October 21, 2008

Estonia and Outreach: How the “Baltic Tiger” Can Punch Above its Weight

Operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Congo, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan. Disaster relief in Pakistan. The headlines of the past decade vividly demonstrate the ability of Western institutions and national Armed Forces to respond quickly and effectively to crises both on and far from the European Continent. With the NATO Response Force now fully operational, this ability is now systemic, with a force of up to 25,000 flexible and high-quality troops capable of deploying within five days. Achieving this has taken enormous investment and effort; the results are impressive.

Operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Congo, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan. Disaster relief in Pakistan. The headlines of the past decade vividly demonstrate the ability of Western institutions and national Armed Forces to respond quickly and effectively to crises both on and far from the European Continent. With the NATO Response Force now fully operational, this ability is now systemic, with a force of up to 25,000 flexible and high-quality troops capable of deploying within five days. Achieving this has taken enormous investment and effort; the results are impressive.

Co-author: James Green (diplomat)
In contrast, Western governments have had difficulty responding quickly to support good governance in transition countries, even in the case of dramatic political opportunities like Ukraine’s Orange revolution. Why the stark contrast? Quite simply, the Euro-Atlantic community has not invested sufficient resources – human, financial, material, informational, organizational – toward developing a systematic capability to quickly “deploy” and “sustain” relevant expertise to the countries where it is needed. Some capacity is latent within development or defence contractors, but given the realities of public contracting, capacity is usually engaged in long-term projects with steady funding streams. The availability of government experts is frequently hostage to bureaucratic personnel and budget cycles that take months or years to respond. As a result, our outreach efforts tend to be ad-hoc, based on the serendipitous availability of human and financial resources. Valuable opportunities are lost, especially in the crucial first months of a new government’s or reformist official’s tenure. 
This article will argue that the ability to engage Western experts in support of local officials implementing reform is a vitally important, but oft neglected, security policy tool. It will also suggest how the Euro-Atlantic community – including Estonia – might more systematically develop and use its outreach capability.
Why is expert engagement important?
Globalization has inexorably linked our prosperity and security with that of countries across the globe. Weak states – those unable to integrate their citizens into a common political space, unable to effectively deliver public services, and unable to exert effective sovereignty over their territory or institutions – are easy prey for internal subversion and external intervention. They also risk being used as safe zones by transnational political and criminal organizations that generate regional or global instability. Strong states with weak democratic institutions and ineffective security sector governance may become captured by elites that misalign resources away from their citizen’s needs and towards building state power in pursuit of aggressive or coercive policies. This is not only destabilizing for others; the involvement of the security sector in politics undermines the transparency of political processes, fosters corruption, and corrodes the professionalism of the sector itself.
Conversely, states with strong democratic institutions, effective governance, and competent public administration tend to be more prosperous and stable. They show greater commitment to good-neighborly relations and cooperative, multilateral approaches to security. Indeed, the trust engendered by common democratic values is the cornerstone of collective security.
To strengthen a democratic state requires strengthening its institutions – and these institutions’ ability to perform their functions and deliver public services efficiently, transparently, consistently, and independently from “shadow” personal or political influence. But institutions cannot be exported; they need to develop locally, embedded in the society that they serve and whose resources support them. It is possible, however, to share the principles, practices, and mechanisms of modern public sector management and adapt these to local circumstances and problems. Expert engagement seeks to do exactly this, by linking officials and experts in recipient countries in long-term relationships with external experts who have relevant expertise and experience. Long-term teaming also influences working culture, fostering more transparency, information sharing, inclusive decision-making, and delegation – traits that strengthen democratic governance.
Strengthening civil management and democratic governance is particularly important in the area of security and defence. This helps ensure that the security and defence institutions use their monopoly on the legitimate use of force to protect, rather than undermine, the democratic system. It helps these institutions modernize, in order to better meet today’s challenges and ensure the necessary preconditions for positive developments in other areas. And it helps build public trust and support for security and defence institutions that is indispensable for their operational effectiveness and long-term viability.
What makes for effective expert engagement?
At its most basic, expert engagement is effective if it brings together the right combination of local officials and external experts to achieve a transfer of expertise, experience, and working methods. Local officials need sufficient professional experience and institutional authority, along with support – or at least permission – from senior leadership. External experts need more than academic credentials; they should bring practical experience from their own professional careers and, ideally, familiarity with problems similar to those faced by local partners. All participants should have personal qualities that promote effective partnership and, preferably, a common language and previous experience in an international environment. Finally, all participants – and their leadership – must be committed to a sustained relationship. Linking expert engagement with targeted training and education opportunities – like NATO’s Professional Development Program for Ukrainian civil servants – can significantly magnify the collective impact of both efforts.
