Foreign Policy Institute Remarks

Ambassador Melville (Photo: U.S. Embassy)Remarks by Ambassador James D. Melville, Jr.

Foreign Policy Institute, Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

 Tere! Suur aitah, et teie olete siin!

Hello and thank you all for coming.

Dr. Mälksoo, colleagues and new friends, it’s a great honor for me to give my first foreign policy remarks as U.S. Ambassador to Estonia at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to be hosted by the Foreign Policy Institute.

When I began my diplomatic career over 30 years ago, I’m told this building housed the communist party. Lenin stood watch out front. And around the corner, the Komsomol occupied what once was the U.S. legation building.  As I’ve begun to get to know Estonia, its people, its achievements, and its values over the last two months, it’s difficult to think of Estonia as anything but a dynamic Nordic country and close ally of the United States.  That is your success.  Of course, I know it’s been far from easy, — occasionally very painful and there’s always more to do (or more that could be done). Expectations and ambitions constantly evolve and expand. But you control your wn destiny; Estonia is an integral part of Europe; and you are having a positive impact on people’s lives well beyond your own borders.  It’s always a challenge with the constant distraction of our day-to-day concerns, to fully understand and appreciate this achievement. So I would like to take the opportunity the Foreign Policy Institute has provided me here today, to discuss how I view it from my personal perspective.

Photo: U.S. EmbassyOn August 13, 1986,  I was a newly minted Foreign Service Officer on my first tour.  My wife was expecting our first child – who, coincidentally,  is here with us today – and wasn’t feeling well. So that day, I walked from our apartment on Leipzigerstrasse to Alexanderplatz in East Berlin to the German Democratic Republic’s huge commemoration parade  marking the 25th Anniversary of the construction  of what the East German Communists called the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart.”  I saw Erich Honecker and the whole Politburo of the Socialist Unity Party on their platform, saluting the Volksarmee as it marched by.

I knew I wasn’t in New Jersey anymore!  Ten months later, when President Reagan came to West Berlin in June, 1987, I was the press site officer at the Brandenburg Gate when he demanded that Mikhail Gorbachev demonstrate his seriousness about reform and change by removing the barrier dividing the city.  I was standing right in front of the President, on the press riser, when he said “Mr. Gorbachev, “tear down this wall.”  As couple of years later, I was serving in Leningrad in 1991

when it became St. Petersburg again, and was privileged to watch from nearby when Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian heroes took back their freedom, sovereignty and independence just before the Soviet Union fell. When thinking back to President Reagan’s speech in Berlin, at that time it wasn’t seen as especially significant or likely to lead to meaningful change.  Many of his critics even dismissed it as a provocative political stunt.  Of course, thanks to the courageous actions by Germans, both in the East and West, the Wall did come down and November 9, 1989 is a date that will always be very special to anyone who loves freedom and liberty.

In hindsight it’s easy to see that President Reagan was on the right side of history and that his clear articulation of U.S. policy sent an unambiguous message to Moscow.  In one of the more serendipitous occasions in my career, a little over a year ago while serving as Deputy Chief of Mission in Berlin, I was asked to participate in that great city’s ceremonies celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.  It was a very moving moment for me to complete that circle – to have been at both the 25thanniversary of the construction of that hateful symbol of the division of Europe, and the 25th anniversary of its Fall.  The creation and nurturing of a Transatlantic Community of  strong, free, prosperous democracies is one of the greatest triumphs of American foreign policy over the last 70 years. It has been a tremendous privilege to serve as an American diplomat through these historic times, and to have dedicated my whole professional life to the cause of helping build a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.

Unfortunately, we see our vision of what that community means and the very principle of national sovereignty being challenged today in new and unexpected ways.  But I have great confidence that the United States and the ideals we represent and champion


–Peaceful Cooperation and understanding,

–Human rights and dignity

–Shared prosperity –

embody the model and vision that is in the very best interests of our children, the global community, and the future.  I’m also confident because of the strong alliance and partnership the United States and Estonia have built together and with others around the globe.  During the difficult period of Soviet occupation, we never abandoned our belief in the Estonian people’s  right to independence and self-governance.  We marked the 75th Anniversary of the Welles Declaration last year and will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the restoration of Estonian independence this year;  Estonia’s resolute commitment to restore its nationhood and its democracy is an inspirational example to all nations.  The pursuit of our shared goals hasn’t always been easy.  Nevertheless, Estonia has proven its unwavering commitment to a better world, standing side by side with the United States and our allies and partners, for example, to promote stability in Afghanistan and to counter-ISIL in Iraq.  Estonians know well the importance of freedom and we work together to provide much needed training and assistance as Ukraine works to implement needed reforms and to combat the threat of Russian aggression.

