Many reforming countries take Estonia’s advice more seriously than the recommendations of ‘old’ Western states.
Many reforming countries take Estonia’s advice more seriously than the recommendations of ‘old’ Western states.
‘)” class=”internal-link”>Margus Kolga
Outreach Policy: A Moral Obligation or a Higher Calling?
Many reforming countries take Estonia’s advice more seriously than the recommendations of ‘old’ Western states.
In recent years, the term ‘outreach’ has gained prominence in security- and defence-related texts, both in Estonia and abroad. Those who talk about NATO and its different partnerships are especially eager to use the term, the more so that it has been mentioned in NATO’s strategic concept: through outreach and openness, NATO seeks to preserve peace and promote democracy. After Estonia’s accession to NATO, the term has entered our security political lexicon, though it has been interpreted in several ways. Various equivalents in Estonian have been suggested: some translate it as ‘development aid’, some prefer ‘humanitarian aid’, others use ‘military cooperation’ or ‘defence cooperation’. Unfortunately, all of these equivalents have their own deficiencies and none of them convey the meaning of the term accurately.
To begin with, what does ‘outreach’ mean? The term cannot be found in Silvet’s English-Estonian dictionary. According to Festart’s electronic dictionary, it is a term used in economics and it means “extending the range of services, etc.” Yet TEA’s dictionary of economics does not include it. Well, let us look it up in an Oxford dictionary or Wikipedia; and in the latter, there is a definition: “Outreach is an effort by individuals in an organization or group to connect its ideas or practices to the efforts of other organizations, groups, specific audiences or the general public.” It is clear that we are talking about cooperation, but a special kind of cooperation: on the one side there are donors, on the other receivers; and while the aims of both sides could coincide, they still do not participate on a completely equal basis. So, if we said that ‘outreach’ is ‘cooperation’ or ‘military cooperation’, we would be excessively extending or generalising the meaning of the term.
Similarly, ‘outreach’ is not ‘development aid’ or ‘humanitarian aid’, because these two concepts have their own, very precise meanings and they cannot be connected with any military or national defence issues. Some articles have used the Estonian equivalent ‘abikäepoliitika’ (‘the policy of a helping hand’), which is considered the best one, at least by the author of this article, and should be more widely used. So, in order to promote it, I shall now forget the English word, to which I have already become too accustomed, and henceforth use only ‘abikäepoliitika’ in Estonian texts.
Now, let us turn to the content of outreach policy. As already said, it involves the ideas, practices, behavioural patterns and procedures of a group that are directed at another group, so that the other group would accept them or transform its mental outlook and activities accordingly. The aim of outreach policy is to induce changes by way of education and training, by explaining and teaching. Changes need not occur quickly and, instead of being forced upon the target group, they should be formulated as recommendations so that when they take effect they would run deep, being natural and based on the conscious choices of the target group itself. In short, we are talking about enlightenment. Actually, the roots of outreach policy can be traced back to missionary work.
Outreach policy has been used over the last decades as a tool for the propagation of Western values and democracy. Many of us have heard of the claim that democratic countries do not fight wars with each other, which means that the larger the value sphere, the more stable and predictable it is, at least for those who share those values. Hence the urge to enlarge the sphere. Moreover, if the world knows us and our principles and thereby understands our way of life better, it also creates added value for us.
Among the international organisations Estonians are familiar with, NATO is the most prominent one in the field of outreach policy, as its Partnership for Peace programmes and other regional cooperation frameworks, such as the Mediterranean Dialogue or the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, constitute some of the best examples of outreach activities. Even though NATO’s outreach programmes mostly concern security and defence, they aim to converge with the neighbouring countries of NATO, to draw the attention of those neighbours to the problems that are important to NATO and its members, and to explain how these programmes contribute to the achievement of overall stability. In the longer term, NATO strives to ingrain Western values and to transform social operating mechanisms. This process also involves various motivating factors that could accelerate and stimulate it, for example the opportunity to accede to NATO and thereby to enjoy a contractual security guarantee.