Of course, expert engagement aims to have more than relationships as an outcome; it seeks to provide concrete support for institutional reforms and improved public services. Carefully selecting the areas for assistance can help ensure maximum chances for success – and maximize the impact of each project on the wider reform effort. The selection process should consider policy-level priorities based on domestic reform programs, international commitments, and external analyses and weigh these with other factors like best international practice, conditions in the target institution(s), and expected support from the political, executive, and working levels is essential. Flexibility is the key: in one circumstance it might make best sense to focus on personnel policy at the ministerial level; in another, parliamentary review of relevant budgets. Equally important is ensuring that each engagement effort has a jointly-agreed project management framework that is endorsed by relevant senior leadership in the recipient institution. Where more than one project involves the same institution or addresses similar problems, it is essential that they be woven together into a wider programmatic framework that includes all relevant internal actions and external support. Experience in Ukraine has shown that standard donor coordination is helpful, but insufficient; for example, regular NATO Defence Attaché meetings are now supplemented by monthly meeting of a Joint Coordinating Committee that brings together NATO and Allied advisors with relevant MOD and General Staff middle management.
Selecting projects, identifying effective partners, and ensuring clear engagement frameworks at the project and program levels require dedicated effort and specialist skills. This is a role for “facilitators/integrators”: individuals skilled in understanding the local situation, knowledgeable about governance and reform, and able to facilitate cross-cultural communication at whatever level is necessary: working, executive, or political. In the absence of dedicated personnel, these functions are often tasked to embassy officials who may lack experience, preparation, and time to do much beyond administrative facilitation. The integrator role may be a more natural one for international institutions – like the European Commission, NATO, OSCE, or PACE – whose offices in recipient countries may already focus on program implementation and multilateral coordination, and may have fewer representational and reporting requirements than national embassies.
How to prepare for future success?
Policy commitment. For over a decade, expert engagement has played an important role in the success of the NATO and EU policies of partnership, support for democratic transition, and enlargement. Yet despite their importance, engagement efforts have remained remarkably ad-hoc and unsystematic. International organizations have made some steps towards codifying best practice and establishing a more structured approach to implementation,  but this will only have limited effect until states make a concerted effort to more systematically develop and deploy expert capacity. Mobilizing the required effort and allocating sufficient resources will require a clear policy commitment. This will only happen if expert engagement in support of democratic governance – particularly in the area of security and defence – is widely understood to be a core national security policy tool, rather than an adjunct to defence cooperation (with its focus on capabilities and interoperability) or development assistance (with its focus on poverty reduction, and humanitarian relief). This commitment and understanding must be clearly stated in relevant policy and strategy documents that drive government decision-making and resource allocation. Public information efforts will be important for building and sustaining public and political support.
Institutional proponent. Policy commitment will need to be embodied in an institutional proponent if it is to be translated into practical results. The proponent would be responsible for relevant policy, strategy, and concepts. It would manage the development of engagement capacity and its operational use, advocate for adequate resources, and prepare relevant political decisions. In addition to working within government, the proponent would be a catalyst for informing the public and fostering the development of a relevant expert community.
The role of proponent could, in theory, be filled by foreign ministries, defence ministries, or development agencies. It might be unrealistic, however, to expect these institutions to provide adequate financial or administrative resources to a function that could be seen to compete with their respective core tasks – diplomacy, military capability, or poverty relief. The most logical proponent might best sit at the level of the governmental secretariat, where the issue of “governance” is most acutely felt domestically. That would ensure open and vigorous advocacy for expert engagement capability, without self-censorship due to competing internal interests. This would have the added benefit of allowing easier integration of multiple aspects of government activity into expert engagement programs, both horizontally (inter-agency) and vertically (at the levels of politics, policy, executive management, and implementation). It will also be useful for the proponent to be represented in the organization of relevant national embassies abroad, for example, through the assignment of an experienced civil servant or expert as a Governance Advisor working directly under the Ambassador.
Capacity-building. A crucial challenge for the expert engagement proponent will be developing the system that plans and builds outreach capacity. Such a system could draw upon defence planning methodologies, albeit on a more modest scale. Capability assessments – preferably extending across government and into civil society and the commercial sector – could identify relevant national experience and expertise. Priorities could be developed by weighing current projects, possible emerging opportunities, and areas of national comparative advantage. Based on priorities, capabilities, and available resources, modular “engagement packages” could be developed that would allow for flexible and rapid deployment of executive facilitators/integrators, subject-matter experts, and support personnel. A pool of available personnel could be drawn up, based perhaps on a limited number of full-time personnel, supplemented by a voluntary stand-by reserve. A portion of that pool could also be formed by civil servants who have agreed, at an early stage in their careers, to supplement their standard careers with participation in outreach activities – to include postings abroad – and occasional professional education, training, and other activities. While some might be in reserve status, facilitator/integrators would more likely be full-time staff management staff – thus ensuring regular engagement with possible recipient countries and rapid availability to assess emerging opportunities.
Knowledge Management. Expert engagement would be considerably more effective if backed by a knowledge management system. This system would gather information such as relevant experience from the country’s own reform efforts, as well as feedback from previous and ongoing outreach efforts. Its scope should extend beyond specific policy areas to include issues like cross-government coordination, political environment, institutional transformation, and human factors – such as transformation of elites and expert communities. This knowledge could be help in the form of databases, academic research, and – most importantly – dialogue within an active expert community. This expert community would play a crucial role in synthesizing information into useful products: relevant advice, methods, case studies, best practice, engagement histories (for ensuring continuity with specific countries). These products would provide real-time support for current engagement projects, inform the planning process, and support relevant education and training. For a country like Estonia, which is rich in its own transition experience, work on such a knowledge base should be started quickly in order that valuable, but perishable, information not be lost.

