January 22, 2013

Director of the Centre for Defence Studies: Fear of Russia Reduces Estonia’s Influence in NATO

Since March, a former US diplomat Matthew Bryza has been at the helm of the International Centre for Defence Studies. He admits that ICDS’s visibility has decreased in some ways, but pledges to remedy the situation. Estonia has to contribute to operations outside of NATO to strengthen its ties with the Alliance, claims Bryza.

Eesti Päevaleht, Raimo Poom, Head of International News *
Since March, a former US diplomat Matthew Bryza has been at the helm of the International Centre for Defence Studies. He admits that ICDS’s visibility has decreased in some ways, but pledges to remedy the situation. Estonia has to contribute to operations outside of NATO to strengthen its ties with the Alliance, claims Bryza.
In what way has ICDS so far benefitted from your recruitment?
First, I contribute a different perspective from the academic one as I’ve served in the diplomatic service for 23 years. I’m trying to implement here the understanding that a think-tank should exert influence on decision-makers, for example, by proposing new policies that haven’t been thought of before.
More specifically, we’re presently engaged in developing a new strategic vision for ICDS. Why are we here? For three reasons. First, to give advice to the Ministry of Defense which is our main donor. Our second objective is to refocus NATO’s and the EU’s strategic vision on the Baltic states, on Estonia. And thirdly, to remind the Allies that Estonia is a not a security consumer, but a security provider in the international arena. Estonia builds security with its missions, for example, in Afghanistan, as well as, for example, with its cyber security knowhow.
You have a myriad of other jobs and you live in Turkey. How much time do you have for managing ICDS and how often do you visit to Estonia?
I come here every month for a few days up to a week. Meanwhile, we constantly hold meetings via Skype or stay in touch by e-mail. I probably devote half of my time to ICDS and the rest – on other affairs.
Last summer you took up one more job – you were employed by the Turkish energy company Turcas Petrol that allegedly has ties with the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR). Eesti Päevaleht was recently officially reprimanded by the Azerbaijani government for calling the nation’s leader Ilham Aliyev a ‘dictator’. How would you characterize the regime there?
Turcas, for which I work, is a private company through and through, without any state involvement whatsoever. Admittedly, it has a joint venture with SOCAR for the construction of a refinery, but that is just one joint venture for Turcas out of many that also include Shell and RWE, and not one on which I work..
But your question is quite to the point because I’ve served there as an ambassador and I’ve dealt with the country in various ways for 14 years. I wouldn’t say that Mr. Aliyev is a dictator. He is not an omnipotent repressive leader. Still, Azerbaijan is not a democracy like Estonia either.
I wrote for Bloomberg (a US news agency – R. P.) during the Eurovision contest that Azerbaijan has been ridiculed as a dictatorship, but that’s not true. Yes, a few bloggers were arrested some years ago, but they’ve been released. An investigative journalist spent a few years in jail, but was freed. As representatives of Western nations, we pressurized Azerbaijan to release them and should recognize when the Government of Azerbaijan does something right.
You said that exerting influence on decision-makers was one of ICDS’s tasks. Yet it seems that ICDS’s visibility has decreased significantly in 2012. I’m referring, among other things, to the high number of events, seminars and lectures which ICDS used to organize. Do you think that this function of ICDS should again be reinforced?
Yes, absolutely. As I said, one of our key objectives is to have an impact on decision-makers, but not specifically in the narrow sense of the word. Estonia is a democratic nation and this means that public opinion and the parliament have to be involved in decision-making, and at ICDS we wish to influence them, too. Yes, we’re planning to revitalize our efforts in terms of seminars. We’re also going to improve our monthly Diplomaatia [Diplomacy] to make it more user-friendly and influential.
Last autumn the Ministry of Defense presented a new ten-year development plan for the Defense Forces, foreseeing major cuts in comparison to the previous plan. You said that Estonia was a security provider. Do you think the new plans allow Estonia to continue as such?
We’re currently working on its analysis and how it relates to Estonia’s other key defense planning documents to help create a unified concept of tactics, operations, strategy, and capabilities.
But let me answer your question: of course, Estonia will continue to be a security provider. There are a lot of people in Estonia and also in Finland who still believe in total defense, but that’s not the concept that maximizes Estonia’s contribution to the Alliance. Other Allies don’t support the view that Estonia is currently facing an existential threat. Let me put it this way – the more emotional Estonia seems to be about the security challenges posed by Russia, the less effective and credible Estonia is in the Alliance. Other Allies don’t share these views [of Russia’s military threat] and they could even be perceived as hysterical, although they do stem from historical realities and painful experiences.
So, if Estonia cut some capabilities and focused on so-called “smart” ones, its contribution to NATO could only increase.
The mission to Afghanistan definitely forms one of the areas where Estonia contributes to security, but its end is in sight. What could replace it?
First, as the current situation in Mali demonstrates, missions with NATO members’ military involvement will not disappear from the world, (though Mali is a French rather than NATO operation). This means that the future of NATO will largely be shaped by so-called out-of-area missions. The Cold War conception of safeguarding security within NATO from Russia as the Alliance’s main military threat has become a thing of the past for many Allies. Estonia could keep up its efforts in significantly contributing to NATO’s new missions, but it must have the necessary training and find the right balance in military capacities between internal defense and coalition operations to be able to do so. This is what I’ve been trying to explain here: a balance has to be struck between an internal feeling of security – which means deterrence – and reliance on collective defense to keep Estonia safe. I think that collective defense is the key to Estonia’s national security in the long term. And, to strengthen its ties with NATO, Estonia must constantly be prepared to contribute to operations outside of NATO.
Matthew Bryza
Born on February 16, 1964
1988–2012 – held various positions in the US Foreign Service; most recent assignment was as US Ambassador to Azerbaijan from February 2011 to January 2012
From March 2012 – Director of the International Centre for Defence Studies
Bryza’s point of view: the situation in Iraq, Syria and Georgia
– Iran will not be attacked by the United States; the Syrian regime will not fall in the near term
– A military conflict between the U.S. and Iran is unlikely, according to Bryza. “I really do not see the US government or the military wanting to intervene there,” Bryza says.
– On the other hand, he does not believe that a solution to the increasingly bloody internal conflict in Syria will be found in the immediate future. “I can’t see that happening. Moreover, Bashar al-Assad is still strong enough to stay in power. Hence I think that the problem will persist for a long time, except if something happens in his own system – if he himself decides that he has had enough, if he flees or if he dies somehow.”
– Georgia is doing fine
– Bryza doesn’t share all the concerns about Bidzina Ivanishvili who was elected prime minister in Georgia. “There have been lots of speculations about Mr. Ivanishvili – for example, that he’s Putin’s puppet. I don’t think so. He seems like a man who wants to shake up the system and to transform it, though he does have strong business ties to Russia” Bryza insists. “He has brought some highly qualified people to the government, for example, the Minister of Defense Irakli Alasania about whom I could honestly say that I’d trust my life to him.”
– He states that it is crucial that the new government not accept a revanchist policy toward its political opposition as its objective. If that does not happen, Georgia will do just fine.
* The English version of the interview published by Eesti Päevaleht contains minor corrections by Matthew Bryza.

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