U.S. Embassy, Riigikogu, Information Center December 12, 2014
Chairman Kraft, President Veetõusme, Madam Minister Pentus-Rosimannus, Mr. Grazin, distinguished members of the NGO For Estonian Freedom and the August 20th Club, ladies and gentlemen: Thank you for inviting me to speak today about the U.S. Estonian relationship. I am honored to be with such a distinguished group of Estonian patriots, whose courage in time of crisis laid the foundation for restoring the independence of the Republic of Estonia.
Today I would like to speak about the U.S. diplomatic mission in Estonia, the importance of President Obama’s recent visit, and share some thoughts on our common interests in security, economic prosperity, and culture. It is a good news story, and one that I have been privileged to witness first-hand over the last two years.
Before I speak about U.S. relations with Estonia, I think it is important to acknowledge the role played by the people in this room. With your leadership, Estonia regained its independence and began its transition to a free-market democracy.
Twenty-three years later, your country is widely recognized as one of the most, successful countries of all the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations. You have created an ethics- and values-based state that ranks high on all international indicators and participates constructively on the global stage. Estonia plays a responsible role in the European Union, NATO, the United Nations, and the OSCE. And Estonia’s unwavering support of allied security and humanitarian operations across the globe – from Afghanistan to Ukraine to Africa – is highly valued.
Now a little on our history: The United States has maintained continuous official diplomatic relations with the Republic of Estonia since July 28, 1922. And Estonian consular representatives were working in the United States for two years before that.
After the illegal occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union in 1940, -- U.S. Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles established the U.S. Government's official policy of non-recognition. As a result, the United States never recognized the forcible incorporation of Estonia, as well as, Latvia and Lithuania into the Soviet Union.
Following the restoration of Estonia's rightful independence on August 20, 1991, the United States immediately announced its intention to re-establish full relations with the Republic of Estonia and on Feb 6, 1992 resumed operations in the current U.S. Embassy chancery building located on Kentmanni Street - the same building that housed the U.S. Legation to Estonia from April 1, 1930 until it was forced to close on September 5, 1940.
Since the arrival of our first Ambassador – the late Robert Frasure, our Embassy has expanded its operations to cover all aspects of political, economic, consular, cultural and security engagement.
President Obama’s visit to Estonia on September 3 highlighted the strong cooperation between our countries. Many people have asked me why President Obama chose to visit Estonia. There were a number of reasons. Many of these were outlined by the President himself – 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. President Obama called Estonia one of the “great success stories” –
a world leader in internet freedom and e-Governance and 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.
Article 5 of the NATO treaty – our 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 reassurance to our allies and visible deterrence to any nation that might doubt America’s 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 173rdAirborne Brigade Combat Team as well as members of the Estonian Defense Force to further highlight our security cooperation.
Since the President’s visit, the 173rd was replaced by units of the First Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, which brought with them heavy equipment including the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and Strykers.
Following his stop in Estonia, President Obama continued on to the NATO Summit in Wales, where once again, the Alliance’s commitment to collective defense was reinforced in some important ways. The Allies agreed on creation of a joint Very High Readiness task force that will be able to deploy within a few days to threats that arise, particularly at the periphery of NATO's territory. NATO also committed itself to a Readiness Action Plan able to respond to the “hybrid warfare” of the sort we have seen in Ukraine and to increased defense spending among Allies.
As the Wales Summit showed, Russian aggression in Ukraine has fundamentally changed the security environment in the Baltic States and highlighted the critical importance of U.S.-Estonian cooperation.
The United States – both as a friend and an ally in NATO – is committed to Estonia’s security. In the last eight months we’ve had boots on the ground, planes in the air and ships at sea. And we will continue to be here as needed. A new rotational force will be arriving next month.
The successful deployment of U.S. troops in Estonia has been the result of close cooperation with in the Estonian Defense Forces and the Estonian government. We appreciate Estonia’s own commitment to a strong defense and the first-class Host Nation support our soldiers are receiving. The U.S. soldiers in Estonia live and work at Tapa Training Center and train with their partners in the Estonian Scouts Battalion and the 1st Infantry Brigade. This joint-training is emblematic of our overall security relationship; it is a true partnership.
Through this partnership, we will continue to provide visible security assurances and work with our Estonian counterparts to implement the NATO commitments made in Wales.
Our security cooperation also extends beyond Estonia’s borders. The NATO summit paid tribute to the sacrifices by the international community during the last 13 years to create a sovereign and stable Afghanistan. Estonia has played its part in Afghanistan with both a military contribution and development assistance.
Afghanistan has just sworn in a new government and signed a bilateral Security Agreement that invites U.S. and allied forces to continue training, advising and assisting Afghan National Security Forces in a non-combat role. Estonia has already committed up to 25 members of its military to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. This mission is a vital part of the alliance’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan to safeguard the gains already made.
Far less encouraging is the rise of the Islamic State of Levant, 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. Estonia’s recent donation of ammunition to the Kurdish defenders is an excellent example of your contributions to this effort. Recent Estonian financial and expert contributions to the fight against Ebola in West Africa, humanitarian and cyber security assistance in Ukraine, and e-government assistance to Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan are examples of Estonian engagement on issues important to both our countries.
