teisipäev, mai 22, 2007

4 AM, Heathrow Airport

I wrote this at the 24-hour Starbucks in Terminal 4 of Heathrow Airport on Saturday morning. I am not sure if it is any good, but it sums up some of the things that have been on my mind vis a vis Eestimaa. I call it a "Treatise on Cyber Warfare" because it sounds good. Here it is:


How do you defend a small country from a larger, aggressive neighbor? This question is at the heart of so many Estonian policies, it's hard to tell where to begin.

Take the Ministry of Defense. It has a psychological goal to create widespread opposition to foreign rule among the Estonian population. And people wonder why they moved a Soviet war monument from the center of town!

For us out here in the world of the Internet, and as has been apparent from the recent cyber attacks on Estonian infrastructure, there is a high awareness that on every forum there are those that work psychologically or in reality for the goals of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin.

Like Russian policy in the past, and as the perfect metaphor of the Internet attacks provides, they intend to attack their target by overwhelming it with force and/or by sowing instability with the clear, logical goal of instating its control within the mask of chaos. Imagine a poison that works by making the individual appear to suffer from food poisoning, then reveals its true identity by the time that it is too late. That, my friends, is Russian foreign policy.

But how does a small nation counter that policy and how, in particular, can Estonia survive when the Kremlin is allegedly regaining power? I have been pondering this, and I think that it is important now that Estonia defines its goals with regards to this cynical power in Russia and acts consistently according to those redefined goals. Some of you may not like what I am about to say, but they are thoughts, and thoughts that need airing.

1. It is time to accept the Russian government for what it is.

So many foreign policy goals towards Russia seem like domestic goals from within Russia, especially from Estonia's rightwing politicians. But the fact is that Russia is run by ex-KGB men, and they will not renounce Stalinist history. The Russian government is not rational. It is not compassionate. It is not a true friend for Estonia. It is a sea that needs to be kept at bay. Estonians live in a bad neighborhood. They must recognize this. Estonians say that Russia screwed them over the border treaty and that Russia is not acting logically or legally. Why is this a shock? How is that unexpected? Of course Russia did what it did. It does not respect laws or conventions. So then why even bother to expect them to reverse their position? It's fruitless.

Estonians must accept that their neighbor is not one to be negotiated with, but rather one to be kept out of as many affairs as possible. That means ending diplomatic impasse with Russia quickly and efficiently, with the sole interest of keeping the Kremlin's fingers out of Estonia. Remember, Estonia is operating from a position of strength. It controls and administers its own territory. I welcome every effort from the Estonian government to keep Russian political interests out of Estonian politics.

2. It's time to dig in for a propaganda war.

Estonians somewhat naively expect logic and goodwill to eclipse the foul anti-Estonian propaganda that is used for domestic purposes within Russia. In some aspects they are correct. That is because most of the West views Russia with suspicion. Russian news is equally as slippery. Estonians, as Westerners, speak a common mental language that other Westerners understand, 1+1 = 2, et cetera. But Estonia must do more to make its story known in the West.

Estonia should continue to rely on its foreign ministry and some institutes for support, but should also build a greater presence in other key political centers in Europe. Who is busy selling Estonia in Paris? Who does this chore in Madrid or Rome? Estonia must broaden its connections with its allies. Right now key diplomatic initiatives are being undertaken, especially regarding NATO and EU goals in places like Ukraine and Georgia. But Estonia must work harder to woo key global and European players like the UK, France, Germany, and Italy. They should be priority contacts for Estonians. The recent work with Israel and Japan should be commended. A trip from President-elect Sarkozy would be an asset.

3. It's time to renew the commitments to pan-Scandinavianism and pan-Europeanism.

Estonia started off on a good path in the late 90s by trying to rebrand itself as a Nordic country. This was met with resistance from some in the Nordic community, as well as the Latvians and Lithuanians, but it worked in helping Estonia portray itself as an up and coming hi-tech society to people outside the region. It used skillful marketing to change its image from foreign and unsafe to stable and accessible. But the job is not done, especially in Western Europe. In the UK and even in Sweden today Estonia or Estland is some suspect place near Russia (ie. near chaos). So the job of rebranding Estonia is not finished. Instead, these ideas should be continuously restored.

What is lacking again is a constant reminder of Estonia's place in the global sweep of history. We must ask ourselves honestly, how did Estonia come into being? It came into being because of its connections to Germanic and Swedish intellectual culture. Estonians don't call it the "good old Swedish days" because they think Swedes are dapper blondes with nice cars and want to be them. Estonia, for all its lovely native culture, was a colony of the Swedish empire. But because of its status in that empire it was exposed to the comparatively liberal values of the Swedish empire in the 17th century, which laid the groundwork for the rise of Estonian nationalism in the 19th century. Think of the Romans in the UK. They came and stayed for 300 years, but after that their legacy has never been carried away. Instead it has been built on, age after age. We tend to forget how important history is, but Estonia must stay true to its roots and think about its future in terms of that perspective.

