[Swiftwater Gazette] Tommy From Jersey and the Fate of Europe

Ed kroposki kroposki at att.net
Wed May 18 07:23:13 EDT 2016

     On Wednesday, May 18, 2016 7:21 AM, Ed kroposki <kroposki at att.net> wrote:

 TommyFrom Jersey and the Fate of EuropeTheWest can learn a lot from tiny Estonia about defending freedomByJohn R. Schindler • 05/16/16 1:30pm
 EstonianPresident Toomas Ilves speaks at a talk entitled "The EstoniaModel: Why a Free and Secure Internet Matter "at the WilsonCenter in Washington, DC, on April 21, 2015. 
TALLINN,ESTONIA—The walled Old City in Estonia’s capital, overlooking theGulf of Finland, is the last intact medieval Hanseatic merchant townleft in Europe—a monument to the unwillingness of this tiny countryof 1.3 million to go away. Over the last eight centuries, having beenoverrun and occupied by one invader after another, Estonians havebeen masters of their own destiny for exactly four decades. Such isthe fate of small countries with bigger, hungry neighbors.
YetEstonia’s story over the past quarter-century, when the SovietUnion suddenly disappeared, has been a happy outlier. Regainingfreedom after the Soviet implosion, Estonians worked hard to leavethe Communist past behind and re-embrace their Western heritage withgusto. Their democracy is secure, their civil society is vibrant, andtheir economy bears few vestiges of the Soviet past. With an educatedand English-speaking workforce—Estonians know foreigners will neverlearn their obscure and difficult language—the knowledge economyhas thrived. Technology innovations are a staple of today’s Estonia(Skype being but one of their achievements), which is proud of itsinvolvement in the cutting edge of e-everything.
Thanksto a national “smart” identity card, Estonians are far ahead ofAmericans in most things involving information technology. WiFi iseverywhere and average citizens have gone paperless in theirgovernment interactions, voting and paying taxes online. The nationalID card uses two-factor authentication, making it much more securethan anything online that’s merely password-protected.
Oneof the evangelists of Estonia’s e-revolution is Toomas HendrikIlves, a technology guru who happens to be the country’s presidentsince 2006. Despite being past age 60, Mr. Ilves has an IT fan’sappreciation of how the digital revolution is reshaping hiscountry—and the world.
Agadfly, and easily the most interesting head of state in Europe,President Ilves speaks several languages engagingly and his Englishis flawless, with a pronounced American lilt. This is because he isreally from New Jersey. Like many Estonians, Mr. Ilves’ life storyinvolves a meandering path to liberty reborn. A bit of the country’srecent history explains its president.
TheSoviet collapse came suddenly—in Estonia it was happily bloodless,a testament to the population’s political maturity.
Estoniaregained its freedom in 1918, at the end of the First World War, onlyto lose it again in the summer of 1940, when the Soviets occupied thecountry for a year, which was just long enough for the Communists todispatch much of Estonia’s political and military leadership toSiberian Gulags, whence few returned.
Thefollowing summer the Germans arrived, Hitler having pushed his armieseastward to destroy the Soviets. Nazi occupation, too, provedtemporary, and once the Eastern Front’s tide turned against theGermans the Soviet army headed back to Estonia. In the summerof 1944, the prospect of Stalin’s forces reoccupying the country,with the feared Soviet secret police in tow, compelled nearly tenpercent of Estonians to flee the country in boats headed west.
Manyof them made it to Sweden, across the Baltic Sea, including Mr.Ilves’ parents. He was born in Stockholm in 1953 but the familysoon moved on to the United States, settling in Leonia, New Jersey,in the heart of Bergen County. There the future president came of ageand the experience left a strong mark. An erudite man known for beingnattily dressed—a three-piece suit with bow tie is the de factopresidential uniform—Estonia’s head of state remainsvery much Tommy from Jersey.
Thisexplains not just his accent but his willingness to speak his mind,forthrightly. Mr. Ilves is passionate about the fate of his homeland.He worked for Estonia’s freedom in the 1980s, serving with RadioFree Europe, heading up its Estonian desk in the Cold War’s lastyears. There he watched the Soviet Union unravel, helping by lettingEstonians know what was really happening, in their own language.
TheSoviet collapse came suddenly—in Estonia it was happily bloodless,a testament to the population’s political maturity—and there werefew Estonians with political skills left untainted by Communist ties.Thus did Mr. Ilves, among many other émigrés, return home in theearly 1990s to help the country rejoin the West both politically andeconomically.
Afterserving as Estonia’s ambassador to the United States, his adoptedhome, he became foreign minister. His tenure as top diplomat from1996 to 2002 laid the groundwork for Estonia’s key accomplishmentsin foreign affairs since the Soviet era, the country’s admission toNATO and the European Union in 2004. For Estonia, these membershipsprovide security by firmly linking the country with Westerninstitutions. Belonging to NATO and the EU for Estonia is a tangiblesign that the country cannot be returned to Russian rule against itswill.
ThenMr. Ilves went into politics, being elected president in 2006. For adecade, he has used this position as a cheerful bully pulpit,extolling the virtues of his little country to all who will listen,while calling things as he sees them. Mr. Ilves has been particularlyplain-spoken in his assessment of the strategic situation facingEstonia and its newly vulnerable neighborhood.
Heexplained his views last weekend, at the Lennart Meri Conference, thecountry’s premiere foreign affairs get-together. For a decade, theconference has drawn diplomats, scholars, and security mavens fromdozens of countries to Tallinn, with Mr. Ilves always playing asignificant role. It bears the name of Lennart Meri, a hero of theresistance to Communism who served as Estonia’s president from 1992to 2001, reestablishing the country’s firm European footing.
