I am back. On July 22 this year I departed Estonia for the last time as U.S. Ambassador and launched the transition from 35 years in my country’s Diplomatic Service into my new life as a private sector diplomat. On October 1, I joined the new McCain Institute for International Leadership as Senior Director. Located in Washington, D.C. and supported initially by a $9 million gift from the McCain Institute Foundation, we are part of Arizona State University (ASU), America’s largest public university. Our mission is to advance leadership based on security, economic opportunity, freedom, and human dignity, in the United States and around the world.
I will be directing a unique new global leadership fellows program that will bring emerging leaders from around the world to the U.S. to engage in a year-long deepening of their “character-driven” leadership skills, along with professional development in their respective fields. As an ASU Professor, I will also be passing on 35 years of diplomatic and international leadership experience to the next generation of U.S. and international foreign affairs leaders.
And of course the issues and subjects that have been important to me in the past continue to excite me in my new capacity: cyber security, e-governance, U.S. global leadership, the trans-Atlantic relationship, American values, and technology and policy, to name just a few. Thank you for your patience with my temporary absence from the blogosphere and stay tuned — you will hear from me on these and many other issues again from now on. Follow me and the McCain Institute also on Twitter and Facebook.
As I prepare to depart my mission as U.S. Ambassador to Estonia in a few days, the future of European unity — economic, political, and perhaps most importantly, emotional, remains hotly debated by our friends in Estonia and the rest of the continent. Governments, parliaments, and supreme courts are passing judgments. Their sovereigns — the people of Europe — are expressing their views forcefully. In a determined effort to emerge from the current economic crisis, European leaders are seeking to put systems in place to heal current ills and prevent future disease.
With its decision last week, the Estonian Supreme Court supported Estonian Government’s participation in the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), designed to create a rescue fund for ailing economies. Despite the burdens such participation places on his country’s finances, Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip is quoted as saying:”I have always believed that our interests are protected through cooperation. In the last 20 years, Estionia’s primary foreign policy goal has been integration with ….European institutions.”
The firm and politically courageous (and risky) statement by this European statesman again demonstrates the model role Estonia continues to play in European affairs today. One of the smaller members of the Union, Estonia is also one of its most courageous and most committed. Courage and commitment in support of European cohesion — and correction — are exactly what is needed right now, along with further swift action. The U.S. position is clear: we support a strong and united Europe and any and all actions in support of this unity and common success.
Clearly failure is not an option. Errors of the past matter only in so far as they inform future success. Stakes are too high for both sides of the Atlantic, as are the opportunities for greater prosperity of our 800 million people in the U.S. and Europe. It is at times like this that as an American diplomat I am reminded of our first, and infinitely more emminent American diplomat, who in a wholly opposite context spoke words that nevertheless have some meaning in Europe today:
“We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
- Benjamin Franklin, in the Continental Congress just before signing
the American Declaration of Independence, 1776.
The last 10 years have been hard on the United States. From the tragendy of 9/11 forward, good news has sometimes been in short supply. Instead, we have seen an abundance of conflict, an economy stumbling, and often bitter political debates over the future of our society and our country as a whole. At the same time, we have also rediscovered who our true friends are around the world, along with reminding ourselves of our innate strength and determination to help others in need, from Haiti to Japan and the African continent, as well as our fellow citizens from the Gulf oil spill to nature’s devastation in the South.
The elimination of a major threat to the lives and safety of peoples in all corners of the globe by removing Osama Bin Laden was more than a brilliant military operation by the bravest of Americans. It was an affirmation of our nation’s persistent vision and enduring reality that we are an exceptional people, not without our faults, but ultimately good, compassionate, and fearless in standing up for our values, not matter how often we fall or are pushed down.
Pundits at home and abroad have long speculated that the end of the American age has arrived; that the American dream has faded and that new world powers and a new world order are on the rise. Many have predicted dire consequences for our nation’s future in the face of exploding budget deficits and a staggering debt burden. Critics have asserted that we lack the discipline, the peseverance, and the maturity to overcome our most serious challenges. And yet ……for ten years and longer we have pursued global terrorists, together with our allies and friends. We never tired. We never gave up. We just scored a major success.
I have never been prepared to write the United States off. Since our 18th century fight for independence in the face of overwhelming odds, and through countless struggles since, including a bloody civil war, we have always prevaled. ”When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” is after all an American saying. Our country continues to carry the hopes and dreams of the world, not because Americans are a special people, but because special people are Americans. From every corner of the globe, the American melting pot has created the most diverse nation on earth, united by the pride of making ourselves and calling ourselves Americans. So as long as there is a place called earth there will be a special and important place on this planet called the United States of America.