On the commercial side, I want to highlight the dynamic and growing economic relationship between our countries. It encompasses a broad range of sectors from manufacturing to technology. I would also say that Estonia and the United States share a unique entrepreneurial spirit that makes us a good fit for each other.
In terms of numbers, U.S. exports to Estonia totaled more than $242 million in the first 9 months of 2014. During that same period, Estonia exported almost $450 million of goods to the U.S. – a 32% increase over 2013.
There is also increasing Foreign Direct Investment with Estonia`s investment in the U.S. reaching $107.5 million with U.S. Direct Investment in Estonia at more than $513 million. The American Chamber of Commerce in Estonia now has close to 130 members and is the largest foreign chamber in Estonia.
One of my primary goals as U.S. Ambassador to Estonia is to increase commercial activity between our two economies. Our most important issue right now is building support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or T-TIP.
T-TIP is an ambitious undertaking to create an even deeper economic partnership that will eliminate barriers and promote growth and prosperity in the 21st century. If successful, T-TIP will join more than 800 million citizens, arguably the most well-off and sophisticated customers in the world, in an open market that will make it easier to do business while maintaining high levels of health, safety and environmental protection.
Another area where we have focused our engagement is in expanding the technology ecosystem ties that started with Ebay’s purchase of Skype back in 2005.
These ties have accelerated over the last few years with a growing number of Estonian technology companies jumping to the U.S. Examples include Zeroturnaround and Grabcad in Boston, the latter of which was purchased by a U.S. company for 100 million earlier this year, Pipedrive, Fortumo and PlanetOS in Silicon Valley and Defendec and Guardtime in Washington, DC. To support this engagement, I led a 17-member business delegation to DC and Boston this past June. Right now, Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas is in the U.S. with a 40-member business delegation. The group is visiting Silicon Valley, Washington DC, Boston, and New York City. Prime Minister Roivas also met with Vice President Biden during this trip.
Estonia and the United States also share a strong commitment to a free and open internet. Earlier this year, Estonia hosted the Freedom Online Coalition Ministerial in Tallinn. Over 26 countries took part. Secretary Kerry delivered remarks and Google Tech Evangelist Vincent Cerf was the headline U.S. speaker.
This group of states is focused on keeping the internet free and open to support free expression and technological innovation. In so many ways, Estonia shows what is possible when you truly embrace these concepts.
The U.S. government also collaborates with the Estonian e-governance sector in eastern partnership countries.
These joint projects, which are already taking place in Kyrgyzstan and Moldova, are focused on improving services and combatting corruption by deploying Estonia’s cutting-edge know-how in this area. As President Ilves like to say, you cannot bribe a computer.
No discussion of the U.S.-Estonian relations would be complete without mention of our cultural connections. Estonia and the United States share strong and rich cultural ties that have only been strengthened through exchanges and cooperation between our two countries.
This fall we hosted the Musik Brigade, part of the U.S. Army Europe Band and Chorus, which played for diverse crowds in Tallinn, Sillamae, and Narva. The international language of music is a strong bridge across cultures and works in both directions.
We supported U.S. musicians at various festivals in Estonia, including the Viljandi Folk Festival and the Schilling regional music festival. In addition several choirs from the U.S. participated in this summer’s Song Festival.
This year I had the pleasure of presenting the Grammy award for Best Choral Performance won by Tõnu Kaljuste for Arvo Pärt’s: Adam's Lament. 2014 was also an exciting year for Arvo Part’s music in the United States, with sold out concerts in Washington, DC and New York.
Cultural exchange also extends to education. For 22 years, Fulbright scholarships have brought Estonians to the U.S. and Americans to Estonia for study, research and cultural exchange through the Fulbright Program. More than 170 U.S. Fulbright students and scholars have studied, researched, or taught classes in Estonia, and a like number of Estonians have been educated, taught, or performed research in the United States.
Many Estonian “Fulbrighters” have gone on to brilliant careers, among them Marina Kaljurand, former Estonian Ambassador to the United States.
Professional Exchanges Programs are another way of strengthening people-to-people relations between the U.S. and Estonia. Since 1991, more than 500 Estonians have participated in International Visitor Leadership Program. The IVLP brings current and emerging Estonian leaders in a variety of fields to the U.S. to meet with their American counterparts and exchange ideas and knowledge.
To conclude, the U.S- Estonian relationship is both wide and deep. We are working as partners in almost every imaginable area. In the years following Estonian independence, we supported your transition with financial assistance through programs like the Peace Corps and USAID. Now, Estonia itself is an emerging donor nation – supporting other countries in transition. I can say with certainty that U.S.-Estonian relations are as strong as they have ever been. This is due, in great part, to the personal efforts of countless American and Estonians united by our common values and our common vision. I again thank you for your efforts and wish you all a Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year. Thank you.
Keynote Address at August 20th Club Meeting by Ambassador Jeffrey D. Levine