Atthis year’s tenth anniversary conference, however, Estonia’scurrent president sounded a downbeat note, observing how much haschanged in just a decade. Ten years ago, when Estonia and its Balticneighbors were NATO “new members,” the security situation wasgood, Russia seemed no particular threat, while the AtlanticAlliance’s military commitments were all “out of area,”especially Afghanistan.
However,the last decade has witnessed a profound degradation in Estonia’ssecurity. First came massive cyber-attacks on the countryin the spring of 2007, which NATO intelligence agencies believe werethe work of Russia. This was a wake-up call for Tallinn that theKremlin meant business and had no intention of playing by the rules.
Thatview was reinforced in August 2008 by the Russian invasion ofGeorgia, which showed that Mr. Putin was perfectly willing to useforce against its neighbors in the “post-Soviet space.” Thebig change nevertheless came in the spring of 2014 when Moscowannexed Crimea and began its war in Eastern Ukraine, a blatant caseof aggression. For Estonia the implications were clear andfrightening. Mincing no words, Mr. Ilves has called the Russian theftof Crimea “Mr. Putin’s Anschluss.”
WouldNATO really go to war to save little Estonia from its rapaciousneighbor with several thousand nuclear weapons?
AlthoughEstonia is protected by NATO membership, as neither Georgia andUkraine were, that is cold comfort considering the country’s tinysize. The huge neighbor to the east is capable of overrunningEstonia, if it chose to, as it did in 1940 and 1944. Makingmatters worse, the Kremlin has made its aggressive intentionsalarmingly clear. Not long ago, Moscow delivered a diplomatic messageto Tallinn in very undiplomatic language, announcing that Russia “isin a state of permanent war” with Estonia.
Thatwar is real, if not yet overt. Russian propaganda, espionage, andcovert action against Estonia, a toxic brew that I have termedSpecial War, is an everyday occurrence. Moscow uses spies andagitators to destabilize its smaller neighbor. Estonia’s Russianminority—a quarter of the country’s population—is a particularconcern. Although many younger ethnic Russians assimilate, becomingfluent in Estonian and integrated into the country’s economy, thisis no universal phenomenon and the number of disaffected Russians inEstonia is a security worry particularly because the Kremlin aimsanti-Tallinn propaganda at them 24 hours a day.
Estonia’seastern border region, around the city of Narva, is heavily Russianand a cause of concern to NATO. Cynics have noted that hardly anyRussians in Estonia choose to move to Russia, though they easilycould, yet some ethnic Russians are clearly disaffected. Fears ofa Donbas-like semi-invasion, with Russian forces crossing the borderto “save” ethnic Russians from “fascist” foreigners, areplausible.
However,most security experts think Mr. Putin is not that foolish, since anymovement of Russian troops across the frontier of a NATO countryrisks a shooting war with the West. More likely is a miscalculationleading to an armed conflict that neither side really wants.
InSeptember 2014, an Estonian intelligence officer was abducted atgunpoint by the Russian Federal Security Service, the powerful FSB,in the border region. The Estonian was standing in his own countrywhen he was taken hostage and arrested by the FSB. This was aclassic sort of Russian provocation that served to embarrass Estonia,and the hostage was dispatched back to home after a year’sincarceration that featured conviction by a Russian kangaroo court.Tallinn will not tolerate such brusque Kremlin shenanigans again,and if the FSB tries another such provocation, Estonian authoritieswill fight back. What happens then?
WouldNATO really go to war to save little Estonia from its rapaciousneighbor with several thousand nuclear weapons? There arecertainly doubts in Tallinn about the sincerity and toughness ofPresident Obama, but those are found in every eastern NATO capitalthese days. Neither does this November’s presidential electionfill the Atlantic Alliance’s “new members,” who know theRussians well, with anything that can be called confidence.
“Trumphates NATO and wants to hang out with his pal Putin while Clintonwants to give the Kremlin another ‘reset’ even though the lastone failed,” explained a senior NATO security official, expressinga common sentiment.
Estoniais doing all it can to provide for its own defense. Like almost nomembers of NATO, the country spends the “required” two percent ofGDP on defense and the country’s armed forces, which rely onconscription to provide sufficient numbers of soldiers, are small butwell trained and equipped. Russia could subdue Estonia but it wouldnot be a walk-over like Crimea.
Thatsaid, the willingness of fellow Europeans to defend Estonia is indoubt. On the weekend, President Ilves cited W. H. Auden, termingrecent years “a low, dishonest decade,” with too many NATO and EUpartners averting eyes to the real and growing nature of the Russianthreat. History did not end in 1991, as so many advanced thinkerswanted to believe. History is back in the form of an old foe, agrowling bear from the east with conquest on his mind. That bear canbe deterred but only if neighbors band together to do soconvincingly.
Mr.Ilves is stepping down this autumn, after a decade that has witnessedprofound changes for Estonia and for Europe. He is held in highesteem by those who cherish Western values, especially for hisfull-throated defense of freedom, particularly for small countriesthat too often are the playthings of others. Right now, Estonia ishosting big annual military exercises, sending a message to Moscowthat this tiny county will not be bullied and cannot be taken withouta real fight.
Willit be enough? Estonians are trying to be optimistic but they knowtheir country’s history. Over the last three centuries they havespent all but 40 years under Russian occupation. It’s difficult tobelieve that such an advanced, freedom-loving, and forward-lookingcountry could fall prey to the Kremlin yet again, but refusing toaccept that possibility is a good way to encourage Russianrisk-taking and aggression.
JohnSchindler is a security expert and former National Security Agencyanalyst and counterintelligence officer. A specialist in espionageand terrorism, he’s also been a Navy officer and a War Collegeprofessor. He’s published four books.

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