In its relations with the U.S., Estonia considers its primary strategic objective to ensure the U.S.’ active participation and involvement in all aspects of Estonian security.
“The U.S. is only country that shares the fundamental values that make up the foundations of Estonia’s social structure with enough military, political and economic power to fend off attacks that may threaten Estonia on its own, if need be,” a memorandum submitted to the Estonian government on Thursday reads. “Thus, bilateral relations with the U.S. are of unique importance to Estonian security, and U.S. policy essential to Estonia first and foremost from a security policy perspective.”
A description of the current situation included in the document acknowledges a cooling in transatlantic relations, the most serious manifestation of which is decreasing trust in Europe in the political stability of U.S. security guarantees.
“Positions which call into doubt the prudence of previously formalized security guarantees remain in the minority in the U.S. for now, but are no longer marginal,” the document reads. “In conjunction with other disagreements, increasing uncertainty regarding the constancy of U.S. security guarantees have forced several European leaders to seek alternatives alongside a NATO-based security solution, which in the long term significantly weakens transatlantic relations.”
The memorandum also cites the low in U.S.-EU relations, marked by disagreements in trade as well as for example attitudes toward the Iran nuclear deal.
As the weakening of transatlantic relations threatens first and foremost small countries on the periphery, the U.S.’ continued participation in ensuring European security is of vital importance, stresses the memorandum drawn up by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The document also cites the U.S.’ rivalries with China and Russia, however, in which Washington may need Europe, should the latter act as a trustworthy ally capable of contributing.
“It is in Estonia’s interests to support Europe’s image as such, as well as make every effort to ensure that Europe’s activities in addressing the Russian threat, including with regard to sanctions, do not appear to Americans to be smaller than the U.S.’ efforts,” it reads.
The memorandum rates Estonia and the U.S.’ bilateral relations as positive, however it also acknowledges that the coordination and implementation via cooperation of foreign and security policy is only taking place in connection with a few issues.
“No strategic and ongoing discussions aimed at shaping policy are taking place between Estonia and the U.S. regarding matters related to the security of our region,” the document states. “Americans mostly consider top-level meetings with Estonia to be courtesy meetings, which in the interests of simplicity are preferred to be conducted with all three Baltic states at once, and superficially and inconsequentially, in terms of content.”
More constructive dialogue recommended to develop relations
In order to change the situation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommends taking security dialogue between Estonia and the U.S. to a more constructive level. In order to do so, high-level visits have to be better prepared for in order to better utilize them for more meaningful security dialogue. In addition, however, Estonia’s views and message must be introduced to as many U.S. decision-makers as possible.
“This is why communication is necessary with Congress and think tanks, administration officials and journalists,” the memo states. “Particularly useful are those opportunities when U.S. representatives visit Estonia.”
One opportunity for strengthening relations and making political dialogue more meaningful is Estonia’s membership of the UN Security Council in 2020-2021 and the Three Seas Initiative summit to take place in Estonia in summer 2020. Promised in the memorandum is the arrangement of political consultations with the U.S. on various levels regarding UN Security Council topics.
It is likewise in Estonia’s interests to maintain existing bilateral contacts with the U.S. on cyber and digital issues, on development cooperation-related issues and between law enforcement authorities, as well as promote economic ties.
“It is also necessary for a solution to be found for the issue of real estate for the construction of a new U.S. Embassy building in Tallinn, which has been on the agenda for some time already,” the memorandum stresses.
The document considers it to be of critical importance to maintain the reputation Estonia has already earned, as well as increase its positive visibility on both the national as well as the individual level.
“In the U.S., we are seen primarily as a successful democracy which fulfills its obligations, takes security seriously, and has managed to build up a modern and functional digital state in a short amount of time,” the memo states.
Goal to draw up Baltic defense strategy with US
The first of Estonia’s defense policy goals for the next three years to be cited in the memorandum is the launch of regular dialogue on the strategic level regarding security and defense policy-related matters between the U.S. and either Estonia or all three Baltic countries in order to work out a joint strategy for the strengthening of the deterrence and defense posture in the Baltic region.
Other goals include agreeing on a schedule for the implementation of the Estonian-U.S. security cooperation plan for 2019-2024; regular contributions from and involvement of U.S. military units in exercises, which would allow for the rehearsal of collective defense operations according to existing plans in the Baltic region; the strengthening of planning coordination between the U.S., NATO and the Baltic countries, including the organization of regular tabletop exercises for the implementation of plans.