I understand there is a bit of concern among some in Estonia regarding the country’s past, current and future performance in cyber defense. There has also been some implication that Estonia may not have been nearly as prepared as it should have been when the 2007 large scale denial of service attack ocurred. Some may even argue that Estonia talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk of cyber protection. I disagree. This country has done exceedingly well in dealing with a rather new threat that is now on many countries’ strategic planning agenda — after Estonia. In 2007 Estonians not only overcame a unique challenge on their own, but they also learned a great deal and went about planning for future cyber security. And with the establishment of the NATO Cyber Defense Center of Excellence and the creation of Estonia’s Cyber Defense League, our allies in Tallinn have done much more than just help themselves. The U.S. will join the NATO Center this year to share even more in the common effort of a growing number of Alliance countries to build the NATO cyber defense strategy agreed at the Lisbon NATO Foreign Minister’s meeting last November. In addition, the strong relationship between Estonia’s National Guard and our Maryland National Guard is yielding solid bilateral results, among them the appreciation of the public-private sector community of purpose in protecting civilian as well as governmental infrastructure from cyber attack. Now, do we all have more to learn and more actions to take? Of course. As information technology and its applications in our daily lives advance and change at lightening speed, so does the capacity of criminal actors to disrupt our societies using these tools. But when it comes to hands-on cyber defense, both Estonia and the United States remain committed and capable of maintaining leadership roles.
Last evening in the United States President Obama addressed the American people, and through them the Libyan people and the world community, on the the current conflict in Libya. The reaction of the international community to regime violence, expressed in a firm UN Security Council Resolution, has been almost unanimous. Our President acknowledged that some Americans have concerns about U.S. efforts in Libya. But Mr. Obama made clear that “to brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and…our responsibilities to our fellow human beings …would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States is different.”
For peoples around the world and especially for our close friends and allies such as Estonia, President Obama’s words on Libya carry a most important broad message. The United States will not hesitate to lead in world events, and our leadership includes mobilizing the international community for collective action. History has shown that American leadership is an essential ingredient in meeting the challenges of our globe. It is equally clear that when we choose not to play our role, in whatever way, there are inevitable consequences. Of course we are not immune from criticism. Not everyone always agrees with our views. Some strongly disagree. We can make mistakes. But as a great nation of free men and women we are also strong enough to deal openly with our regrets.
In the final analysis we are proud of who we are. And today, and for the future, we ”stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms.”
I read a fascinating article inthe New York Times the other day about inventory management and customer satsifaction by a fabulous American clothing and accessories retailer, Nordstrom. Those of you who have shopped at Nordstrom know that quality, customer service and inventory are obviously a company priority. The New York Times article described how Nordstrom has upgraded its web site and its on-line and in-store shopping experience. The company combined its on-line warehouse inventory with access to each of its individual store inventories. This now makes it more likely that a custormer will be able to get the item in the size and quantity he/she wants – fast. Nordstrom also added more search features on-line to allow customers to find what they are looking for and also suggest alternatives. Sales increased significantly, even in a difficult economy.
What a great idea to consider, I thought, for Estonian retailers who for obvious reasons often maintain very limited inventories. For larger, multinational chains in country, why not connect inventory data in Estonia with inventories of other company stores in Europe. For instance, Stockmann’s in Tallinn with Stockmann’s in Helsinki or Zara in Tallinn with Zara stores anywhere else in the EU? And then provide customers in Estonia the service of getting a wanted item to Estonia within a very short time (a day or two maximum) at minimal or no additional cost. I suspect the added cost absorbed by the retailer would be made up in increased sales.
Ok, you might say, that is fine for multi-national store chains, but what about Estonia-only single retailers? Seems in this case an Amazon-like arrangement might be an idea. The Estonian store would be a portal to retailers in other EU countries who have a certain product and would then facilitate the shipping and delivery /pick-up in Estonias. If that furniture store in Tallinn has only one beautiful arm chair, but you want three, your Tallinn store could get you the other two from Stockholm, for instance, on the next ferry. That way, I suspect, the reputation of Estonia as a country of excellent customer service, where any kind of product is available at a reasonable price quickly would help increase Estonia’s business bottom line. There may well be impediments in terms of sales rights specific to certain countries, shipping costs, competitive obstacles and more. But those mountains are simply there to be climbed and conquered, not to block the view.
But I am not a business expert and would not be offended if any of you would let me know that either all this already exists (I doubt it) or that this is a crazy idea (quite possible.)
At first I didn’t believe it. Then I was surprised. And finally it simply made sense. An Estonian colleague in our Embassy told me that Estonian emergency services can be reached by dialing “911″, just like in the United States. ” But isn’t your number ’112′, I asked. Yes, was the answer, but since so many Estonians are familiar with the U.S. emergency telephone number from the news, movies, books and other exposure to our country, when dialling “911″ in Estonia, you are simply switched into the local standard “112″ network.
My wife and I sadly observed a foreign tourist in medical distress in Tallinn’s Old Town last weekend and saw how quickly emergency help arrived, first by bicycle and then by ambulance. Impressive! I couldn’t help but wonder whether the emergency medical team arrived from a “911″ or a “112″ call. But clearly it would have made made no difference in this incredible efficient and practical country where so many things just work without much fuss and formality! And Estonia doesn’t just answer “911″ at home. It courageously and competently answers international calls for help from Iraq to Afghanistan and from Kosovo to Haiti and Pakistan. I hope to continue to stay out of trouble as much as humanly possible in my life, but if I do get into difficulty, I hope I am near an Estonian phone.
