Tag Archives: bilateral relations

Keeping Transatlantic Relations Real

U.S.- EUImagine the headline:  “Breaking news:  The sun came up this morning!  Some European leaders suspect U.S. involvement and demand an explanation; others decry the lack of U.S. leadership in letting the sun set every evening.  In other news, it has been alleged that government intelligence agencies actually collect information.  The weather today: cloudy.”

It is not my intent to make light of the recent outcry among our European friends over alleged U.S. intelligence information gathering.  The accusation in all this outrage is not only  a privacy violation, but also government overreach reminiscent of authoritarian regimes, both past and current.  Frankly, the privacy argument falls a bit flat in the share-all facebook and twitter age.  And when did U.S. information gathering last injure one of our friends and allies?  And who can throw the first stone when it comes to collection of intelligence?

Even if only meant for public consumption, all this outrage is unnecessary.  The sun comes up every day.  Intelligence agencies collect information.  We want to know about our enemies’ communication patterns.  At times those communication paths cross your territory.  So give us a break and help us out.  The same groups that mean to harm us have the same in mind for you, after all.   What little we may have come to  know about you incidental to our anti-terror efforts (and no doubt discarded) is still far less than what many of you share readily with a wide audience on facebook or twitter.

As a U.S. diplomat in Europe, I routinely experienced the sense of ownership of our leaders among many of our European friends.  An American presidential election was also a European political event.  Somehow, even if unstated,  you expected your views of our presidents to be given the weight of those of our own citizens.  Following the irrational European dislike of our last president followed  first adulation and then European disappointment in our current one.  To a degree such attitudes were understandable and had in the past even been precipitated by us.  We Americans, for a long time, lived the role of leader and protector of the free world, its territory and its values.  But enough is really enough.

There was a time in the aftermath of a devastating hot and then a cold war when your focus on our leaders was logical, since to a great degree we influenced your fate even more fundamentally than did your own leaders.  But in the 21st century your dream and ours has been realized.  Nearly all of Europe is whole, free, and at peace….. and you own it!  Our friendship and alliance have never been stronger, more important, or  more equal.  Because and not despite of this, we both try to figure out what the other side thinks.  We both gather information on each other and our common enemies.  Other than the rough and tumble of free market competition and occasional policy differences, America and Europe have a critical stake in each others success and well-being.  As the co-architects of today’s Europe, we are proud of the powerful union you have become.  You in turn have every reason to trust in our paramount commitment to our relationship.  The U.S. does not act to the detriment of its European  or other allies.

So, my dear European friends, let it rest.   A man I used to work for and respect most highly, General Colin Powell, once made the definitive statement about American military engagement that applies equally to our ventures into cyberspace:  “We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years … and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to live our own lives in peace.”

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Filed under American Values, diplomacy, good governance, Peace and Security, U.S. Foreign Relations

Fifteen Years AmCham Estonia: A Booming Business

A few days ago, together with my friends, Estonian Foreign Minister Paet and Ambassador Kaljurand, Estonia’s Ambassador to the U.S., I congratulated the American Chamber of Commerce  in Estonia on its 15th birthday.  Almost as old as renewed independence for Estonia itself!

Estonia’s journey from Soviet occupation to a vibrant and innovative economic leader is an example for others to study and follow.  Of  course, for neither Estonia or the Chamber was the path always easy or without its challenges.  But similar to Estonia’s transformation as a nation, the rejuvenation of AmCham I have witnessed over the past several years is tangible and deserves enthusiastic recognition.   AmCham’s mission and desire to grow into an ever stronger and more prominent voice for U.S. business in Estonia is being realized.  I am proud of my Embassy’s strong and creative partnership with AmCham in that role.  Our cooperation runs the gamut of issues and events. From drawing attention to issues such as intellectual property rights, to American community events like our joint Fourth of July celebrations, to creating the Estonian American Innovation Award, we indeed have much to be proud of.

Looking ahead, we see new challenges and opportunities that will require even stronger engagement to help create more jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.  Through expanded business ties and putting our respective innovative economies in high gear.