Estonia has been a target country for outreach activities and has also implemented outreach policies on its own, which means that we have gained first-hand experience of both receiving and providing aid. After the restoration of our independence in 1991 everything seemed relatively easy: we were free and ready to go west; democracy is a piece of cake; Europe – here we come! As always, in reality life turned out to be much more complicated. The same attitude was prevalent among those who dealt with security policy matters and the reconstruction of our national defence system. In 1991, we were not ready to manage a national defence system. Furthermore, we did not even know the principles on which defence systems and armed forces were based in Western democracies. We had to build this knowledge from scratch, while our willingness to learn and readiness for the necessary changes were essential prerequisites.
The primary interest of our helpers – old Western democracies – was that Estonia should be a stable state that would not create too much trouble. Later, it was necessary to ensure that we identified with the collective mentality and world outlook of NATO and EU members, observing and internalising the applicable norms of communication and behaviour. In the domain of defence, it meant, among other things, subjecting the defence forces to civil control. First of all, we had to figure out why civil control is necessary. After that, we had to develop our skills and capabilities to operate in the international environment, to prefer joint interests over national interests (but not to give up national interests), to embrace cooperation and to ensure interoperability. The more we understood these notions and acted accordingly, the greater became our chances to obtain membership and, in the end, we did get the invitation we craved.
In Estonia, outreach policy materialised in the form of numerous international cooperation projects and regular defence consultations. Several countries made proposals to pursue defence cooperation, so we concluded defence cooperation agreements with them and drafted respective plans that were updated annually. In addition to common goals and a similar way of thinking, cooperation presumes mutual communication and so we concentrated more on language learning in those early years.
In the beginning, Western states considered it very important that Estonia and other countries that had broken free of the Communist yoke understood the nature of civil control and agreed that strategic decisions on national defence must be taken by politicians, not members of the military. Correspondingly, it is the politicians, not the generals who are ultimately responsible for the development of a national defence system. Yet, it is true that the Ministry of Defence of Estonia started off as a support and supply agency for the defence forces, not as a government institution whose tasks included political administration and the organisation of the overall functioning of the national defence system. But instead of demanding or ordering us to transform the operations of the ministry, Western states adopted a soft approach in order to convey and reinforce this knowledge: they explained the principles of civil control and demonstrated their importance.
One of the first international defence conferences Western states organised in Estonia was dedicated to the very issue of civil control and also dealt with the state-level coordination of a national defence system. For years, these topics were on the agenda of various prominent and not so prominent delegations that visited us. As they say: dripping water makes the rock hollow.
It has often been suggested that the aim of the joint military projects of the Baltic states (the Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion, the Baltic Mine Countermeasures Squadron, etc.) was to enhance the military capabilities of the Baltic states. Actually, the aims were much wider or even political and outreach had a greater effect on state-building than on the improvement of military capabilities.
To begin with, Baltic military projects helped us realise that the building of a defence system is much harder than just staffing a unit or conducting a training exercise in the woods; that a national defence system has a complicated structure; that it requires a comprehensive approach and is directly connected with the overall development of the society. Baltic military projects were managed by a special international steering group, whose official task was to coordinate international aid and support, but which was actually busy with operational management and decision-making. This allowed Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian defence policy officials and new military personnel, who were quite inexperienced in those times, to get a glimpse of how decisions are made in the defence systems of democratic states, how to reach a common position and how to use compromises and mutual trust in gaining common ground. In addition, we learned that some proverbial sayings, for example ‘lies have short legs’ and ‘you should rather do less, but do it better’, are relevant not only in human relations, but also in national affairs and interstate communication.
Due to our participation both in Baltic projects and in the planning and reporting processes of the NATO Partnership for Peace programme, we started to grasp the significance of defence planning. We understood that building of a national defence system together with defence forces is a long-term process and that there are two key factors for success: the existence of resources and the willingness of the public to assign those resources to national defence. Western states continually monitored trends in Estonian public opinion (how strong the public support for the integration with the West was; how many were ready to assign two per cent of GDP to national defence), guiding us to be more active in this domain: we began to explain our views and present our arguments to the public. As time went by, we gradually began to appreciate the pivotal role played by public opinion and the will of the people in a democratic state.
Indeed, numerous similar examples could be provided here. Unfortunately, there is not enough space in an article like this to list all the areas that needed and received both aid and advice.
