In 2018, Estonia will celebrate its 100th birthday, and many wonderful and relevant gifts have been proposed; however, ensuring national security may be the most practical gift of all.
As Estonia approaches the century mark in 2018, birthday gifts are already trickling in. In this case, with a country celebrating 100 years of nationhood, department store gift cards and bottles of wine are shunned, for example, in favour of musical instruments for Estonian children and a public square fountain in Elva. The latter are the types of initiatives being solicited by the Estonia 100 government committee. Ideas, many great, abound.
But there is one gift that Estonia truly yearns for. One present that will make all of its birthday wishes come true. This one does not require colourful wrapping paper and wide ribbon, but figuratively, does come in a package – security.
For without a future including non-negotiable borders and abiding autonomy, the currently proposed gifts will mean very little. If Estonia’s neighbour to the east, already lusting for an illegal and dark era gone by, begins to forge a new iron curtain and decides there are no real consequences to shutting the ferrous drapes, the musical instruments will be silenced and the fountain will go dry.
Unsettling feeling of déjà vu
Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader who put the “crime” in “Crimea”, has tested defences, televised misinformation and telegraphed nefarious desires throughout the Baltics and Eastern Europe. Emboldened with his trampling of Ukrainian sovereignty that was met with the worldwide equivalent of teacher administering a timeout to a schoolyard bully, Putin stalks his next victim. He lurks, in plain view.
And so, here we are again. From 1918, when Estonia first declared independence, to the ensuing Estonian War of Independence, to the Peace Treaty of Tartu in 1920 that provided a temporary peace between Estonia and Soviet Russia, to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1939 that lead to the illegal and brutal annexation of Estonia to the USSR, to the restoration of Estonian independence in 1991, we arrive at the current vague and unsettling feeling of déjà vu.
Is this fear of a rabid bear running across the border just simple paranoia, much ado about nothing? Time will tell, but in the meantime, we must do more than hope. Because, to paraphrase the Spanish philosopher, George Santayana, historical amnesia is an unappetising recipe for recurrence. And considering the very recent history of little green men strutting through eastern Ukraine, we should all have a foul taste in our mouths.
Where does one find a security package?
So, when birthday gift shopping for Estonia, where does one find a security package? Security is not available from online retailers, at the gift aisle in the pharmacy, nor does it grow on trees. Rather, it is assembled from many differing parts procured from a multitude of vendors. And it does not arrive pre-assembled. Each nation must follow time-honoured, yet evolving, assembly directions.
Certainly for Estonia, a major component of the security package is NATO membership. And that membership card arrived in March 2004. But, make no mistake, Estonia is complying with the warranty terms where the 28 NATO member nations are expected to spend two percent of GDP on national defence. Along with the United States, Greece, Poland and the United Kingdom, Estonia is one only five nations adhering to membership fee goals.
As a 45,000 square-kilometre country of 1.3 million people, in a vacuum, Estonia would not be able to defend its sovereignty alone. And of course, that means alliances like NATO are vital – not only to the individual nation, but to the common-minded bloc in the aggregate as well. Strength in numbers and affinity with kindred spirits.
But security is more than military might. Indeed, if shopping for a top-shelf security package gift, one needs to check the label for energy certainty, cybersecurity assurances, infrastructure stability, economic prosperity and resilience plans. Like its forerunners, modern warfare isn’t fair. Contemporary battlefields are often blurred and the players translucent.
Estonians abroad can become involved
So, as the 100th birthday party continues, we should be thinking of practical security-minded gifts to go along with the whimsical and elegant, lest those gifts become trivial. Estonians abroad can become involved by raising their voices wherever they may reside. This may include engaging your national government representatives or becoming involved with local Estonian organisations. For example, in the United States, individuals can support organisations like the Estonian American National Council (EANC – for transparency, of which I am a board member) and the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC).
As 2018 approaches, Estonians everywhere should prepare to make merry. The celebrations will be plentiful. And by all means, shower the fatherland with gifts of art, education, religion and science. Simultaneously though, plan for the gift of security to make sure there will be room for many more birthday candles in years and decades to come.
The opinions in this article are those of the author. Cover image by Stina Kase (the image is illustrative.)