Remarks by Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas at the Young Leaders Conference: 'Implications of the Ukrainian Crisis to Broader European Security and the View from a Front Line State'

04.09.2014 | 13:52

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General Breedlove,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the key topics of this Summit here in Wales is strengthening the collective defence of the Alliance and the transatlantic bond. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has evolved from an Alliance that is only concerned with territorial defence to one that has been a force for good in crisis management around the world and has contributed significantly to building defence capacity with its numerous partners across the globe.  For the last 20 years, NATO’s efforts have centred on operations that have often been far from our own borders.

But Russia’s actions in and around Ukraine over the last six months have swung the focus of NATO’s attention firmly back to its roots. In the next two days, here in Wales, the Alliance will demonstrate that it is ready, able to respond and has the collective will to defend Allies against any threat.

Russia’s actions against in and around Ukraine, as well as its aggressive military posture right on the borders of our Alliance are a powerful wake-up call. 

The events of the last six months have resurrected a dynamic in our security thinking that we had all assumed and hoped would no longer apply in a post-Cold War Europe. As the illusion of the end of history was shattered on September 11th 2001, so has been the presumption that war within Europe belongs to the trash bin of history.

Today, Russia is engaged in an undeclared war with a neighbour, part of whose territory it has illegally annexed. Russian troops are occupying areas of three nearby states against their explicit wishes. Russia has placed NATO and the European Union at the centre of its threat perception. Internally, democracy is all but nonexistent and the country is rapidly moving towards dictatorship.

In its actions in Ukraine, Russia has shown complete contempt for international law, agreements and norms. It has embraced a series of policies that pose a direct military threat not just to Ukraine or other immediate neighbours, but also to entire Euro-Atlantic security. And it is implementing those policies continuously through its aggressive posture towards NATO Allies. Most worrying for us is the speed with which Russia has demonstrated through snap exercises that it is able to concentrate forces at a place of its choosing.

Furthermore, Russia continues to demonstrate a ruthless pursuit of information dominance through its relentless misleading information campaign. And we should not forget that Russia bears the responsibility for the shooting down of MH-17 with the loss of 298 innocent lives on board. 

For some Allies, all this may seem too far away and of no direct concern. But for those of us in the front line, it is a matter of grave and immediate concern. Our populations remember the days of Soviet occupation and living with a brutal dictatorship. They have chosen the path of freedom and are determined that it will not undone by a resurgent Russia.

While the security situation we find ourselves in today should not be labelled as a new Cold War, and we should continue to seek a diplomatic solution to the current crisis, we should all be aware that Mr Putin’s Russia will continue on its current course. Unless and until it perceives that the free nations of Europe, supported by our trans-Atlantic Allies, have the hard power and the hard will to stand up to it.  So the current security environment will be with us for a long time to come.

Over the last quarter of a century, my country, Estonia, has move forward with the utter confidence that European democracies are entitled to choose their own destiny. With a population of 1.3 million people in a thin, flat strip of land, we remain confident that the bloody methods of power politics will never again jeopardize our democracy and the free choices of our people.

Through these years, Estonian security policy thinking has been guided by Article 3 of the Washington treaty, the founding act of NATO,  – that in order to be effective, the Allies will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist an armed attack.  Our defence is developed on two interrelated pillars. On one side, we build on our strong relations with our Allies and the credibility of NATO’s collective defence.  On the other side, we strengthen our own defence through whole of society. In Estonia most state institutions have defence related tasks. And we continue to have conscription, which is supported by 92% of the population.  Such an approach ensures the sustainability of Estonia in all possible scenarios. 

In all this, we know that security has a price and does not come for free. Despite the challenging times in economies, Estonia continues to invest 2% of our GDP in defence and our deployable forces around the World. To us, it is only fair that if we are to expect others to come to our aid, should it be required, we must meet the guidelines that we all collectively as an Alliance have established. And the 2% of GDP to be dedicated to defence is a guideline, which we are determined to abide by.

In response to the concerns expressed by Estonia and our front line neighbours, the Alliance has taken a number of immediate steps to react to Russia’s aggression in our neighbourhood, to which all 28 Allies are contributing. And of course it comes by no surprise that this new approach – as Secretary General has eloquently called it Readiness Action Plan – was developed during the Council’s visit to Tallinn in May. This demonstrates a clear collective will and solidarity, and most importantly the cohesion of the Alliance in the face of a clear security threat.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

More planes in the air, more ships at sea and more troops on the ground in the east of Alliance territory are what we have achieved. This is now the new normal.  NATO’s uniqueness, in addition to its integrated military structures and its permanent political decision-making mechanisms, is its ability and willingness to adapt into any new security realm.

NATO’s new posture must be sustained and reinforced, if necessary, for as long as required. And that is what NATO is adapting to be able to do so.  In the longer run, NATO must have the three Ps: presence, prepositioning and planning, in place in the eastern territory.  And this must be backed up by forces that are ready and able to respond rapidly, when needed.

Here in Wales, we will establish the groundwork for the adaptation of the Alliance to meet this new security environment in Europe. While the immediate challenge is in the east, and has been the catalyst for adaptation, we in Estonia fully understand that problems may also arise in the south of the Alliance and from other directions. That is why our adapted Alliance must be able to tackle all the challenges it might face. And Estonia will play its full part in preparing to do so.

The difference between the Cold War days and the world we live in now is one where new threats are an ever emerging reality and traditional ones have not entirely disappeared. We must be able to tackle them all. But above all we must be able and prepared for the overriding responsibility of being an Ally in NATO, responding under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty to an attack on one as an attack on all.

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