Our first half year in Estonia is already behind us and my wife and I are starting to feel at home here in Tallinn. We have had lots of practice in our career in settling in quickly and learning to adapt. Summer has been busier than we expected. That’s just fine. We like to stay busy as much as we value some private time as well. Together or separately, we have visited many, but not nearly all corners of this beautiful country. From Tallinn to Tartu and from Viljandi to Narva; to the islands of Saarema, Hiiumaa, and Abruka; my picture of Estonia is becoming fuller. We have sailed in the Baltic, enjoyed opera and classical concerts, and moved to the music of Buena Vista Social Club at the Nokia Center. We shivered in a beautifully frigid winter and learned to visit Old Town Tallinn late in the afternoon during this tropical summer, after the cruise ships have again returned the city to its residents.
I am finding diplomatic activity here productive and professional, and U.S. and Estonian policy in great measure in “violent agreement.” We have had a good first half of 2010 dealing much with Alliance and security issues. I look forward to some added focus on global economic recovery, energy and cyber security, and other global issues in 2010/2011. This first summer is beginning to draw to a close as my Embassy prepares for the new business season. In July, I had to say farewell to my Deputy Chief of Mission, but I am now looking forward to the arrival of her successor, who will play a central role in helping me manage our Embassy and our partnership with Estonia. Our staff is also growing overall, with the soon-to-be-announced arrival of another U.S. Government agency joining our diplomatic team in Tallinn. Looking forward to an active time ahead.
Letter from Estonian Writer Ülo Tuulik. Part 3:
I spent a poor and unpretentious and yet wonderful childhood on this island. The war was over, my family was alive, the sky was blue, the sea was filled with fish and we were surrounded by friendly neighbors. The island did not have electricity, a telephone, nor even a single radio, a general store or a doctor, but we did not starve. And, in the spring of 1945, when 20,000 Estonians were deported into Siberia, many neighboring families were saved by the break-up of sea ice – the Soviet Russian deporters did not dare to cross the thin ice.
In the summer of 1994, four young married couples, including both my daughters and their husbands, reserved tickets to go to Stockholm on the ship Estonia on 26th of September 1994. For different reasons, my daughters and one son-in-law could not go through with the trip. Five young people, our neighbors and friends from many summers, young beautiful people in their prime went and never returned. The three who survived erected this cross and made sure that the memory of what happened is never forgotten.
Letter from Estonian Writer Ülo Tuulik: Part 2:
In 1935, my father came to this island to be a schoolteacher. He spoke Finnish, Russian and German but also taught the local young people how to play bridge and chess. In May 1936, (my brother) little Vaino fell ill. Father and a local fisherman took a very small boat through a heavy storm to Kuressaare in order to fetch the doctor. The doctor came to the harbor but said that he dared not get into so small of a boat in such stormy weather. Father and the fisherman drove back. Little Vaino died that night.
On the 23rd of August 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed in Moscow. The secret protocol of this pact decided the fate of Estonian people for half a century. We were victims of geopolitics. In the autumn of the same year, the first Soviet Russian soldiers came to Estonia. A garrison of 150 men was set up in Abruka. Four officers lived in the village while the soldiers were in the barracks on the other side of the island. In July 1941, German planes first appeared in the sky above Abruka. A young Russian boy did not run straight back to the barracks, as he should have, but instead waited in the forest for the planes to leave. The Commissar (military official) saw this as an act of cowardiss and lack of discipline. An old fisherman of Abruka saw with his own eyes the boy getting shot in front of a line-up. He was buried so quickly and carelessly that his toes stuck out of the ground. Before the Germans reached Abruka, all the Soviet officers fled. The Russian soldiers were taken to concentration camps from where most did not make it back. As we know, a human life is sacred. So the people of Abruka buried the young Russian soldier, shot by the Commissar, in their village graveyard. He was buried along with his spoon and aluminum mug. Twenty years later, we erected a memorial stone to the unknown soldier. All over the world there are burial places for unknown soldiers. During the long years of Soviet reign I spoke to known communist officials and politicians and told them that here lies an unknown soldier who fell in the battle against the Germans. He is no longer unknown, however, because we found his name in the archives, Aleksander Haritolov. And if for the sake of truth and history you would also like to know the name of the man who shot — it is Pjotr Lukonin.
During World War II, the school in Abruka was closed and father went to teach for two years on Sorve Peninsular in Saaremaa. In autumn of 1944, some of the toughest battles of World War II that took place on Estonian soil were fought there.
We, about 3,000 habitants, were taken to camps in Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Children and old folks were buried on foreign soil. When we returned in 1945, our village was no longer on the map – it had been destroyed. Father’s library of thousands of books had also burned down. We were poor, no clothes, homeless and decided to return to Abruka. Father once again began teaching the fishermen’s children and my sister Safme (sp?) became the head of the local library, a job she carried on for 58 years running. This could also be added to the Guinness Book of World Records ….