While times have thankfully changed and the world we face today is far different from the Cold War, when I reflect on the symbolism of President Obama’s visit to Tallinn in September 2014, I still can’t help being reminded of President Reagan or, indeed President Kennedy’s trips to Berlin in 1987 and 1963.  Just across the street, addressing the people of Estonia, — and some of you were probably there –

President Obama said in no uncertain terms that the United States and NATO would be here for Estonia should the need ever arise.  He said “We have a solemn duty to each other.  Article 5 is crystal clear: An attack on one is an attack on all.”

NATO will defend the territorial integrity of every single ally – that is the fundamental nature of our alliance.  There are no new members; no old members; no junior or senior partners.  No state matters any more than any other.  There is just NATO and it is the strongest security alliance that the world has ever seen.  Now, while I don’t presuppose that any of you in this room are as skeptical as President Reagan’s critics were thirty years ago, President Obama, nevertheless, prepared for the possibility that he, too, would also be met by skepticism.  He outlined a number of actions being taken in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its destabilizing actions in Eastern Ukraine. Let me provide an update.

First, he said that the United States is working to bolster the security of our NATO Allies and further increase America’s military presence in Europe.  For Estonia, that has meant a continuous rotation of company-sized combat units since May 2014.  The ninth such rotation arrived last month.  A similar increase in air and naval visits and exercises has also occurred.  Since President Obama mentioned that the Amari air base would be an ideal location to host and support training exercises in the Nordic Baltic region, we’ve had seven different deployments of aircraft including F-16s, A-10s and, for the first time in Europe, F-22s. The last deployment of A-10s, from September to January, was the largest deployment ever by the U.S. Air Force to Estonia. This is in addition to the Baltic Air Policing contingent operating out of Amari.

Altogether, over five thousand U.S. service members have rotated through Estonia gaining and sharing experiences with their Estonian counterparts.

Second, we are working with the Ministry of Defense and the Estonian Defense Forces to boost Estonia’s defense infrastructure and capabilities.  Through the European Reassurance Initiative, the United States has allocated $37 million to infrastructure improvements at the Tapa Central Training Area and Amari Air Base.  We’ve also supplemented Estonia’s purchase of Javelin anti-tank missile systems with hundreds of additional missiles worth $33 million.

Third, at the Wales NATO summit in September 2014, the alliance agreed to create a NATO rapid reaction force.  To facilitate their deployment as well as to assist with planning and training coordination, NATO Force Integration Units were established in Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. The Tallinn NFIU opened last June.

And fourth, our unity on Russian aggression in Ukraine has remained. We welcomed the European Union’s recent decision to roll over sanctions.

As we and our EU partners have made clear, these sanctions targeting key economic sectors will remain in place until Russia and the separatists they back completely implement their Minsk commitments.  That’s what we have done, now let’s look ahead. You may have heard that there’s a presidential election campaign going on in the United States.  In fact, the Iowa caucuses – the first occasion where voters actually get to have their say are taking place later today. We can talk about them in our discussion a little later on if you’d like, but on the condition that you also share your thoughts on Estonia’s upcoming presidential election.  Until the elections, however, both of our nations still have presidents. We are not going to wait until new administrations take office to address the important challenges in front of us. We can’t afford to and I certainly don’t believe that just because it is an election year, we can’t accomplish anything.

A case in point is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that we agreed to with Iran that has led to the dismantling of critical elements of Iran’s nuclear facilities.  There are some critics to the deal, but the fact is that Iran will not get the bomb.  The comprehensive monitoring and inspection program – which will provide 24 hour per day, 365 days a year of reassurance – will guarantee that. While this deal was never designed to solve all of our differences with Iran – we are still very concerned over Iran’s destabilizing behavior and support for terrorism – this is a good deal and, as President Obama said, is an example of what’s possible with strong diplomacy.

Looking at the President’s State of the Union address from two weeks ago, he outlined a number of other important foreign policy challenges, the top of which is the conflict in Syria and the threat posed by ISIL.  Separating those two issues for a moment, though making progress on a political settlement in Syria definitely would have a positive impact on stopping ISIL, we have put together a coalition of 65 countries, including Estonia, to degrade and defeat this terrorist group.

We are working to cut their funding, stop their flow of fighters, and “stamp out their vicious ideology”.

Through air strikes and coordination with local forces, we are taking out their leadership, weapons, and oil and training grounds. Iraqi forces have retaken Tikrit and pushed ISIL out of Ramadi. Altogether, ISIL has lost 40% of its territory in Iraq.  Estonia’s two donations of ammunition and equipment to the counter ISIL coalition have contributed directly to the on-the-ground fight against ISIL.  We look forward to Estonia’s further engagement in this challenge.

As for Syria, stopping the civil war requires a political settlement and transition.  In December, the UN Security Council endorsed a plan by the International Syria Support Group for talks that began in Geneva last week. During my meetings and public engagements in Estonia, I’ve been asked repeatedly two questions on Syria, first will cooperation with Russia lead to concessions on Ukraine and second how can we cope with all the refugees.

