October 14, 2014
Ambassador Jeffrey D. Levine
Thank you, Dr. Müürsepp. It’s my pleasure to be here once again at Tallinn University of Technology. I appreciate all of your interest in U.S. foreign policy – and, as always, we’re dealing with a very complex environment out there with numerous regions of the world facing significant issues.
I thought I’d start with the recent visit by President Obama, which was clearly a high-point in U.S. Estonian relations. I’ve been asked regularly why President Obama chose to visit Estonia and there were a number of reasons. Many of these were outlined in the President’s speech – which I hope you had the opportunity to hear.
First: Is recognition of the close relationship between our two countries and of Estonia’s phenomenal progress during the last 23 years in its transition from a coerced Soviet republic to the vibrant democracy it has become. President Obama called Estonia one of the “great success stories.” It’s a world leader in internet freedom and e-Governance and has been a highly responsible influence on the international stage. Estonia is actively engaged around the world, sharing its transition experience and supporting human rights, democracy, free markets and good governance. Estonia and the United States share core values that have led to an especially cooperative relationship.
Second – Tallinn presented an excellent venue to highlight America’s commitment to NATO and the security of every ally in every region of the alliance. I personally thought one of the most moving parts of the President’s speech was his assurance that the protection of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius was just as important as that of Berlin, Paris and London -- that there are no “new” or “old” members of NATO -- and the importance of Article 5 of the NATO treaty that enshrines the commitment to collective defense remains the heartbeat of the alliance. As many of you may know, the United States has had soldiers on the ground in Estonia – as well as Latvia, Lithuania and Poland - since last April in response to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. The soldiers are intended to serve both as visible reassurance to our allies and visible deterrence to any nation that might under estimate American commitment to its NATO responsibilities.
During his visit to Tallinn – President Obama met with the U.S. soldiers deployed here – at that point members of the 173rd airborne as well as members of the Estonian Defense Force to further highlight our security cooperation. Since the President’s visit, the 173rd has been replaced by units of the First Cavalry, which brought with them heavy equipment including the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Stryker. These soldiers will train with Estonian forces through the end of the year.
Following his stop in Estonia, President Obama continued on to the NATO Summit in Wales --where again -- the alliance’s commitment to collective defense was reinforced in some important ways. First – the allies agreed on creation of a Very High Readiness force that will be able to deploy within a few days to threats that arise, particularly at the periphery of NATO's territory; a Readiness Action Plan that will ensure NATO is able to respond to what is now being called “hybrid warfare” -- the term being applied to some of the tactics seen in Ukraine, a commitment to increased defense spending and some very pointed language about Russian aggression and support for Ukraine.
In Warsaw last spring, President Obama announced a $1 billion dollar initiative to boost U.S. military presence in Europe and, if approved by Congress, a sizeable portion of those funds will go towards implementing different aspects of the readiness plan. All this will help NATO invest in critical capabilities and rise to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The steps taken at Wales ensure that NATO has the ability to respond to threats on its borders, as well as further afield.
I'll conclude this section with some thoughts regarding the U.S. - Russian relationship, which has been strained to say the least. We believe that Russia's aggression in Ukraine violated numerous international agreements to which Russia is signatory and fundamentally changed the security environment in Europe. Russia has used force to redraw borders and continues to destabilize Ukraine while attempting to dictate Ukraine's geo political orientation. These actions follow a lengthy slide in Russia itself where civil society and freedom of expression have been under constant attack.
The International community wants a diplomatic solution for Ukraine and we have called on Russia to be a part of it. Russia has repeatedly ignored that call, however, and is now paying a price in the form of international isolation and economic decline. The U.S. and the EU have deepened and broadened sanctions against Russia’s financial, energy and defense sectors. The ruble is at an all-time low, capital is fleeing and Russia’s credit rating has dropped.
