Estonian President Voices Support for Foreign Policy Based on Democratic Values

A foreign policy firmly grounded in democratic values makes it possible for small states to stand up for their rights in the face of the shifting interests of large states, Estonia’s President Arnold Rüütel said Jan. 20.

“It is precisely action based on values that can provide answers in complicated situations,” Rüütel said. “This also makes it possible to distinguish long-term important issues from short-term changing interests.”

During a lunchtime speech at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Rüütel thanked the United States for maintaining its policy of nonrecognition of the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from World War II until 1991, when Baltic independence was restored in a bloodless revolution. “For us, this represents a powerful confirmation of a values-based foreign policy that remains crucial also today,” he said.

Rüütel, a onetime Communist who helped orchestrate Estonia’s transition to independence, spoke to about 100 students, faculty, and donors at an event hosted by management science and engineering Professor William J. Perry, who also is the Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor, a former U.S. Secretary of Defense, and co-director of the Stanford-Harvard Preventive Defense Project. Accompanied by an Estonian delegation, Rüütel also met with Institute Director Coit D. Blacker and visited the Hoover Institution, where archival specialist David Jacobs had prepared an exhibit of Baltic-related material.

The display included a series of informal photographs from the personal album of Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop taken during his visit to Moscow to sign the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was concluded just a few days before the beginning of World War II. The pact, which included a secret protocol dividing Eastern Europe into Soviet and Nazi spheres of influence, sealed the fate of the Baltic states for a halfcentury. Soviet officials denied the protocol’s existence until 1989. The unpublished photographs, obtained by U.S. forces after World War II, include a rare image of an enthusiastically grinning Stalin taken just after the pact was signed. “That’s a smile from the heart,” Rüütel remarked in Estonian.

Rüütel’s speech, which was translated into English, discussed Estonia’s two-year-old membership in the European Union and NATO. While the union gives opportunities for economic and social development in a globalizing world, Rüütel said, membership also offers Estonia a chance to contribute to international stability. And while NATO offers unprecedented protection, he continued, Estonia also is obliged to contribute to international security.

“NATO is not only a toolbox from which different tools can be taken,” Rüütel said. “It is an important mechanism for political and military cooperation among 26 states. We need it.” Public support for the organization remains at a steady 65 to 70 percent, he explained. “The NATO airspace control operation in the Baltic states certainly plays a role in this context,” he said. “Last year, U.S. planes contributed to it. We are grateful to the U.S. government.”

As a member of NATO, Estonia plans to increase its defense expenditure to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2010, Rüütel said. The country also has participated in the “coalition of the willing.” Estonian soldiers fighting in Iraq alongside U.S. forces “have proved to be worthy combatants,” Rüütel said. “Responsible tasks lie ahead of us in Afghanistan. The Estonian parliament has decided to send up to 150 soldiers at a time there this year. Allow me to recall that there are 1.4 million inhabitants in Estonia.”

The president said that military operations can help to restore stability in conflict areas by providing security but that long-term success can be achieved only through the establishment of a free society based on democratic principles and the rule of law.

“The more successful the reconstruction and the strengthening of good governance are, the faster our peace forces can be [brought] home.” Arnold Rüütel, President of EstoniaWe need considerably higher capabilities for the strengthening of the civilian component in crisis management and [ensuing] reconstruction than we have today, both at the level of states and international organizations,” he said. “The more successful the reconstruction and the strengthening of good governance are, the faster our peace forces can be [brought] home.”

Rüütel also discussed his country’s role in combating international terrorism. “Estonia is determined to be a credible partner,” he said. “Among other things, this means making sure that our territory [is] not used by terrorists to prepare operations, to move money or for any other purpose.”

After the speech, Blacker asked about Estonia's relationship with neighboring Russia. A border agreement between the two countries remains unsigned. In response, Rüütel offered a history lesson about the consequences of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact after the Soviet Union forcibly annexed Estonia. Many of the country’s leaders were arrested, murdered or sent to death camps in Siberia, he said. Following the Nazi occupation of Estonia during the war, Soviet repression continued after 1945. In a country of 1.2 million inhabitants, about 70,000 people were deported to Siberia and more than 100,000 escaped to the West. As a result of World War II and its aftermath, he said, Estonia lost one out of every five citizens. “Practically, every Estonian family was somehow touched by these events,” he said. “This is something really difficult to forget.” Russia has failed to deal with its history in an honest way, he said.

Although Estonia cannot forget the past, Rüütel said his country is ready to cooperate with Russia and he expressed hope that a border treaty would soon be completed. “I would like to hope that Russia, one day, will understand that we are good neighbors living side by side with each other,” he said.