Many pundits have spoken recently about the United States turning its attention away from Europe and towards Asia.  This has stoked fears that U.S.-European economic and security relationships will suffer. They will not.  The U.S. and Europe, politically, economically, socially and emotionally represent two sides of the same coin.  As to our relations with the Asia/Pacific region, Americans, Estonians and other Europeans can and will walk and chew gum at the same time.

Let’s recall the facts:  Transatlantic trade accounts for 40 percent of the global economy.  Americans and Europeans are not only preferred, but also natural partners.  We recognize that concerted action by the United States and our allies in Europe is required if we want to tackle the global challenges and opportunities of our time.  This is true for building a vibrant and free 21st century global economy, mitigating climate change, engaging emerging economies, and recovering from the global financial crisis.  And it is true for combating terrorism or cyber threats, and completing our mission in Afghanistan.

On the business front, the U.S. and EU are working through one of my favorite cross-ocean institutions — the Transatlantic Economic Council.  We seek to avoid unnecessary divergence in regulations and standards that impede trade; develop fully compatible approaches to emerging technologies; and coordinate our activities to level the playing field for our companies in third countries, particularly in emerging economies.  All of this is under the overarching goal of creating a truly open transatlantic marketplace and improving the prosperity of our 800 million people.

Estonia, and AmCham Estonia, have important roles to play in the U.S.-European economic partnership. In this, Estonia’s compact size is both a plus and a minus.  A small and advanced rule-of-law country can quickly take advantage of new entrepreneurial opportunities.  It can offer stability and low risk that many much larger economies can only hope for.  But a small domestic market also means that the 800 million people have to become Estonia’s target  market.  And a small population means having to tackle the limits of in-country human capital – in terms of education and training as well as immigration policy.

Estonia, and more importantly, “E-stonia, is already an established leader in a number of 21st century economic priority areas.  These include processing rare earths; developing alternative as well as new forms of traditional energy; information technology; and of course the myriad of e-services that Estonians already treat as routine and that make the rest of us jealous.  The world has come to learn about innovative Estonia.  Expanding and delivering on that reputation will be the task of Estonian entrepreneurs and this AmCham together with American innovators.  My Embassy will continue to be part of this exciting and promising future. 

With that in mind, once again, Happy 15th Birthday AmCham Estonia!

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Filed under American Values, economy, good governance, Intellectual Property, U.S. -Estonian Relations

Smart Power in Austere Times

There has never been a better time than right now to set in motion Smart Power as the new pardigm of American foreign policy than during current belt tightening by governments on both sides of the Atlantic.  I have always disliked what I would call the predecessor of Smart Power:  “Do more with less!”  Unless we are talking about nuclear breeder reactors, there really is no “more with less.”  In an organizational context  that term has always suggested to me that people should work more hours, achieve all the same goals with little or no prioritization, and with fewer resources and even less compensation for their efforts.  You can do this for a brief period to bridge a temporary crisis, but in the long term, any organization that demands more with less ends up only achieving less with less and demoralizing its workforce, robbing it of its  creative energies.

In contrast, Smart Power proposes to to do more and to do it better by combining the energies of more contributors to a common goal, even as program and human resources of individual organizational units are being reduced.  Take as an example Secretary of State Clinton’s “3 D’s ” of U.S. foreign policy:  diplomacy, defense, and development.  Through the combined efforts of the Department of State, the Pentagon and USAID, along with those of other U.S. government entities in support of the 3 D’s, U.S. foreign policy becomes smarter and more effective, even as the budget knife cuts into U.S. government outlays.

Such constructive interagency cooperation is far from routine in an environment famous for interagency disagreements and outright bureaucratic battles.  And while the leadership of President Obama and his relevant cabinet officers is a decisive factor in making Smart Power work, necessity also plays a key role.  The common enemy of deficits and economic downturn is no small motivating factor in turn bureaucratic warriors into Smart Power players.  In Washington and around the world, we have already made a strong start down the Smart Power road and the coming years will show whether we can sustain this new foreign policy paradigm even as our fiscal situation improves.