Multilateral Institutions. Clearly, any one nation only provides a small piece of the overall expert engagement effort in a given country. Thus, information-sharing and coordination via multilateral institutions or ad-hoc arrangements are essential to ensure effectiveness of individual projects and the collective effort. In addition to standard “donor coordination” – that is, coordination at the program level – multilateral institutions could facilitate operational coordination, joint needs assessments, and definition of common engagement priorities. Multilateral institutions also provide mechanisms for all donors and the recipient country to jointly manage the collective expert engagement effort in a way that ensures transparency and political visibility.  In the longer term, multilateral institutions like NATO and the EU might also to support coordinated development of needed outreach capabilities – as they already do for defence capabilities.
What role for Estonia?
Central and Eastern Europe’s former communist-bloc countries are well placed to contribute to an enlarged pool of outreach partners and integrators. At the national level they demonstrate strong commitment to responding flexibly and rapidly to requests for expert support. At the level of officials and experts, they have faced problems similar to those in other transition countries and are more understanding of the challenges reformers face. They also often have experience in trying to apply outside advice to local problems, and are therefore more flexible in adapting their own engagement style to meet the needs of their partners.
Estonia’s successful transition democracy, prosperity, and membership in Western institutions makes its example a particularly strong one. It is only natural that Estonia has been at the forefront of expert engagement efforts, with advisors active in countries like Ukraine, Georgia, and Afghanistan. It has been able to quickly put together traveling expert teams to address issues like modernizing defence policy and planning systems, legal aspects of NATO accession, negotiating WTO accession, and coordinating government communication with the public. It has also contributed to multinational teams, for example in the framework of the Nordic-Baltic expert engagement with Ukraine’s Defence Ministry.
Estonian officials and experts bring a uniquely successful mix of qualities to their engagement efforts: a combination of first-hand understanding of democratic and free-market transition and a “Scandinavian” business culture that is practical, transparent, and egalitarian – and in which middle managers are trusted and initiative rewarded.
Blessed by an abundance of appropriate experts and managers – many of them young and interested in international work – Estonia is well-placed to build on this competitive advantage. But success will require commitment and systemic work. Expert engagement should be acknowledged as an essential security policy tool. An institutional proponent should be assigned and provided with sufficient authority and resources. Systems should be put in place to build capacity – but without over-bureaucratization that would undermine the country’s inherent flexibility. A knowledge base should capture lessons from the country’s own transition before these are forgotten. And dialogue should be expanded with other countries and institutions committed to outreach.
The history of modern Estonia demonstrates that it will be successful if it chooses to take on this challenge. In doing so, it will maximize its natural strengths into an important niche capability – one that allows it to “punch above its weight” in contributing to Euro-Atlantic security. It will be a pathfinder in developing an important but oft-neglected capability that is important for the future. And it will demonstrate quiet leadership to other NATO Allies and EU members through its commitment to non-military action to strengthen democracy and good government as the basis for stability and security.
The views expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of NATO or the International Centre for Defence Studies.

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