Deputy Secretary Talbott
The Robert C. Frasure Memorial Lecture, Tallinn, Estonia, January 24, 2000
A Baltic Home-Coming
Thank you, Tom [Ilves], and thank you, Mr. President, for the hospitality that you and all your other colleagues have extended over the past several days to my wife, Brooke, and to our team from the State Department. For all of us, this has been an enjoyable and instructive visit to a brave and promising country.
For me, returning to Estonia feels almost like a home-coming. I first came here as a journalist a dozen years ago, in the late 1980s. I had the good fortune then to make the acquaintance of Lennart Meri. He took me under his wing and showed me around this beautiful city. We later shared a table in the upper-deck cafe aboard the good ship Georg Ots. For 3 1/2 hours, all the way from the ferry pier in Tallinn to the one in Helsinki, we talked about Estonia's history and its aspirations.
When I returned a year or so later, Estonia was already much closer to regaining its independence -- to wit: Mr. Meri was foreign minister. I introduced him to a friend I had brought along: Dick Holbrooke, who delivered the first Robert C. Frasure Memorial Lecture a year and a half ago. Like Dick, I'm deeply honored to be associated with any event in memory of Bob Frasure, our first chief of mission in Tallinn since the U.S. legation was closed on September 5, 1940.
It was Ambassador Frasure who greeted me when I came back to Tallinn for a third time, nearly 7 years ago, in May of 1993. I was on a presidential mission to solidify ties between our governments. By then, of course, my friend and mentor Mr. Meri had assumed the presidency of the Republic. In talks with Bob Frasure and me, President Meri and his team, then as now including Tom Ilves and Juri Luik, concentrated on what was not just a watershed issue for Estonia but a priority objective for the Clinton Administration: Russian troop withdrawals from the Baltic states.
At the end of that day 7 years ago, Ambassador Frasure, his wife Katharina, and their daughters Virginia and Sarah invited us to their residence in Pirita and gave us a sit-on-the-floor dinner in their living room. They served pizza, as I recall. The Frasures made us feel very much at home, just as all of you and your fellow Estonians had made them feel at home in Tallinn. Ambassador Wells tells me you've done the same with her -- which, in her case, is especially appropriate, given her roots in Estonian soil and history.
Home-coming, ladies and gentlemen, is my theme this afternoon. Estonia is coming home to the West; it is coming home to Europe; it is coming home to where it has always belonged.
Not only has Estonia come home to the West, but Tallinn, in a sense, has come home to Reval. This thought occurred to me when I passed by the old Town Hall this morning. There, amidst the automatic teller machines and the advertisements for laptops and cell phones we saw the guild houses on Pikk Street, where Estonian craftsmen did business with merchants from all around the Baltic region and beyond. That juxtaposition of old and new is itself an advertisement for how Estonia has recovered its Hanseatic heritage.
The Hanseatic League was a concert of city-states -- precursors of nation-states -- that felt secure enough in their identities and in their neighborhood to make a virtue of their diversity and derive benefit from their interaction with one another. You had a neighbor in those bygone days, Immanuel Kant, who lived and taught in the Hanseatic city of Konigsberg and set forth a vision of like-minded democratic republics joined in a community of "civil states" committed to preserving what he called "perpetual peace."
That, in a nutshell, ladies and gentlemen, is what we, your American friends, want for you and your two neighbors in the century just begun. We want it not just for your sake but for our own. I say that because for Americans the fate of the Baltic states is nothing less than a litmus test for the fate of this entire continent where the United States has such deep and abiding interests. It's not just a test for you to pass but for us to pass together. We will do so when three distinctive and deserving nations -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- are secure, stable, prosperous democracies integrated into all the structures of the Euro-atlantic community.
Let me offer some thoughts on several of those institutions. I'll start with one to which the U.S. does not belong but which we very much hope Estonia and its Baltic neighbors will join and the sooner the better. That's the European Union. The U.S. supports EU enlargement. We believe that the more broadly Europe defines itself -- in terms of both literal geography and also what Tom Ilves calls "mental geography" -- the more peaceful and secure Europe will be.
It's fitting that Estonia was the first Baltic state invited to begin EU accession negotiations, since it is so clearly well on its way to being a net contributor to Europe's economic good health. The U.S. is pleased that the EU, at its Summit in Helsinki last month, asked Latvia and Lithuania to join Estonia in that process.
