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President of the Republic At the 20th anniversary and graduation ceremony of the Baltic Defence College in Tartu

20.06.2019

President Vējonis and Speaker Pranckietis, dear ministers and generals, my dear graduates

100 years ago our countries achieved statehood and independence because we found allies who were ready to help us. Only 20 years later we lost our independence – and each of our Baltic countries were alone at that point. Because back then Allied support was not structured as it is today. It wasn’t institutionally structured. And also it was not structured through a network of officers who would have studied together, speak the same language and who could have helped each country to stand up.

Nowadays we know that Allied support means that nobody can surrender alone, because there are others with whom they have exercised, trained, studied, discussed and institutionalized our defence. This is the lesson that we learned from our history which brought us together 20 years ago when we established the Baltic Defence College in 1999.
Back then it still wasn’t self-evident to everybody in the Baltic states that we’re all in this together. Nor was it self-evident to everybody in the West that the defence of Europe starts here on the coasts of the Baltic Sea.

During the last 20 years the Baltic Defence College has developed into one of the most successful Baltic cooperation projects. Because when it comes to educating general staff officers, future generals and higher civil servants, then doing things together and with our Western allies is not just one of the options, but actually the ONLY option to make sure that the necessary cooperation structure at every level is in place. It’s not just about economy of scale, but about the quality and professionalism of senior officers and leaders. Because security and military operations have today become so complex that it’s just impossible for rather small countries like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, if I may say so, to develop all the operational and strategic bicycles themselves.

But the Baltic Defence College gives more added value than just very good professional and international education to its individual graduates. Studying here together in Tartu forms long-lasting friendships and bonds between course members, between officers and civil servants of all participating countries. And I know that it’s not formed only in the class-rooms and seminar halls, but also in the bars and pubs of Tartu.

And I have also hear of a certain place in the Ida Street that many of you know very well.  Not only does it mean that all the graduates have a common understanding in planning future operations and strategic plans and about the Baltic security environment, but they also know each other on a very personal level which itself is a huge asset in doing cooperation.

That means that you graduate here, you grow up through the ranks and you will always be supported by those who have been your classmates and by those in classes before and after you. This is exactly the security network which we can rely on.

The College has also helped to make the Baltic states from a consumer of security to a provider. In the 1990’s it was Denmark and especially General Michael Clemmesen who pushed the Baltic states to establish this school and helped to get it started. Denmark had a very good understanding about what ‘indivisible security’ means and how well-defended Baltic states are beneficial to their own security. I want to thank especially General Clemmesen for all this. And I can assure you that we have also picked up this very important lesson by now having educated also dozens of officers from the Balkan countries, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to our high, Western and democratic standards. And in turn, many of these countries have picked up a few lessons from this school. Look, for example, how Georgia is one of the biggest per capita contributors to NATO operations while still being an aspirant-country.

Ladies and gentlemen,

By today the understanding that the defence of the Baltic states as a single military area has developed very practical outputs. We now have Allied battle groups stationed in all three Baltic states, and also Headquarters of Multinational Divisions North-East and North established that make Allied and unified defence of the Baltics a reality. And I’m quite sure that those HQs will be packed with BALTDEFCOL graduates. This is what we have trained for, this is what we have dreamed all along.

I believe that among others it has actually been the Baltic Defence College, and all its graduates who have actually helped to make this change a reality. It’s the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian officers, generals and civil servants who have had a common education and understanding of security, who have also disseminated this understanding in their organizations over the 20 years. It has also been the Western graduates who have contributed to a wider and better understanding how important the defence of the Baltics actually is to global and European security.

To all of today’s graduates I would like to quote Lennart Meri when he spoke not only at the opening, but also at the graduation of the first course exactly 19 years ago: “Education, especially on such a high and international level, is never cheap. But peace, stability and security are never too expensive”. We, the three Baltic neighbors, allies in NATO, know that from history. The future security of the regions rests first and foremost in your hands, dear graduates. Political adherences between our countries is strong, but politicians can not create the real bond between societies. The real bond can be created by army officers and generals – you, who recreate this strong bond every day with your service. Thank you all for that!