Cablegate: Estonia's New Government (Part Iii): Foreign And
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TALLINN 000247
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/17/2017
TAGS: EN MARR MOPS PGOV PREL
SUBJECT: ESTONIA'S NEW GOVERNMENT (PART III): FOREIGN AND
DEFENSE POLICY PRIORITIES
Classified By: C...
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TALLINN 000247 SIPDIS SIPDIS
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/17/2017 TAGS: EN MARR MOPS PGOV PREL
ESTONIA'S NEW GOVERNMENT (PART III): FOREIGN AND DEFENSE POLICY
PRIORITIES Classified By: CDA Jeff Goldstein for reasons 1.4 (b) &
1. (C) Summary. The new Estonian government's foreign and security policy priorities include strong relations with the U.S. and NATO, Afghanistan, better Estonia-Russia relations, and promoting democracy and stability in the region. The new government supports continued engagement in Iraq, but this is somewhat more controversial and a lower priority than Afghanistan. When it comes time to making a decision on whether or not to extend the mandate of Estonia's troops in Iraq late this year, a key factor will be what we are saying at the time about the future of our own deployments there. Although the new government pledges to continue to be pragmatic in its relations with Russia, sensitive issues such as the fate of the Soviet-era World War II Bronze Soldier monument will make progress in the relationship difficult. On the security side of the house, the government is committed to funding efforts to further modernize Estonia's military and to continue active involvement in missions abroad. Lack of bodies, however, may make it difficult in the medium term for Estonia to staff all of the ambitious deployments to which it has or would like to commit. End Summary.
Strong Relations with the U.S. And NATO
2. (U) The new government's coalition agreement prioritizes maintaining "good relations with the United States" and emphasizes the need for Estonia to take an active role in strengthening the partnership between the European Union (EU) and the United States. The new government supports the idea of signing the Transatlantic Partnership. Our contacts in the Reform Party tell us that the GOE will continue to work with like-minded countries within the EU to encourage cooperation with the United States in strategic areas such as energy security and EU-Russia relations.
3. (U) The government has also pledged its commitment to NATO and meeting its NATO obligations to transform its armed forces. The coalition agreement outlines the government's transformation goals as "modernity, mobility, rapid reaction capacity, and the development of specialized capacities." The agreement specifically commits the government to spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2010. (Note: Estonia currently spends 1.84% of GDP on defense. End Note.) Due to a fast-growing economy (11.4% real GDP growth in 2006), the government is confident that it will meet this target. The increased funding will go toward continued military modernization for greater efficiency, and interoperability within NATO. The government has also pledged to add up to a third of a battalion in further troop contributions to NATO's Rapid Reaction Force and the EU's Nordic Battle Group in order to make "Estonia more known in the world".
4. (C) Although its transformation targets are ambitious, the new government will not do away with mandatory conscription. Coalition partners Reform and IRL are in sharp disagreement over this issue. The previous Defense Minister, Jurgen Ligi (Reform), publicly battled for a professional, all volunteer army. However, his IRL successor, Jaak Aaviksoo, is a defender of the current system of conscription. In an April 4 interview to Postimees, Estonia's paper of record, Aaviksoo said conscription has an important civic and military educational function for young people. With only 233-265 deployable troops, the Estonian Defense Force (EDF) is already struggling to meet its current commitments. With the government unwilling to abolish mandatory conscription, its ambitions for "increasing Estonia's involvement in the world" may be constrained by its limited resources.
Prioritizing Afghanistan over Iraq
5. (SBU) In keeping with the
government's prioritization of NATO missions, the coalition agreement specifically highlights Afghanistan as one of its highest foreign policy priorities. According to Andreas Kaju, Advisor to Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo, there is broad and deep support in the government over Afghanistan. Even our interlocutors from the opposition - Center Party, People's Union, and the Greens - have expressed their support for Estonia's role in TALLINN 00000247 002 OF 002 Afghanistan.
6. (C) In contrast to Afghanistan, the coalition agreement only obliquely refers to Estonia's Iraq mission within the context of Estonia's contribution to international development cooperation and development aid. While it was not an issue during the elections, Estonia's involvement in Iraq remains widely unpopular with the public. Government interlocutors have assured us that the government will seek another extension this fall if there is another UN Mandate.
7. (C) Our interlocutors all agreed that the government is in no hurry over the Iraq mission. Both the government and opposition are watching the political debate in the United States, postponing any decision on Iraq until it becomes clearer if the United States will begin withdrawing its own forces. Since the new government has pledged to increase Estonia's contribution to international development cooperation and development assistance, Reform interlocutors have indicated to us that the government would continue assistance for Iraqi reconstruction independent of its military contribution.
8. (SBU) The coalition agreement calls for "concrete and practical initiatives for developing relationships between Estonia and Russia." The government is keen to have its foreign policy "move beyond Russia", as some MFA interlocutors have put it. As a result, the GOE will continue to focus on concrete, cross-border cooperation in the areas of transport infrastructure, law enforcement, health, education, and culture. The agreement makes no mention of trying to resuscitate and finalize the border treaty between Estonia and Russia.
9. (C) Still, the new government's desire for a more tranquil and cooperative relationship with Moscow may be set back by its plans to remove a World War II era statue, the "Bronze Soldier," and by plans to increase people's awareness of crimes committed under both Communism and Nazism. Removal of the Bronze Soldier is especially likely to elicit a volatile response from Moscow. Reform continues to be the driving force behind removing the Bronze Soldier. Reform interlocutors likened their actions regarding the statue in particular, and re-addressing the crimes committed under Communism in general, to "lancing a boil" - painful but necessary for the long-term health of the country. One prominent Reform leader told us off the record, "If it wasn't (the statue) Moscow would find something else to criticize us for...that's how the Russians are." Promoting Democracy and Stability in the Region
10. (SBU) Promoting democracy and stability in the region is the government's fourth key foreign policy priority. The coalition agreement highlights Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova as priority countries for development assistance. The government will continue to support technical assistance projects and to strengthen these fledgling democracies by bringing their civil servants, law enforcement officials, border guards, and military personnel to Estonia for training and instruction. In discussions with Ukrainian diplomats, it is clear they value Estonian assistance highly because of Estonia's success in transforming its political and economic institutions on the road to NATO and EU membership. The government will continue actively to support the EU and NATO membership aspirations of Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova within EU fora. The GOE believes that long-term regional security and stability ultimately depend on these countries moving closer to Brussels and farther away from Moscow.