Now, let me congratulate you on something else: even as Estonia is reconnecting with the West, it is also reaching out to the East; it is redefining its relationships there not on the basis of a cruel and divisive past but on the basis of a cooperative future. Estonia is doing that by helping other nations make the transition from communism to freedom, from closed societies with closed borders to open societies with open borders.
That's apparent in the way Estonia is providing humanitarian assistance to the war-torn populations of Kosovo and Bosnia, thereby contributing to the cause in which Bob Frasure gave his life -- peace in the Balkans.
Meanwhile, Estonia has set an example for Bulgaria with its currency board; you're assisting Ukraine with its monetary reform; and an officer of your own highly professional, highly-esteemed admired border guards is today in northern Georgia as part of the international effort to help President Shevardnadze's government put in place effective measures to protect that troubled frontier. Georgia is a newly independent, post-Soviet state that is feeling especially precarious these days and that therefore especially needs and deserves our support.
That brings me to the subject of another former communist land that poses a challenge to Estonian foreign policy as it does to American foreign policy -- that is, the Russian Federation. Unlike Estonia, Russia is not exactly sure where its home is -- where, in its own transition from the Soviet era, it should go next, where it should come home to -- at least in terms of what Tom calls mental geography.
No one has spoken on this subject with more eloquence or conviction -- not to mention more experience -- than President Meri. He has stressed how important it is to all of us that a democratic Russia, at peace with itself and its neighbors, integrate itself into an undivided Europe. That is not only desirable, it is possible. The Russian people want many of the same things as Estonians and other Europeans: They want economic prosperity, and they want security for themselves, for their families, and for their state.
The problem, as Estonians know better than most, is that historically Russia has tended to define security in zero-sum terms -- win/lose, or, as Lenin famously put it: kto/kogo. The Soviet Union seemed unable to feel totally secure unless everyone else felt totally insecure. Its pursuit of bezopasnost', or absence of danger, posed a clear and present danger to others, especially small countries on its periphery.
The issue on all our minds is whether post-Soviet Russia, as it goes about redefining its political system through elections, will redefine its concept of state security as well. President Meri has spoken for all of us in expressing the hope that what he calls the "maturing" of Russian democracy will bring with it an "irreversible paradigm shift" in Russian foreign policy. The withdrawal of Russian troops from this region in 1994 and the closing of the Skrunda radar facility in Latvia last year were important steps in that direction.
However, this year has begun on an ominous note. The reason is Chechnya. The horror unfolding there is a threat to the evolution of both Russia's domestic order and its international role.
That crisis has become increasingly a focus of the world's attention and of its condemnation. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the subject of Russia -- what's happening there, the implications of the escalating horror in Chechnya for the region and for the world --all that has been a prominent subject of my conversation with President Meri, Ministers Ilves and Luik and their colleagues over the last 3 days. But the spirit of our talks was not one of hand wringing or finger pointing. Rather, it was one of brainstorming and problem solving. I've already mentioned that Estonia is contributing to peace in the Caucasus by helping Georgia patrol its northern border. We also talked about our interest for Russian integration here in the Baltics. Our hope is that Russia will come over time to view this region not as a fortified frontier but as a gateway, not as a buffer against invaders who no longer exist but as a trading route and a common ground for commerce and economic development -- in a word, that Russia will come to view the Baltics Hanseatically.
Why should that not be? After all, certain parts of Russia and certain episodes of Russian history shared in the Hansa. In Tartu yesterday, we were reminded of that city's ties to Pskov -- ties that might yet be revived to the good of both, certainly to the good of Pskov. Novgorod, too, was part of the League. Smolensk and other Russian towns had what these days might be called "associate status." Another Hanseatic port was Kant's hometown of Konigsberg, alias Kaliningrad.
It's in the spirit of resurrecting this region's Hanseatic past and burying its Soviet past that the EU has launched the Northern Dimension. This inspired and promising undertaking is a credit to your Finnish neighbors, especially Prime Minister Lipponen. It represents a significant step by the EU to project mutual security and prosperity eastward, while at the same time promoting the integration of Northwest Russia, including St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad, into various mutually reinforcing structures to the west.
The U.S.'s own Northern Europe Initiative is in the same spirit as the EU's Northern Dimension. The NEI, too, fosters sub-regional cooperation and integration, notably including with Russia. Last month I took part in the U.S.-EU Summit in Washington, and I can tell you that northern Europe was prominent on the agenda. The U.S. values its interaction with key regional organizations such as the Council of Baltic Sea States and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, where we are observers, and the Arctic Council, which we currently chair. In Reykjavik last October, I participated in the Conference on Women and Democracy in the New Millennium, hosted by Iceland and co-sponsored by the U.S. and the Nordic Council.
