When other people get together, they argue about sports. When you get together with your friends, you argue about undersea gas pipelines.
Fortunately, there are other geopolitics junkies among us. Stratfor, the US-based global intelligence firm, is one of many that gives us our badly needed fix. A recent piece by Marko Papic, entitled “NATO’s lack of strategic concept” delivers.
The central thesis of the report is common knowledge. The NATO alliance is internally divided over its future. The “Atlanticists” want to focus on so-called “soft security” threats: terrorism, cybersecurity. “Core Europe,” defined in the piece as Germany and France, wants to trim down the alliance and seek consultations with Russia and the UN. The “Intermarum” countries, which run from the Baltic to Black Seas, would like to see NATO as a European territorial defense force, a security guarantee against Russia.
Who is strongest? According to Papic, the odds favor Core Europe, and especially Germany, the continent’s “political leader.” The emergence of Berlin as the most powerful capital in Europe was the “logical result of the Cold War’s end and of German reunification, though it took 20 years for Berlin to digest East Germany and be presented with the opportunity to exert its power,” Papic writes. “Europe’s fate in May 2010 amid the Greek sovereign debt crisis hinged not on what the EU bureaucracy would do, or even on what the leaders of most powerful EU countries would collectively agree on, but rather what direction came from Berlin. This has now sunk in for the rest of Europe.”
Berlin now wants to use the current crisis to “reshape the European Union in its own image,” Papic writes. Meanwhile, Paris wants to “manage Berlin’s rise and preserve a key role for France in the leadership of the European Union.” Atlanticist countries, traditional wary of a strong Germany like Denmark and the UK, are strengthening their ties to the US, perhaps in light of this.
Where does Estonia fall in this scheme? Papic has the country pegged as an Intermarum state, but I would say Estonia also behaves like an Atlanticist country. While Estonia is very keen to see a NATO able to fulfill its Article 5 obligations, Tallinn does host the alliance’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence. Estonia is also committed to the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, where its troops serve alongside British and Danish and American ones in some of those countries’ most dangerous territories.
What are the reasons for this ardent Atlanticism? One could certainly point out that the president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, was educated in the US as an example of close ties between the countries. But Estonia has deep historical links to traditionally Atlanticist countries. America’s non-recognition policy kept the country alive on paper for close to 50 years. Denmark and Iceland were the first countries to recognize that restored independence, and I always conceptualized Estonia’s membership in NATO as being similar to Denmark or Norway or Iceland’s membership in the alliance.
So Estonia is partially Atlanticist. It has a cyberdefense center and troops outside of NATO’s original theater of operations. But does this even matter when Germany is intent on reshaping the EU in its “own image”? One has to wonder what this even means. For Estonia certainly has drawn close to Berlin since it reemerged as a free country on the map of Europe. When Estonian lawmakers were given in the early 1990s the choice between adopting old civil law, which was based on tsarist law, or to make new laws, they voted to copy much of their civil code from one country, Germany. When they introduced their new currency, the kroon, they pegged it to the deutschmark, and later the euro. In a few months, Estonia will share the same currency with Germany, and 16 other states.
One can go on and on like this, selecting choice details to construct the image of a post-1989 Germany that was bent on dismantling Yugoslavia and digesting it piece by piece and turning the Baltic Sea into an inner lake of Europe, two geopolitical goals that were shared by earlier German statesmen, by the way. Average Germans will fervently deny that their state is bent on continental domination, but if that is the case, how did their state come to dominate the continent?
Estonians similarly would protest that their accession to European and transatlantic organizations had little to do with Germany. But Germany is at the heart of most organizations they have struggled to join. It’s also among most recent in a line of great powers to have designs for the Baltic region. And the genius of Germany’s rise, when you think about it, is that no one even sees it. So try flipping it around. Imagine an Estonia in a military alliance with the Russian Federation, a member an economic and political union with the Russian Federation, a part of a free travel area with the Russian Federation. It sounds ominous to our ears, in part because of history, in part because we have now become accustomed to the opposite.
Estonians and other countries in the Intermarum are always cautious about German-Russian deals. But Estonia is in the same military alliance as Berlin, it is the same economic and political union with Berlin, and it soon will have the same currency as Berlin. This begs the question: has there already been a deal?