An interesting opinion piece by the central and eastern Europe correspondent of The Economist. According to the writer, security in the Baltic region has actually increased more under US President Barack Obama's administration than it did under his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Still, there is the perception about some leaders in the region that Obama's "reset" policy with Russia has lessened the importance of Baltic issues in transatlantic relations. Being a Democrat, the Obama administration has been portrayed as soft by critics on the right since before he was even sworn into office. John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN, and others have consistently drawn a parallel between Obama and former President Jimmy Carter, for instance, who is generally not recalled for his adroitness in international relations.
The "Democrats are weak on national security" talking point can be traced back at least to the 1950s, when Eisenhower lieutenants, like then vice president Richard Nixon, attacked their Democratic opponents as being soft on Communism, and security in general. It has been trotted out in every election since then (and will be again in 2012). An argument could be made that conservative lawmakers, the allies of the US right in the Baltic region, have similar prejudices against Democrats today. They recall fondly the Reagan administration, though there is less nostalgia for the George H. W. Bush administration.
As an American who lives in Estonia, I often wonder exactly how US interests, European security, and local political issues will balance out. From my American perspective, I think it is obvious that the United States cannot completely dictate the Estonian-Russian relationship to Moscow. In some big ways, it does, by pledging to defend a Europe "whole and free." But, remember that twice in the 20th century, American soldiers were dispatched to die in European wars. It is in the US' interests to prevent that from ever happening again.
When it comes to the minutiae of the relationship, it is up to the Estonians to make their warm peace with the Russians. The US maintains its policy on the Baltic region, but that does not in every case correspond to reciprocal moves by the Russians. In other words, looking to Washington to solve your problems is a false hope. Don't expect Hillary Clinton to bring back Päts' regalia.
Obama has also been criticized for dabbling in realism. The embrace of realism by US geopolitical thinkers could be seen as a threat to Estonian foreign policy, which is tied up in the idealism of international organizations: the European Union, the OECD, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and so on. Being a small state, Estonia has attempted various international positions (neutrality was one), but has recently settled into a combination of the two main IR schools: joining and working within organizations to its benefit when the opportunity arrises, attending Russian May 9 celebrations when invited.
What intrigues me about the piece in European Voice is the extent to which northern European security is obscured. It mentions Russia's Ladoga 2009 military exercises. It neglects to mention that Lake Ladoga is closer to Finland than it is to Estonia, and was the scene of multiple military conflicts that involved Finland (and before it, Sweden). Yet somehow, Finland manages to exist in a mental gray area for both Western and Russian geopolitical thinkers. The fact that one could even mention a Ladoga military exercise and draw implications for, say, Estonian security and not Finnish security, given the history of the region, exemplifies this mind trick. It's almost as if the Finns have developed some kind of invisible force field that protects them from future "what if" scenarios. The only question, is if Helsinki is willing to sell its secret defense machinery to Tallinn.