As President Obama has said, we have no interest in weakening Russia. It is in all our interests to have a strong and growing Russia that contributes to international security and peace. We continue to encourage Russia’s positive participation on issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and arms reductions. But Russia has to respect international norms. Russia must fulfill all the terms of the agreement signed in Minsk and cease efforts to destabilize Ukraine before its standing will improve.
While the turmoil in Ukraine has dominated much of America and Europe’s attention, it is far from the only foreign policy challenge we face.
High on that list – both for the United States and NATO – is the end of theircombat role in Afghanistan. The NATO summit paid tribute to the sacrifices by the international community during the last 13 years to create a sovereign, stable and unified Afghanistan. Again – Estonia has played its part in this Mission with both a military contribution and development assistance. Afghanistan has just sworn in a new government and signed a bilateral Security Agreement that allows U.S. and allied forces to continue training, advising and assisting Afghan National Security Forces in a non-combat role. Estonia has already committed about 25 members of its military to NATO’s Resolute Support mission. The international community has also pledged nearly 1 billion euros annually to sustain Afghan National Security Forces through 2017. This mission is a vital part of the alliance’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan to safeguard the gains of the last 13 years. There’s a lot of optimism right now regarding Afghanistan’s future – but no one underestimates the challenges still to be faced.
Far less encouraging is the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – ISIS or ISIL – a truly barbaric group now controlling territory in Syria and Iraq. The U.S. is leading an international coalition of more than 50 countries, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to confront and defeat this group. The coalition is using air strikes to degrade ISIL’s ability take territory, while supporting legitimate local forces that are fighting them. We are collectively working to starve them of their funding and prevent recruitment of foreign fighters including those coming from Europe and the United States. This coalition – Estonia included – is alsoproviding substantial humanitarian assistance to ease the suffering of those in the path of ISIL. The United States has no interest to returning its soldiers to the ground in this region and has called on the countries most deeply affected to take the lead in protecting their citizens and territories. No one wanted to see yet another conflict in this region – but the danger represented by the brutal, intolerant and absolutist goals of this group cannot be ignored.
Combat and conflict always dominates the news – but other issues also play a critical role in U.S. foreign policy and global leadership. The spread of the Ebola virus is a perfect example of an international challenge that requires a coordinated global response. The United States is working closely with the African governments suffering the largest outbreaks while trying to stop the spread of this deadly disease and ensure the international health community is prepared to treat it wherever it occurs. We have contributed about $165 million to fight Ebola and have assigned more than 100 disease prevention experts to Africa, and working with the World Health Organization and the U.S. Center for Disease Control, to provideequipment, essential supplies, public health messaging and technical expertise. We are also committed to sending 4,000 U.S. forces to the region to oversee the construction of 17,100-bed Ebola Treatments Units and to establish a regional training hub.The Ebola virus demonstrates that many challenges supersede national borders and require a truly trans-national response.
My final points are in the economic spheres. Our biggest initiative in that area is a comprehensive trade and economic partnership with Europe that we call the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or T-TIP. At the same time, we are negotiating a similar agreement with 13 countries in the Asia-Pacific region called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We believe T-TIP will increase economic growth, jobs, and international competitiveness both in the United States and Europe. A primary intent of the agreement is to make it easier for companies to do business on both sides of the Atlantic by reducing the regulatory requirements, allowing us to either harmonize or accept each other’s regulations. The initiative has engendered a fair amount of suspicion by some who fear the agreement could be used to weaken environmental or consumer protections. This is definitely not our intent and we have appreciated Estonia’s support of the proposal.
As I mentioned at the beginning – we’re living in very complex times that demand all of us pay attention to events outside our borders. U.S.-European cooperation hasbeen potent force in addressing global issues. Medical, scientific, economic, and humanitarian contributions are as important for realizing our foreign policy goals as military strength. Leadership requires us to see both the dangers and opportunities that await us
Thank you for your time today and I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on these topics or answer any questions I can.
(U.S. Embassy, Estonia.)
Foreign Policy Speech at Tallinn University of Technology