I wrote this at the 24-hour Starbucks in Terminal 4 of Heathrow Airport on Saturday morning. I am not sure if it is any good, but it sums up some of the things that have been on my mind vis a vis Eestimaa. I call it a “Treatise on Cyber Warfare” because it sounds good. Here it is:
How do you defend a small country from a larger, aggressive neighbor? This question is at the heart of so many Estonian policies, it’s hard to tell where to begin.
Take the Ministry of Defense. It has a psychological goal to create widespread opposition to foreign rule among the Estonian population. And people wonder why they moved a Soviet war monument from the center of town!
For us out here in the world of the Internet, and as has been apparent from the recent cyber attacks on Estonian infrastructure, there is a high awareness that on every forum there are those that work psychologically or in reality for the goals of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin.
Like Russian policy in the past, and as the perfect metaphor of the Internet attacks provides, they intend to attack their target by overwhelming it with force and/or by sowing instability with the clear, logical goal of instating its control within the mask of chaos. Imagine a poison that works by making the individual appear to suffer from food poisoning, then reveals its true identity by the time that it is too late. That, my friends, is Russian foreign policy.
But how does a small nation counter that policy and how, in particular, can Estonia survive when the Kremlin is allegedly regaining power? I have been pondering this, and I think that it is important now that Estonia defines its goals with regards to this cynical power in Russia and acts consistently according to those redefined goals. Some of you may not like what I am about to say, but they are thoughts, and thoughts that need airing.
1. It is time to accept the Russian government for what it is.
So many foreign policy goals towards Russia seem like domestic goals from within Russia, especially from Estonia’s rightwing politicians. But the fact is that Russia is run by ex-KGB men, and they will not renounce Stalinist history. The Russian government is not rational. It is not compassionate. It is not a true friend for Estonia. It is a sea that needs to be kept at bay. Estonians live in a bad neighborhood. They must recognize this. Estonians say that Russia screwed them over the border treaty and that Russia is not acting logically or legally. Why is this a shock? How is that unexpected? Of course Russia did what it did. It does not respect laws or conventions. So then why even bother to expect them to reverse their position? It’s fruitless.
Estonians must accept that their neighbor is not one to be negotiated with, but rather one to be kept out of as many affairs as possible. That means ending diplomatic impasse with Russia quickly and efficiently, with the sole interest of keeping the Kremlin’s fingers out of Estonia. Remember, Estonia is operating from a position of strength. It controls and administers its own territory. I welcome every effort from the Estonian government to keep Russian political interests out of Estonian politics.
2. It’s time to dig in for a propaganda war.
Estonians somewhat naively expect logic and goodwill to eclipse the foul anti-Estonian propaganda that is used for domestic purposes within Russia. In some aspects they are correct. That is because most of the West views Russia with suspicion. Russian news is equally as slippery. Estonians, as Westerners, speak a common mental language that other Westerners understand, 1+1 = 2, et cetera. But Estonia must do more to make its story known in the West.
Estonia should continue to rely on its foreign ministry and some institutes for support, but should also build a greater presence in other key political centers in Europe. Who is busy selling Estonia in Paris? Who does this chore in Madrid or Rome? Estonia must broaden its connections with its allies. Right now key diplomatic initiatives are being undertaken, especially regarding NATO and EU goals in places like Ukraine and Georgia. But Estonia must work harder to woo key global and European players like the UK, France, Germany, and Italy. They should be priority contacts for Estonians. The recent work with Israel and Japan should be commended. A trip from President-elect Sarkozy would be an asset.
3. It’s time to renew the commitments to pan-Scandinavianism and pan-Europeanism.
Estonia started off on a good path in the late 90s by trying to rebrand itself as a Nordic country. This was met with resistance from some in the Nordic community, as well as the Latvians and Lithuanians, but it worked in helping Estonia portray itself as an up and coming hi-tech society to people outside the region. It used skillful marketing to change its image from foreign and unsafe to stable and accessible. But the job is not done, especially in Western Europe. In the UK and even in Sweden today Estonia or Estland is some suspect place near Russia (ie. near chaos). So the job of rebranding Estonia is not finished. Instead, these ideas should be continuously restored.
What is lacking again is a constant reminder of Estonia’s place in the global sweep of history. We must ask ourselves honestly, how did Estonia come into being? It came into being because of its connections to Germanic and Swedish intellectual culture. Estonians don’t call it the “good old Swedish days” because they think Swedes are dapper blondes with nice cars and want to be them. Estonia, for all its lovely native culture, was a colony of the Swedish empire. But because of its status in that empire it was exposed to the comparatively liberal values of the Swedish empire in the 17th century, which laid the groundwork for the rise of Estonian nationalism in the 19th century. Think of the Romans in the UK. They came and stayed for 300 years, but after that their legacy has never been carried away. Instead it has been built on, age after age. We tend to forget how important history is, but Estonia must stay true to its roots and think about its future in terms of that perspective.
This narrative is working its way along, but it is unfinished. The recent events in Tallinn showed a government that is capable of governing in times of chaos and diplomatic intrigue, but it also revealed a country that has some adolescent growing pains to go through before it achieves the desirable status of irreplaceable normalcy where civic institutions are pushed forward by the hard efforts of the past.
4. Reject Conflict, Embrace Progress
After dealing with all the negativity from Russia in recent weeks it has dawned on me that the appropriate response should not be to negatively push back but to act positively and pragmatically. A negative action should be met by a positive one. The Russian propaganda engine churns, while the Estonian one builds relationships in Paris. Fighting swarms of Internet propagandists isn’t going to work out to the advantage of those who enjoy Estonian sovereignty. Instead, we should fortify our castles in other ways.
The best way to deal with the Nashists is not to fight back, but to ignore them and treat them with the dull rhythm of law and order. Their negative actions should only result in positive reactions. Their hunger for conflict should never be satiated.
Let them starve.