Now, to this audience I stress that we attach special importance to the U.S.-Baltic Partnership Commission, which advances many of the same goals as those other efforts but with an emphasis on the trans-Atlantic dimension. Secretary Albright counts the signing of the U.S.-Baltic Charter in the East Room of the White House on January 16, 1998, as one of her proudest days as Secretary of State.
And by the way, the Charter, the Commission, the NEI -- these are all a lasting credit to the gentleman in the front row, Ron Asmus, who has been a frequent visitor to Tallinn in recent years and is on his final tour as a U.S. Government official -- at least in this Administration.
Ron, as I think you all know, was one of the earliest and most effective advocates of NATO enlargement in general and of Baltic eligibility for NATO in particular. That's one of several reasons that Secretary Albright asked him to join her team 3 years ago.
President Clinton has made it a steady theme of American policy to insist that the door to NATO membership remains open. You've heard the President say many times -- and I repeat on his behalf today - that it remains a bedrock principle of American foreign policy that no country should be disadvantaged for reasons of history or geography. The Baltic states in particular should not be punished for having prevailed over occupation and dictatorship, nor should you be forgotten or neglected now that you have made such progress in establishing prosperity and openness in your neighborhood.
Because of what you have done, are doing, and will continue to do, we are committed not only to keeping the door open but to creating the conditions under which you and your Baltic neighbors can cross the threshold. This policy is not just good for countries such as yours that aspire to membership, but it is good for everyone -- I stress everyone -- since it is the best way to ensure that this region as a whole never again becomes a zone of insecurity and instability.
Yesterday, Ron and I visited the Baltic Defense College in Tartu. We saw first hand how your officers are working closely with NATO advisors to increase compatibility and readiness. Just last week, U.S. Air Force officers from our headquarters in Europe began the first in a series of official exchange visits with their Estonian colleagues, discussing, among other subjects, air operations in support of peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo.
President Meri, his ministers, and several parliamentarians with whom I met during lunch earlier have assured me of Estonia's commitment to fulfilling its end of our common task. I conveyed to them our support for the parliament's decision to increase the defense budget and to set a goal of 2% of GDP for defense spending within the next 2 years. I totally agree with Juri Luik that achieving this goal is essential if Estonia is going to have a modern and capable military.
Let me also pay homage to the several hundred Estonians in uniform who have been serving in Bosnia and Kosovo. They are part of SFOR and KFOR, NATO-led efforts to defeat the latest and currently the greatest threat to the peace of this continent -- nationalism in its ugliest, most malignant, and predatory form. If you were looking for a one-word catch phrase for that phenomenon, it might be Milosevic-ism.
Not only is there is no Milosevic in the Baltic region, but it's virtually inconceivable that one could ever emerge. This is a region where men such as Lennart Meri and Valdas Adamkus - and where women such as Vaira Vike-Freiberga - assume the leadership of free people through free elections and set the right example of how to bring their countries home to the West.
Now, I know that building a truly inclusive democracy hasn't always been easy -- for you, for your neighbors, or, for that matter, for any country. More specifically, I know, from my own visits here, that it hasn't been easy for Estonia to integrate fully into its society or fully enfranchise in its political system its Russian-speaking citizens, many of whom settled here during the Soviet period.
I remember very well my own meetings with a cross-section of Russian-speakers when I came here in 1993. What struck me was the generational contrast. The older ones stressed their grievances while the younger ones spoke just as forcefully about their sense of belonging, their determination for Estonia to make it as an independent state, and their own determination to make it as Estonians.
Then, President Meri, I remember well our conversation on this subject 2 years ago at your summer residence, Paslepa. You pointed out with justifiable pride that despite the many crimes of the Soviet period, a free and sovereign Estonia has not permitted acts of ethnic violence or retaliation.
At the Women in Democracy conference in Reykjavik last fall, one of the more impressive speakers was your countrywoman, Tatjana Stoljarova, who runs the Versicol chemical plant here in Tallinn. She's an example of how American investment is contributing to Estonia's ongoing integration into the West, but she also personifies Estonia's effort to integrate all its citizens into the mainstream of national life.