Today we can say that outreach policy achieved its aims in Estonia. Of course, everything did not go as smoothly as it might seem in hindsight. There were setbacks, misunderstandings and contradictions. Even though aid donors had a common goal, they had different experiences and viewpoints in some fields. Hence, they sometimes gave contradictory and confusing advice; for example, military academy graduates from different countries could interpret things differently. Still, the underlying principles were the same. When pursuing objectives, it is important to adopt a dominant interpretation at the strategic level; what is done on lower levels is primarily a question of technique. Obviously, all those past processes depended more on us than on our advisors. Nevertheless, looking back, I am pleased to say that we were smart enough to listen and strong enough to change.
By now, Estonia has transformed from an aid receiver into a country that provides aid and advice. Even though our outreach policy was formulated after our accession to NATO, we started to offer aid and to advise other countries slightly earlier. We reached out our helping hand in the field of defence policy and national defence already at the beginning of this century, i.e. before we received an invitation to join NATO. Our first specific target country was Georgia, but we were also active in Ukraine and the South Balkans.
Why Georgia? Did we pick Georgia at random or make a conscious choice? It is true that Georgia was among the first countries in the Caucasus interested in developing closer ties with the West: in the beginning, Georgians wanted to get support in order to settle the unresolved conflicts within their territory; later, after the Rose Revolution, they wanted to strengthen their ties with Western institutions. Still, we were first pushed into motion by the UK. In the middle of the 1990s, the Nordic countries, the US, France, Germany and the UK founded the International Defence Advisory Board (IDAB). At the request of our government, IDAB advised Estonian defence institutions from 1995 to 1999. The chairman of IDAB was British – General (ret.) Sir Garry Johnson, former Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces in Northern Europe. After his success in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, he was asked to continue his work in Georgia. It was Sir Garry who invited Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to join his new project in Georgia. So, we established our first contacts which developed into our first cooperation projects and, by now, have evolved into extensive consultation programmes.
Those were the first steps we took towards our present-day outreach policy, which is wide-ranging and quite comprehensive as it does not concentrate only on Georgia, but also covers Ukraine, Armenia, Moldova and the South Balkans. We are active in different areas that vary from country to country. In addition to our readiness to provide aid, the needs of the aid receiver play an important role in deciding the target area. When planning our activities, we also take into account the compatibility of other project participants and their capability to understand each other.
What has Estonia been able to offer?, We have, for example, experiences that concern the reconstruction and reform of a defence system, having ourselves implemented good governance and administration practices. Many countries have problems, as we did, with the preparation of strategic documentation concerning security and defence policy. It is even harder to gain domestic consensual support for those documents, to perceive their foreign policy dimensions and to find the right tone to write them in this context. Our experiences have allowed us to assist Georgia bilaterally in the formulation of security and national defence strategies and, as a member of an international working group, to offer similar help to Armenia.
We have been asked how to raise public awareness of the issues concerning national defence. Our relatively long-term and consistent efforts in conducting public opinion polls, organising senior courses in national defence and popularising NATO as an organisation have brought us considerable knowledge, which we are quite willing to share.
Several countries that we support strive for integration into or at least cooperation with NATO and the European Union. They consider our experiences valuable and the mistakes and blunders we made during our integration process instructive. Still other countries have given us credit for doing a good job in implementing the legal basis of agreements pertaining to NATO, especially with respect to the status of NATO forces and headquarters. The Estonian Ministry of Defence has developed a seminar programme that covers this issue. Specialists from Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Georgia have already completed the programme.
It should be also pointed out that all the courses of the Baltic Defence College have been open to the target countries of our outreach policy for several years now. Officers and officials from Ukraine, Moldova, Croatia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Albania and Macedonia have attended various courses at the college. Furthermore, our helping hand has also reached Afghanistan, where an Estonian defence advisor has been working in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence since 2006. Our contribution to NATO’s training mission in Iraq also forms a part of our outreach policy.
Nevertheless, why are we doing all this? Our motives are probably quite similar to those of the countries who used to help us. Above all, we have realised that the situation in Europe and its neighbourhood influences our stability and security environment.
If states develop in a stable manner, our overall security environment will be stable and strong. If states pursue good governance practices, they become more secure. If our value sphere widens, we and others who uphold these values can feel safer. This way we reduce the chances of solving conflicts, disputes and disagreements by force, maximising the chances that other, more balanced methods will be used. If we help others to understand this and reach out to them while they are going through the process, we increase the probability of maintaining our stability and enhancing our security. New and young states are all revved-up and ready to go, but they often show a lack of experience and knowledge of how to move forward more quickly, even if they are on the right track. This is where we come in, offering aid and advice. In addition, new democracies live in constant confrontation with the remnants of the previous regime, its die-hard views and attitudes. Here, impartial bystanders can also offer valuable help.
