Country Overview U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND FOREIGN ASSISTANCE OBJECTIVES & PRIORITIES
Estonia occupies a strategic corner of the Nordic-Baltic region in that it shares common borders with Russia and Latvia and is roughly 50 miles from Helsinki, the capitol of Finland. Along with its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania, Estonia formally joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) in Spring 2004. Estonia supports U.S. foreign policy interests, including at the United Nations (UN) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The U.S. has a clear interest in maintaining close relations with this ally who has proven to be an active partner in the War on Terror. Promotion of peace and security remained the USG assistance priority in Estonia in FY 2007.
Bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and the Government of Estonia (GOE) continues to produce excellent results. Still, the USG faces several challenges in ensuring that it will still be able to count on Estonia as a like-minded ally in the future. The USG cannot assume that younger Estonians who did not live through the Cold War will have the same pro-American sympathies of their elders. OPERATING ENVIRONMENT
Estonia held Parliamentary elections in March 2007, returning incumbent Prime Minister Andrus Ansip to office. The elections were widely seen as a popular mandate in support of his government’s policies. In April 2007, the GOE’s decision to relocate a Soviet-era war memorial, the “Bronze Soldier”, was followed by protracted protests within the Russian-speaking community, as well as political and economic tensions with neighboring Russia. The Estonian government is in the process of designing the next phase of its programs to reach out to the minority ethnic Russian community and engage with them on issues of language, integration, citizenship, and cultural identity.
In December 2007, Estonia began the process of joining the EU’s Schengen Area, which means that EU and non-EU citizens alike who cross Estonia’s borders will be entering common European space, and will not face further border controls when traveling to any other EU country. Thus, USG assistance to Estonia on border security and other Peace and Security initiatives will remain vitally important as the country literally becomes the Eastern-most checkpoint of the EU.
FY 2007 Country Program PerformancePEACE AND SECURITY
The first priority for USG Peace and Security assistance is to ensure the continued professional development of the Estonian defense forces, which allows Estonia to continue to tangibly support key U.S. objectives through NATO and in the War on Terror. U.S. International Military Education and Training (IMET) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) assistance are playing an important role in helping the Estonian military expand its ability to promote regional security.
The primary goal of the IMET program in Estonia is to promote military professionalism within the Ministry of Defense (MOD), Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), and Border Guard. In 2007 the program funded the training of 50 Estonian military and defense associated personnel in the U.S. The training focused on three levels of the Estonian defense forces: national/strategic level with priority on attendance at war colleges, the Naval Post-Graduate School, and the Defense Resource Management Institute; operational level with assistance focused on staff colleges, executive courses, and mobile training teams; and, tactical level, with courses consisting of specialized training for junior officers. Additionally IMET courses continued to provide critical training for defense policy and resource planners at the MOD. A mobile training team from the U.S. also provided English language training for soldiers and officers preparing for training opportunities in U.S. schools, as well as for deployment on U.S. and NATO-led operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program in FY 2007 was used to enhance an entire network of standardized, secure-mode capable, NATO-interoperable communications systems, and to improve Estonia’s ability to participate in coalition operations. The USG supported communications systems for Estonia’s Infantry Brigade, while secure communication systems for the Navy helped improve its ability to manage Estonian waters. USG support also improved Estonian Land Forces during combat operations by providing night vision devices that have broadened the scale of capabilities of deployable infantry forces. As a result of U.S. assistance, highly trained Estonian soldiers continue to fight along with U.S. and NATO-led forces across a broad-spectrum of roles including infantry troops imbedded in a U.S. battalion providing security near Baghdad and staff officers in support of multinational headquarters. Estonia has expanded its support to include units with specialized capabilities, such as its human intelligence teams supporting the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and peacekeeping units in Kosovo.
These and other efforts have shown real progress. As reported by the U.S. State Department, the Government of Estonia “has expressed a firm commitment to meet the NATO goal of spending 2% of GDP by 2010; its current defense budget is 1.8% of GDP. In 2007, Estonia increased its commitment abroad, which resulted in the deployment of approximately 500 personnel to support UN, NATO, and U.S.-led coalition military operations. At nearly 8% of its total defense forces, that number is above the European average in terms of percentage and is a good indication of Estonia's willingness and ability to contribute to global security. In 2007, Estonia increased its contribution to the NATO mission in the highly volatile southern regions of Afghanistan, and remains one of only nine Allies willing to send troops into combat. Also in 2007, Estonia reauthorized deployment of an infantry platoon under U.S. command conducting combat missions just outside of Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Though the European Union Forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUFOR) mission concluded operations in 2007, Estonia has continued to support the NATO mission in Kosovo with over 80 peacekeepers.
Estonian Defense Forces are demonstrating increase interoperability with coalition forces and have begun sharing their experiences of NATO and international coalition operations with other strategic security partners in the region. These include an active advisory role to EU- and NATO- aspirant countries (Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova) on issues of legal, judicial, economic and political reform. The USG is increasingly able to leverage assistance to Estonia as a way to “train the trainers”.
During FY 2007, the U.S. reinvigorated its funding relationship with the Demining Center, Estonia’s national mine and unexploded ordnance clearing organization. The U.S. provided $157, 000 in specialized equipment to assist Estonia’s demining efforts and help maintain its ability to carry out the difficult task of safely clearing thousands of pieces of ordnance scattered throughout Estonia. Though a civilian organization, the Demining Center has also provided demining teams to assist ordnance disposal efforts in Afghanistan. In 2007 alone, the Demining Center cleared and destroyed over 6,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance. The State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement provided an assessment team and determined that Estonia’s demining teams were well organized, trained and led.