I dwell on this point because, during the 2 years that I've been co-chair of the U.S.-Baltic Partnership Commission, the issue of social integration has been one of the few agenda items that has sometimes generated what diplomats like Tom and me call "frank and business-like exchanges of view" in our otherwise genuinely and almost totally harmonious relationship.
We in Washington all recognize that Estonia has made real and impressive progress on the thorny questions of citizenship and naturalization. In addition to putting new laws on the books, you're creating new facts on the ground: Russians and Russian-speakers are increasingly active all across the spectrum of Estonian political life, including in parliament and the Tallinn City Council. I had a fascinating and basically heartening conversation on this subject with Minister Katrin Saks last night.
That said, the issue of social integration will, I have no doubt, remain vexing both in your own politics and in your on-going dialogue with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Let me therefore speak with candor about the American view about that body. We believe that the OSCE and its predecessor, the CSCE, have over the past several decades performed an immense service to all of us. They've reinforced two vital and positive principles of modern national and international politics: first, that borders must not be changed by force -- either by aggression or by violent secessionism; second, that every government has a responsibility not just to defend the territorial integrity of the state but also to preserve and enhance what might be called the civic integrity of the population -- that is, to ensure that all citizens have all the rights, benefits, and obligations that citizenship entails.
As a corollary to this principle, the OSCE and all of its members have accepted the principle that the way a government treats its own people is not just an "internal matter;" it is the business of the international community because there are issues of both universal values and regional peace at stake and also because true security and stability in Europe can only come when those commodities exist within society as well as between states. This is a principle that the U.S. and others have reiterated quite explicitly in the context of Chechnya and that the Russian leadership accepted as recently as the OSCE Summit in Istanbul 2 months ago.
It goes almost without saying -- but I should say it clearly -- that the OSCE must be accurate, fair, and accountable in its work with Estonia and with any other member-state. I assure you that the U.S. will continue to use its own role in the OSCE to make sure that it registers the very real progress that Estonia has made and that that progress is reflected in the OSCE's future role and mission in Estonia.
I also assure you that the U.S. will continue to apply itself to this task with admiration for what Estonia has already accomplished, in a remarkably short time, and with recognition -- even humility -- about how hard the task is. When I say "humility," I have in mind Tom Ilves's speech at the Swedish Institute for International Affairs in Stockholm last month. Tom offered what might be called advice to your advisers. His message, to my ears at least, can be translated simply as this: "please don't patronize us." I, for one, took the point to heart when thinking about my message to you here today.
When we Americans presume to make suggestions to others about their unfinished business of building democracy, we must do a better job of acknowledging that our own democracy-building is also incomplete. And we've been at it longer than you have; we've had more practice. It's been 224 years since we gained our independence from an imperial power. That was about 215 before you re-gained yours. Yet we still haven't achieved perfection as an inclusive and tolerant democracy.
And by the way, like you, while we're proud of our past, we also try to be honest about its darker moments. In this regard, I have on several occasion expressed my admiration to President Meri for his personal leadership in establishing the Historical Commission and thus helping this country come to terms with the crimes against humanity committed on Estonian soil.
Let me conclude, ladies and gentlemen, with this thought: When I touch on what I know are sensitive and difficult issues, please be assured that the U.S. places such importance on them not because we wish to interfere in your internal affairs or impose obstacles in your homeward path. Rather, it's exactly the opposite; it's because we want to see Estonia make progress to its destination as quickly as possible - and, I might add, so that you and we are better able to resist all-too-imaginable attempts by others to interfere in your internal affairs.
It's in that sense that my message on all the subjects I've mentioned this afternoon is basically one of encouragement. Please know we're cheering you Estonians on not from the sidelines or from beyond the goal line; we're with you on the field. Even more to the point, we're on the same team.
Uppermost in our minds, in marked contrast to some other post-Communist states, Estonia has managed to reestablish its sovereignty and independence peacefully. If all of Europe had followed that example, this continent would be a much safer and secure place today. You and your neighbors here in northeastern Europe are providing a model of how to get it right elsewhere on this continent. In that way, too, you have made yourselves net contributors to not just European civilization but to European and therefore trans-Atlantic security.
Bob Frasure was proud to have joined you at the beginning of your journey. Ron, Melissa, and I are proud to have been with you along the way. We hope we'll be there, in one capacity or another when you get where you want to go and where we want to see you arrive safely, so that we can say to you yet again: Welcome home, Estonia.
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