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At the Lennart Meri Conference dinner

At the Lennart Meri Conference dinner © Annika Haas

03.09.2021

Dear friends!

I am glad we are together again in the same room. I am grateful for modern technologies which have kept us together over the last year and a half, but I admit that I have missed the buzz and missed le couloir and all the international opportunities to synchronize our thinking by arguing, agreeing and disagreeing.

The essential stems from these debates – where our adversaries also participate, contributing to our understanding of the global picture.

I have left every conference from LMC to MSC with the deep feeling of satisfaction and gratitude, with peace in my heart. Even when fissures among partners, among allies, among multilateral co-operation formats have sometimes been obvious, I have felt safe.

Because in the end after all the wonderful statements and all the faux pas, I have never sensed the feeling of disregard or dismissal towards the worries of any of those we call partners and allies.

If that feeling will be lost one day, then the democratic world will be in danger. Because the most important element of our security is not a particular deterrence measure, a specific weapons system or an arms control treaty. The most important element is our mental posture.

Global posture of the democratic alliance, the nations and leaders who believe in universal human rights and the universal right for every democratically elected government to choose independently the best future for their people. Independent of the fact whether they are able to forcefully defend that right.

Global posture of the bigger nations who are ready to leverage the opportunities for smaller nations, because they ultimately believe in the Helsinki spirit.

I guess our adversaries who are usually represented in international gatherings by extremely smart and sensitive people have sensed the same. That is why their main efforts in the last decade have been dedicated to harming that posture.

Convincing our people that democracy is inefficient.

Undermining the trust of our people in the underlying strength of multilateral organizations that bind democratic nations together.

Installing the thinking that democracies are not fit for the future.

Making our people afraid that our politicians are unable to function in the time of crisis, because they are held back by the electoral—that means democratic—processes.

Finally, supporting our politicians who promote the same kind of insecurities in our people. How do we support that posture of our people, the most important posture of all – their trust in international rules-based world order and universal human rights?

The same posture brought people to Maidan square and made them fight for free and whole Ukraine. This posture which sadly was not present in Afghanistan. Where the Afghan national army –left to be the main one responsible– did not have the will to stand up for the rights of their own wives and daughters.

Posture first. Free people of free nations who believe in their societal model and consider it worth protecting, will demand all necessary action from their elected leaders to provide them with reassurance that we are individually and collectively protected, because we have invested in our defence and formed all the necessary alliances to do together the things we cannot do alone.

History tests constantly if we – the leaders of the free nations - are truly and sincerely defending our way of life.

One of the most visible tests is our ability to support the ambitions of those who want to join our universe, but are held back by fateful turns of history: urgent examples in Europe involve Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and the Western Balkans.

If our actions are considered lacking even if our words are strong, the posture can be damaged. The adversaries point out the lack of high level participation of the principled West in the Crimean Platform par the Nordic leaders and leaders of the former nations that were captured by Soviet tyranny.

It is a wedge our adversaries can use in telling our people – and their own – that we do not really care to stand up for what we believe in.

The time taken by applying strong sanctions against Belaruskali and other vital resources for the regime in Belarus is inversely proportional with the conviction of our people that we, the leaders, prefer supporting the Helsinki acts over business interests.

Lithuanian heroic choice of not only speaking out, but also really taking practical steps to support the rights of Belarusian people, risking hybrid action by their neighbour, supports the same posture. We act, we do not transact our values.

Looking at the evolution of the deterrence posture provided by NATO and its leadership we have moved from the position of being ‘at peace with Russia, seeking strong and constructive partnership based on mutual confidence, transparency and predictability’ in 2010 to characterizing potential Russian aggression as ‘a threat to the Euro-Atlantic security’ in 2020. eFP, tFP, Defender Europe, VJTF, Multinational Divisions North and North-East – all those demonstrate that NATO’s command structure has recognized the changes in the risk pattern, visibility and predictability.

NATO has correctly sensed and acted in the Covid crisis, making sure that military capabilities served civilian needs as much as they could. It has recognized its role in the wider world, notably in being part of the democratic world in assessing and predicting the role China is seeking to play in the global future. Although the defence and deterrence of NATO’s Eastern flank can never be 100% ready, those developments have convinced me that the practical and technical side of NATO’s readiness is not the source of our biggest worries.

It is as functional as we might wish it to be, with unfaltering track record to guarantee safety and security of its members.

But the posture of the democratic world I described, depends not on technical, but political leadership.


Do our people believe we want to, can and will stand up for every member of the democratic alliance? We might be technically collectively capable and strong enough to do so. But do we reassure our people enough that we are we always politically willing and ready?

The technical strength of NATO is an important part of the posture. Whether our people and adversaries believe we are politically ready to use the capabilities can leverage and enhance or diminish the deterrence posture provided by NATO generals.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The theatres of conflict in the 21st century are so different from the ones of the 20th century. But let us not be confused by the addition of cyber and social media domains to the more conventional ones of land, air, sea and space.

Finally, the success depends on:

-First, whether our free citizens believe our values are worth defending.

-Second, whether they believe we are capable to do so.

-And third, whether they trust we stand up for the democratic rules-based world order as a whole.

I think our posture is not harmed by sometimes failing to achieve our objectives quickly. For example in the case of restoring territorial integrity of Georgia or Ukraine. Or even when we—acting in the best of faith—fail them. For example hoping to bring societal change to Afghanistan, while we were there completing our primary mission of stopping terrorist attacks stemming from Afghan territory.

Honest assessment and recognition of the action boundaries set by the rules-based system itself helps us in keeping our posture strong.

But if we are ourselves discouraged by lack of progress and therefore start to normalize abnormal developments like partial occupation of Georgia and Ukraine, we play into the hands of our adversaries.

That is what they dream of – that their assertiveness, lack of the respect to the rule of law, unwillingness to co-operate in multilateral forae like the UNSC – discourages us to the point that we will give up to overcome the feeling of uneasiness and discomfort.

Give up on our values. Give up on our partners. Give up on those who depend on our value-based support.

Give up on the democratic, rules-based world order. Give up on the spirit of Helsinki.

We shall never give up. And thankfully I have never sensed the feeling of defeat when we gather. But I promise I will let you know should I somehow at one point sense it. If necessary, I will be the canary in the coal mine.

Thank you for coming to Tallinn, to support the truly strong posture of democratic alliances!