I do not want to show off, but I must say that when outreach activities are concerned, Estonia and some of our fellow strugglers have certain advantages over the old Western states. This could be the main reason why we, as upholders of Western values, should be even more serious about our outreach efforts. First, we have been there: the countries we are helping today are in the same situation we were in. Our recent experiences are quite similar. That is why our advice and recommendations might be taken more seriously than the suggestions of the Western countries whose background is not the same, even if their advice does not differ from ours. Aid receivers think that our reliability and credibility is greater; they pay attention to what we say; our recommendations are considered less politically motivated or pressurising.
Second, the problems we faced during the process of state-building and the reconstruction of our national defence system have stayed the same or are similar to those that aid receivers are fighting with at the present moment. Our reform experiences and transformational perceptions are much fresher than those of many Western democracies, which might be very good in theory, but which still know considerably less about the practice than we do. Consequently, they are less convincing.
Third, our efforts have brought us success – in some areas even great success – which means that change can happen. It is possible to change if you set your mind to it and try really hard. Our example gives hope and faith to reforming countries and their citizens, which is very important, because otherwise they would give up and quit too easily.
It could be claimed that Estonia has made significant progress in outreach policy over the last three or four years. We cover a larger area in geographical terms. At the same time, we have become more specialised, we are going more in-depth and our projects are very specific, not general as they used to be. However, our activities have too often been driven by personal initiative; we operate without central coordination. If someone has previously enjoyed success with a project or in a larger area, if he has enough initiative to share his experiences with others and if those others were by chance interested in his topic, his project was implemented. Yet, this approach leaves too much to chance. And a chance is like a glass half-full or half-empty: which way is it?
The situation could be remedied if our outreach policy and its underlying principles were defined more accurately in two documents: the Estonian security policy and the Estonian national military strategy. The documents currently in force hint at the importance of outreach activities, but contain no precise statements in this respect. If this situation is allowed to continue, we run the risk of making still more arbitrary choices and not allocating resources to those areas where they are most needed.
Second, a special division or office should be tasked with pursuing outreach policy, as it comprises a separate field of activity that needs to be managed daily. Hence, the appointment of an outreach policy advisor to the Minister of Defence is quite welcome. One official still cannot ensure rapid progress, but might be able to smooth some existing rough edges.
Third, we should diversify the instruments we use for implementing outreach policy. So far, we have mainly focussed on holding thematic seminars, presentations and meetings. But we could also organise training exercises and joint conferences, invite foreign officials and officers to Estonia to undertake longer-term assignments at our ministries or agencies where they could perform routine everyday tasks, and augment the current programme developed for advisors who have taken up residence locally or visit their target countries regularly.
Fourth, we should establish a common system of measurement, which could be used to evaluate, even provisionally, our performance and effectiveness. For personal use, I have defined three criteria on the basis of which it is possible to determine whether a country allegedly interested in acceding to NATO is moving in the right direction: first, most of the meetings and events in which I participate are held in English and people do not speak through interpreters; second, locals are not trying to convince me all the time that they are special, giving it as a justification for slow progress and erroneous choices of direction; third, they have stopped claiming that interagency communication at state level or cooperation between other, i.e. lower, institutions than governments is impossible and there are even signs to the contrary. Let me remind you that this was just an example, not a set of established rules.
Fifth, we should decide which areas we prefer and then we should coordinate our activities with other aid providers in those areas. After that, we should develop readymade programmes aimed at all interested parties. Such programmes could be implemented anywhere, provided that the necessary adjustments are made in each case. Actually, there is no shortage of areas where we are competent and capable; but we have to be more focussed and go more in-depth in order to guarantee quality.
Even though the above text contained some criticisms, I must say that during its short existence Estonia’s outreach policy has been successful and significant for both aid receivers and aid providers. We should keep up the good work and do it even better. However, what we definitely should not do is wave our flag, show off and delude ourselves into thinking that we are better than others. Outreach policy affects Estonian security; a good outreach policy enhances Estonian security; without it, what would be the point of our values?