Center for Strategic Decision Research


NATO’s Role in a Future Europe

His Excellency Jüri Luik
Minister of Defense of Estonia


NATO has just finished a difficult job in Kosovo. There has been a lot of criticism, but the fact is that the mission there was a show of cohesion, determination, and focus by the Alliance. NATO’s credibility is high; the Alliance has taken considerable risks to preserve and to strengthen it. The question now is how to use NATO in the best interests of the future of Europe—how to avoid tragedies such as Kosovo in the future, how to prevent rather than fight similar wars. This should be our focus as we cope with the terrible consequences of the conflict.

In a world where old blocs have crumbled but old hatreds are arising anew, it is essential that those countries committed to the defense of common values join together in common structures under a common command. The enlargement of NATO will spread stability and security in Europe as it brings aspirant countries under the NATO umbrella. It will also ensure the ability of the democratic countries of Europe to work together to successfully manage any future crises that may arise.

I believe that the size of a country is not important. What NATO needs during any crisis is clear and determined political support. NATO needs to show the flags of countries, big and small, who, through their determined efforts, are ready to participate in and support NATO actions. This cohesive support will create a political climate in Europe that will serve the interests of the present NATO states.


Some analysts, however, have advocated another slowdown in NATO enlargement, because of the need to improve post-Kosovo relations with Russia. While we wholeheartedly support the idea of deeper cooperation with Russia and greatly appreciate the fact that the atmosphere has improved since the G8 Summit in Cologne, we do not believe that a hesitant, apologetic enlargement of NATO would in some miraculous way support democracy in Russia. If we choose to risk our long-term strategy of preventing conflicts in favor of an illusive, short-term gain, then we will have chosen a totally wrong approach.

Instead, integration should be the key. Estonia has been following with interest the process in which the WEU is drawing closer to the European Union. As a future member of the European Union, we seriously believe that such a move, which can be equaled to the decision to unite national currencies, strengthens the union. This is an aim that we support. At the same time, however, we should not allow that process to draw the European Union away from NATO. As the experience in Kosovo has shown, the strength of the Western Alliance is in unity. While NATO handled all the purely military actions, the EU’s support of political, humanitarian, and financial issues was vital. In future conflicts there might be a different balance of input, but a close, strong, strategic partnership between the two organizations is vital.


Membership Action Plan

Estonia’s movement towards the European Union and NATO is well on track. As far as relations with NATO are concerned, the Washington Summit adopted the Membership Action Plan, or MAP, which is intended to help aspirant countries ready themselves for NATO membership. We welcome this plan, as it corresponds very closely to what Estonia has been expecting from NATO for several years. MAP provides us with the basic principles of what is required of future members and thus gives us clear marching orders, to use a military term. The new Estonian government, which assumed office in April 1999, has made achieving the MAP goals a top priority.

Defense Preparations

The coalition agreement signed by the three parties of the Estonian government foresees an increase of defense expenditure to two percent of GDP and a significant focus on effective and efficient defense forces. While Estonia will never have a massive army—a fact dictated by our size—we can make good use of modern technology to make the army we have an effective one. Just as in today’s business world technology means that the size of a company is no longer an inhibiting factor when looking for world markets, so too will technology maximize our possibilities as we build up our army.

Estonia has focused its military purchases to support its research and development sector. For instance, we have developed a computer-guided mortar simulator that allows soldiers to get acquainted with this weapon at a fraction of the cost of using real shells. Similar devices have been developed for anti-tank weapons and machine guns. If one is neither big nor rich, one has to be inventive.

Estonia, as most of you know, started from a very specific position. In 1991 we had neither an army nor any weaponry. Thus ours has not been a history of reforming existing armed forces, but one of building up new ones from scratch. To do this we have been in particular need of advice from abroad. We have received a good deal of very useful guidance and, with international help, established a defense college together with our Latvian and Lithuanian partners. This Baltic Defense College, located in the southern Estonian town of Tartu, will be instrumental in training senior officers for our forces. The NATO programs PFP, PARP, and Intensified Dialogue have made up another important axis in building our forces. NATO’s guidance has been instrumental in our thinking and we are committed to continuing the construction of our armed forces along NATO lines and with NATO criteria in mind. The MAP process thus is very important for us, but it is also important for NATO, since it is in the NATO countries’ own best interests to ensure that when aspirant countries do join the Alliance they can be smoothly integrated into its structures. As they say, there are two sides to every coin.


I believe that it is in the interests of us all that the MAP process be as efficient as possible. This requires that planning be closely tied to NATO’s own planning. Just as the Partner countries are expected to step beyond their political rhetoric and to show real practical results, so NATO, too, must put MAP where it belongs: on the desks of those responsible for NATO’s military planning.

In my former life as Estonia’s ambassador to NATO I was closely involved with the Intensified Dialogue process. MAP is a significant step forward. However, it is important that it be a major step forward not only on paper or in principle but also in reality. That is why I very much hope that MAP will be brought close to NATO’s defense planning. If the aim is to ensure that the aspirant countries’ defense plans are compatible with those of their future partners in the Alliance then these two aspects must be brought together under one roof.

To some extent this is happening already. When we debated which troops to commit to the Kosovo mission we were well aware of the type of troops NATO was looking for. A certain division of roles is already taking place, and NATO and its Partners are becoming aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. However, this is largely happening by chance, rather than by design, and I believe it would be in our common interest if the process were planned and started soon.


Preparing for NATO enlargement is important both for our own military and for NATO, but the underlying rationale of NATO enlargement is based on shared values, something which is as important today as it was 50 years ago.


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