Taking those in order, Ukraine and Syria are separate issues and we approach them as such.

Let me repeat just to be clear, there will be no package deal on Syria and Ukraine.

Any cooperation with Russia on Syria will not lessen our commitment to Ukraine nor lessen our demand that Russia abide by its international commitments.  As an example, I’d point to the comprehensive nuclear framework agreement I just talked about with Iran. Russia was involved in that process, not as a favor to the United States, but because it was in their own interest. In fact, we were pursuing sanctions against Russia at the same time we were negotiating the agreement. And those sanctions continue and are having an impact.

On refugees, as my boss Secretary Kerry has said, this is the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the end of the Second World War. President Obama will host a summit on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly in September to coordinate global efforts. To date, the United States has provided more than $4.5 billion – more than any other nation – of humanitarian assistance to help relieve this refugee crisis. And I certainly take issue with anyone who claims the United States is not doing its part to take in refugees. Over the last decade, we’ve resettled over 600,000 refugees and annually, the United States takes in around one million new, legal immigrants.

We do this because it is a fundamental value of our country to help those most in need; I’m confident it is for Estonia as well. We do need to find better ways to integrate and help refugees build self-reliance and contribute to their new communities through meaningful employment and civic participation.  After the attacks in Paris and the events in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, I fully understand the unease and apprehension that many people have. It is the same debate and discussion that we are having in the United States and unquestionably there needs to be a security and screening process.

But we don’t turn our backs on suffering and individuals who only want to have the same opportunities that we have.  Helping to create those opportunities for meaningful contributions – and avoiding radicalization – is critical.  Education is an extremely important component, and I’m pleased that we are working with the Ministry of Education on this issue. In fact, a group of Estonian experts is traveling to the United States in a few days to exchange views and experiences with their American counterparts.

In many other areas, we are also closely working together. The United States and Estonia have partnered on an anti-corruption assistance program in Ukraine that utilizes the e-government expertise that Estonia has been sharing with so many other countries in transition.

Estonia has also developed an impressive cyber security and cyber defense capability through which you are contributing to NATO through the Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn and elsewhere through the eGovernance Academy.  At the same time, Estonia has also been a leader in the Freedom Online Coalition to ensure that around the globe the internet remains open, free and a tool for progress and development, not repression.

Just last month, President Ilves was in Washington DC to launch the World Bank’s new Global Development Report on Digital Dividends.  This report pointed to Estonia as a country that has figured out the right way to deploy technology to promote development and good governance.

We are also very pleased to have strong Estonian support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations.  The strategic and economic benefits of T-TIP are clear and compelling.  Achieving a far-reaching economic agreement will send a strong signal to the world that the broader US-EU partnership is steadfast.  It will also bring real benefit to our economies and our workers.  Lowering the costs of doing business can unlock opportunity, especially for small businesses here in Estonia and in the United States, and I want to work together to make more export opportunities available to our small businesses.

Our economic relationship is dynamic and growing.  I was honored to participate with Entrepreneurship Minister Oviir last week in the fifth Estonian-American Innovation Award ceremony.  The award celebrates innovative achievements that came from collaboration between Estonians and Americans.  Finalists from the past five years have included joint ventures between scientists, artists, high tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. It is a testament to the strong commercial and people-to-people ties that are growing between our two countries.

And speaking of those ties, one last positive example and then we’ll move on to our discussion. I mentioned education earlier and I wanted to come back to it now as it is so fundamental to the strength of our countries. I have visited the Tallinn University of Technology and I will visit the University of Tartu at the end of the month.  I know we have some guests here from Tallinn University and the Estonian School of Diplomacy – and I promise to visit your institutions soon as well.

Higher education has become a highly competitive global market and is an area where Estonia, given your flexible, dynamic and innovative culture, has a real opportunity.

At the end of last year, we received a report on the number of Estonian students going to the United States and the number of Americans coming here and I was pleasantly shocked at the rate of increase in students going both ways.  In the last five years, the number of American students coming here nearly tripled and on a per-capita basis, Estonia is even well ahead of countries like Finland. Going the other way, we see more and more Estonian students getting into not just top American universities like MIT and Harvard, but also regional schools where they can form just as valuable networks and acquire specialized knowledge. Of course, your Foreign Minister is a graduate of the Fletcher School, one of our top graduate universities, which she attended on the Fulbright program.  I mention this, because the more we can do to support this two-way exchange of students, scholars and knowledge, the more it helps not only our bilateral relations, but also our economies and societies.

So, to sum it all up, U.S.-Estonian relations are strong.  We face many global challenges, but we face them together.  As Ambassador, I’m planning to do everything I can, so that working together, we can make a substantial difference in grappling with and, perhaps, if we’re lucky and creative and work hard enough, solving them or at least leaving them a bit better than where they started. Thank you.