renewal of European security strategy maybe even more actively than before. This is especially important at the time when, as a result of recent political manoeuvres or elections, on the main arena of the common foreign and security policy of the European Union the number of internationally acknowledged politicians has considerably decreased, especially among the foreign ministers of the Member States.
Therefore it is especially important today that Estonia, together with like-minded partners, filled that void more actively and directed the European Union to concentrate more on strategic thinking. I am of the opinion that the deficiencies of the latter have partly contributed to the worsening of the security situation.
We can ask rhetorically – how can it be possible that so far the only security strategy of the European Union dates from 2003? This was the time when the Union had only 15 members. Until now all attempts to review the strategy have failed. At the same time we must develop a strategic culture in the European Union that would allow for early, rapid and, if necessary, powerful intervention.
A more unified and strategically more economical behaviour of European countries would in no way contradict the activities of NATO, but would only strengthen the common part in the security and defence cooperation of the Western countries.
In conclusion, I would like to stress that the more coherent our society is and the more internationally competitive our economy is, the better our security is safeguarded. Estonia should not underrate the importance of either of these.
The President of Estonia Lennart Meri said already in 1997 that if the Estonian people’s zeal for independence is visible, if the reputation of Estonia is clean and spotless, and if the ability of the Estonians to keep their independence is convincing, then the price of Estonia’s integrity will become so high that there will never be a need to protect it with arms.
Thank you for your attention!
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