I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this roundtable here at the Heritage Foundation. Allow me to share with you some thoughts about the future of U.S.-Estonian relations in light of the expansion of NATO and the imminent enlargement of the European Union.
Although both are countries of different weight in global affairs, America and Estonia are partners who have common values and a common understanding of most important international issues. Estonia has been America's ally since we regained our independence in 1991. America has been an Estonian ally for much longer. One could argue that Estonia's independence in 1918 was made possible by the right of self-determination of nations as formulated by President Woodrow Wilson. It is hard to overestimate the significance of the U.S. non-recognition policy of Soviet occupation of the Baltic States. The same applies to U.S. support for Estonian independence in 1991 and for the withdrawal of Russian troops in 1994.
U.S. assistance has been essential for Estonia's integration with the European Union and NATO. Powerful proof of this was the unanimous ratification of NATO expansion by the Senate last May.
The year 2004 marks the beginning of a new area in Estonian foreign policy. Yesterday, Estonia became a full de jure member of the alliance. On May 1, our country will join the European Union. Estonian foreign policy will consequently be implemented in accordance with the foreign policy of the European Union. It will be shaped by our NATO membership and the responsibilities that membership prescribes.
Two important questions can be raised, bearing in mind these changes. What is the future of relations between the United States and Europe? And more concretely, what will be the relationship between the United States and Estonia?
Let me highlight a few significant issues as an attempt to answer these important questions. It goes without saying that combating international terrorism is the highest priority in the world today. Estonia has contributed to this within its military and financial capabilities. We are determined to continue doing so. Estonia is a partner that the United States can count on. Alongside American soldiers, Estonian soldiers are making daily contributions in rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan. We know the price of this-Estonia recently suffered its first casualty in Iraq. But commitment is an international duty and a responsibility that we are willing to take as a member of the coalition.
We believe that continued concerted efforts of the United States and its allies are essential to establish stability and democracy in the region. The draft act for continuing the Estonian mission in Iraq, as well as in various other countries, is currently under discussion in the Estonian Parliament. It would mean extending our mission in these countries until at least the summer of 2005. The draft act received strong support during its first reading in Parliament less than two weeks ago.
Combating terrorism is and has to remain one of the main priorities of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). As the recent tragic events in Madrid demonstrated, terrorism is no longer a phenomenon only outside the borders of the European Union. Estonia supports a progressive strengthening of the Union's defense instruments and capabilities, including for the most demanding missions. We welcome the strategic partnership agreement (Berlin Plus) between the European Union and NATO. However, NATO's role in Europe is irreplaceable. From our perspective, NATO is the only organization capable of providing credible collective security for Europe. The ESDP should complement NATO, and not duplicate or compete with it.
Thus, the continued presence of the United States in Europe is in our most direct security interests. Maintaining a strong transatlantic link between America and its European allies is the sine qua non of stability and security in the Euro-Atlantic region, as well as in the world as a whole.
Despite recent disagreements across the Atlantic and within Europe itself, I am convinced that there is good ground for the further development of our common efforts. We have similar aims in this-increasing stability, security, and prosperity in countries that are now torn by violence. Many of these constitute a danger to regional or global peace. Only concerted action and effective transatlantic collaboration can guarantee real and enduring results in these efforts. Estonia shares many American concerns about the situation in the immediate vicinity of the Euro-Atlantic region. This applies especially to developments in Russia and its relations with the European Union and NATO. It also includes increasing the stability of other "new neighbors" of the European Union, such as Ukraine and Moldova, as well as the Southern-Caucasus.
Estonia fully supports the maintaining of NATO's "open door policy." The continued partnership of Eastern and South-Eastern European countries in transatlantic security structures is vital in ensuring the security and stability of all Europe.
How can Estonia contribute to these processes? Having gone through the accession process ourselves, we are ready to share our experience with the countries involved. Estonia has established a relatively good cooperative relationship with Ukraine and Georgia. We are prepared to continue supporting these and other countries in their endeavors to carry out democratic and market reforms. Our contribution could be particularly effective in the information and communications technology sector, where Estonia has been especially successful. We are also willing to support any aspiring states in NATO accession.
Allow me a few words on the future of the enlarged European Union in general. Enlargement will create an added value of security and prosperity that the divided Europe would never be able to provide. To achieve this, it is essential to conclude the intergovernmental conference as soon as possible and sign the Constitutional Treaty.
Estonia firmly maintains the position that the enlarged Europe should continue to be a true union of individual member states. This applies to our views on the competitiveness of Europe as a whole and competition within Europe itself, as well as on issues like qualified majority voting, taxation, and social policies. The bases of Estonia's success have been its successful economic reforms, its liberal economy, and its policy of free trade. Estonia ranks sixth in the 2004 Heritage Foundation/ Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom. We want to take this forward-looking and reform-minded philosophy of open economy with us to the European Union.
Dear ladies and gentlemen, I am convinced that common values should constitute a sufficient reason for preserving and further developing the cooperation between the United States and the enlarged European Union. Estonia cannot afford itself the dilemma of having to choose between Europe and America. We need both, and we are interested in the development of the U.S.-European partnership and alliance.
Thank you for your attention.
Juhan Parts is Prime Minister of Estonia. These remarks were delivered to The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., on March 30, 2004.