This narrative is working its way along, but it is unfinished. The recent events in Tallinn showed a government that is capable of governing in times of chaos and diplomatic intrigue, but it also revealed a country that has some adolescent growing pains to go through before it achieves the desirable status of irreplaceable normalcy where civic institutions are pushed forward by the hard efforts of the past.


4. Reject Conflict, Embrace Progress

After dealing with all the negativity from Russia in recent weeks it has dawned on me that the appropriate response should not be to negatively push back but to act positively and pragmatically. A negative action should be met by a positive one. The Russian propaganda engine churns, while the Estonian one builds relationships in Paris. Fighting swarms of Internet propagandists isn’t going to work out to the advantage of those who enjoy Estonian sovereignty. Instead, we should fortify our castles in other ways.

The best way to deal with the Nashists is not to fight back, but to ignore them and treat them with the dull rhythm of law and order. Their negative actions should only result in positive reactions. Their hunger for conflict should never be satiated.

Let them starve.

22 kommentaari:

Flasher T ütles ...

I like it. The idea of an Estonian version of the British Council or Goethe Institute is extremely appropriate. There is the tradition of Estonian Houses in big expat centres like New York or Toronto, and this needs to be taken further.

Estonia would very much like to be like Switzerland - just friendly enough with its neighbors to not be involved in any of their conflicts, otherwise left alone; "we'll take your money, but please don't move here". Of course objectively this is impossible - Estonia will always and inevitably be aligned with some major force, and all it gets to do is choose the one it fancies more. Exporting counterpropaganda and actively developing goodwill around the world is an important task.

However, I think you're maybe somewhat underestimating the Estonian government's ability to manipulate others. The way to make Europe care about Estonia's security is to make Europe worry about Russia's aggression. Take the border treaty debacle: with the benefit of hindsight, we might come to the conclusion that it was a great diplomatic victory for Estonia, provoking Russia into a hysterical, unreasonable response.

Russia is in the habit of making threats from a position of weakness; we must convince the EU and NATO that Russia must never be allowed to come into a position of strength.

Nothing is Free ütles ...

flasher_t,

That's a great idea! Provoke those stupid predictable Russkies, so that Europe can see their true bestial nature. Estonia the matador. Bravo!

Andres ütles ...

I don't think we should provoke our neighbours. We should treat Russia like we would treat Finland if they would fuck us over. With respect, yet with firmness.

Flasher T ütles ...

The point is that Finland is not Russia. There's a difference in mentalities which means you cannot deal with these two countries in the same way.

It's disingenuous to expect Russia to respond to diplomatic activities in a civilized, European way. Diplomacy is a means to an end, and if Estonia can achieve its goals through diplomacy by provoking a reaction from Russia that helps it, in the long run, then the provocative diplomacy is a success.

somebody ütles ...

I think the real goal of Russian foreign policy is to entertain the local audience. Take today's lonely "nashi" in Tõnismäel. He was performing a show for a Russian tv channel. Most Russians don't care about these things, but the kremlin continues his own "pre-electoral" campaing. It makes Putin feel happy.

The two things that Estonia should do are: cutting off Russian funding for nashi-like groups. And leaving Russian schools in peace. Russians in Estonia don't care much about politics, but their children's schools are a very emotional issue. So leave the schools. People will continue to learn Estonian nevertheless.

Another thing that Estonia should do is to show the world that there is no discrimination at all. But in reality, Estonia has nothing to fear from Russia.

Kari ütles ...

No way should Russia be provoked. That is exactly what their propaganda machine needs. We really should minimize our contact with them while working extra hard to explain our situation to our friends.

There is little hope that Russia might become a "normal" country. Estonians should know better to expect normal relations.

Giustino ütles ...

We really should minimize our contact with them while working extra hard to explain our situation to our friends.

A gesture of "goodwill" would be taking care of the border treaty issue. I'd like to see that ended so Russia has less reasons to even think about Estonia.

But Estonia should continue to build its institutions and resources all the while because -- knock on wood -- you never know. How about spending a little extra EEK on defense, like a good NATO member.

tambourine man ütles ...

There's no way to avoid provoking Russia.

Every day you live and breathe as an Estonian in an independent Estonia, you are provoking Russia.

Giustino ütles ...

Here's an interesting interview with Mikhail Stalnuhin in English:

http://regnum.ru/pressroom/english/press-stalnuhin/

He discussed the idea of lingusiticautonomy for Narva, and it's interesting that he says cultural autonomy would only create one more bureaucratic institution.

"The law on cultural autonomy cites all advantages that autonomy gives. I can say that Narva already has all those advantages. But apart from advantages, autonomy results in establishing one more bureaucratic institution."

somebody ütles ...

The border treaty has nothing more than a simbolic meaning. The Russians do not even have a border treaty with Norway. What counts is that de facto there is an internationally recognized border, and that there is acquiescence on both sides.

Giustino ütles ...

What about all those hectares of land we were going to exchange in Võrumaa?

stockholm slender ütles ...

Very sensible words. I would think that ruthless pragmatism would be the best possible attitude: flexibility over non-substantial issues and firmness over non-negotiable areas. Russia indeed is in the grip of very archaically thinking elite, once again, which does not care one iota about the nation itself - that's simply a fact of life that we have to deal with.

martintg ütles ...

Giustino said...
A gesture of "goodwill" would be taking care of the border treaty issue. I'd like to see that ended so Russia has less reasons to even think about Estonia.


The border treaty has been taken care of. Estonia has ratified it in good faith, there really isn't anything more Estonia can do.

Andres ütles ...

Here's an interesting interview with Mikhail Stalnuhin in English:

The only part the Estonian press quoted from that article was a question left out of the English translation which was there in the Russian original. Stalnuhhin was asked about Nochnoi Dozor and he said that in his heart he loves them, he thinks they said out loud what the Estonian people had on their mind but their actions were not well thought out.

That basically made him automatic flamebait in Delfi, Postimees Online etc.

karLos ütles ...

i wonder if building more friendships further west will really make much difference if push comes to shove.

the germans, french etc are all so high on russian gas, would they help estonia (even diplomatically) if push REALLY came to shove?

i also don't believe there is any chance at all of any military assistance from them (not that it will come to that) - and not while russia powers their economies.

Nothing is Free ütles ...

flasher_t,

International diplomacy is neither chess (word to Kaspy), nor a Dune novel. No-one can predict anything even 2 steps ahead. Things happen chaotically, and get rationalized into some deep strategy after the fact. Just after the US bombed the Taleban into apparent oblivion, the neocons were gloating about their "hyperpower" and "creating their own reality" and the apparent Pax Americana stretching into infinity based on current dominance + using non-linear dynamics to predict crises and averting them or controlling them enough to retain the dominance. No kidding. I guess that explains the clusterfuck in Iraq... Or the 911 blowback to begin with. So the best long-term strategy is to play it safe, one step at a time. There will be no great gains, but no great losses either. Examples are Sweden (for the last 200 years), Switzerland, Finland.

Nothing is Free ütles ...

tambourine man,

I bet most Russians under 20 were not even aware of Estonia's existence until now. To others it was the place to visit if you could not afford Denmark or Sweden (until now). Russians think about Estonia about as much as Americans think about Russia. Think about that.

Giustino ütles ...

i wonder if building more friendships further west will really make much difference if push comes to shove.

It already has. Condaleeza Rice called Toomas Hendrik Ilves to express US support in the latest diplomatic tift. That wouldn't have happened in 1940. Sumner Welles didn't call Konstantin Päts in 1939.

The bottomline is that we have to learn to reexamine some ideas that are out there.

1) Estonia is indefensible.

How untrue. With limited assistance from Great Britain and Finland, Estonia won its war for independence in 1918-1920.

And the Germans held the Tannenberg line from July to September 1944.

Going back further in time, the Swedes were outnumber 2 to 1 and still won the battle of Narva in 1700.

Most battles fought in Estonia have been lost by the Russian side. That's because Russia's ultimate goal is always to defend *Russia*, not Estonia.

2. Estonia is a diplomatic drain on larger countries.

On the contrary it's quite useful. Estonians can speak with greater gravitas about democracy to Georgians and Ukrainians. On the flipside, the Russians get to use Estonia as a boogeyman for domestic political purposes. Either way, Estonia is an asset to other countries.

In my opinion Estonia should build stronger relationships with other European countries. The trans-Atlantic relationship is quite strong. It helps that the president spent his formative years in New Jersey. But when it comes to EU politics countries like France, Italy, The Netherlands, and the UK are key.

urr ütles ...

it is so true what giustino wrote, especially about the need for working harder in european countries. a lot of people there have even no idea where estonia is situated. it's true also that all of us have been so naive... thinking that we can build up our country in peace...
I have only one small remark: estonian state is a miracle, but we do not having it because of swedes or germans. we have it because of our war for independence.

Puu ütles ...

the jamacain mafia support estonian sovereignty. irie

Puu ütles ...

the jamaican mafia supports estonian sovereignty. irie

Architectse ütles ...

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