Our friends here in Estonia are also Smart Power players.  Estonia, since regaining its independence 20 years ago has been a Smart Power nation.  The rewards for the country and its people have been remarkable, making Estonia today one of the most economically and politically stable and future-oriented places in the world.  And here too, sustainability of Smart Power policies will be tested as things get better, as prosperity and popular demand for public services grows, and as government’s ability to do more with more becomes possible.

In the United States and in Estonia, we should look forward to that happy dilemma, but remain unalterably committed to Smart Power.

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A Quiet People With A Powerful Voice

Ever since my arrival as U.S. Ambassador to Estonia on a frosty winter evening in 2009, I have been confronted with the loud volume of the Estonian people’s silence.  For a typically extrovert American, keeping a conversation going in this country can often be challenging.  That is until the American learns the power of Estonian silence and the astounding success and rebirth of freedom in a nation that quietly never gave up on re-independence throughout decades of occupation.  On August 20, 2011, my wife Hallie and I will be joining our Estonian friends in celebrating their 20-year miracle of  success.  Tens of thousands of Estonians will take part in events in Tallinn and throughout the country in what is expected to be the most visible (and even loudest) outpouring of patriotism by the Estonian people in a decade.

At a time of considerable political and economic turbulence throughout Europe and in the United States, it is particularly poignant to celebrate not only Estonia’s existence as a free country, but also its standing as a proud nation in the 21st century.  Emerging today from the most recent world-wide recession, Estonia is almost everything so many other countries today are not.  First of all, Estonia and its government are solvent.  With negligible national debt and an equally insignificant government budget deficit, Estonia is part of a very small group of countries that can lay claim to economic health and positive prospects.  There are of course challenges, including high unemployment, inflation, and unmet demands for better salaries and a social service improvements.  But in comparison to apocalyptic headlines, such as Time Magazine’s most recent cover proclaiming “The Decline and Fall of Europe,” Estonia stands apart.  No one  here believes that Europe is about to fall, and more than 70 percent of Estonians fully support their country’s adoption of the stressed Euro.

Meanwhile, Estonia stands ready with scant complaint to do (and pay) its part to help Europe overcome its ongoing debt crisis.  And for the part of Europe that is still struggling with its democractic, economic, and social development, Estonia has invested both its expertise and resources to help out.  Estonians are also fighting and sacrificing from Afghanstan to the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.  When asked “why does your small country do so much,'”  leaders here are a bit taken aback, explaining that nations and people stood by them during the darkest hours of occupation and its payback time!

Estonians see the problems on their and our side of the Atlantic with traditional stoicism.  Privately, I suspect, they wonder why the rest of us are so slow in implementing to them obvious solutions.  They have seen much worse and not only survived, but excelled.  For Estonians, there are no problems that can’t be surmounted with stubborn commitment to the solutions, no matter how painful they may be.  Their experience, looking at their past, is to live for the future – focussed and most of all – quietly.  I am really looking forward to being quiet tomorrow, together with our wise Estonian friends.

Happy Anniversary Estonia!

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Filed under Civil Society, good governance, Peace and Security, U.S. -Estonian Relations

Why Europe Still Matters

Having worked on the transatlantic relationship for many years of my diplomatic career, I am tempted to agree with Richard Hass’ provocative op-ed in the June 18 edition of the Washington Post “Why Europe No Longer Matters.”  And yet, I will resist that temptation.  Focussing mainly on Europe’s relevance to transatlantic security policy,  Haass made a powerful case, recalling Defense Secretary Gates’ recent  policy speech on the status of NATO.  Richard’s facts and analysis were, as one would expect, on the mark — as far as they went.  Europe clearly falls into a different corner of America’s security policy field of vision today than it did during most of the 20th century.   But NATO remains the most successful alliance in history and a bulwark of U.S. security, even if we sometimes look to coalitions of the willing, both inside and outside Alliance structures.  What Richard’s article did not fully address was the direct relevance of Europe’s security and its political and economic cohension to the United States, regardless of the security policy positions of some of our European friends.   America wants and needs a strong Europe, even if we invest much more in our common security than some.  

I agree that browbeating and cajoling are not the answer to different attitudes from ours among some Europeans.  Neither is ignoring these differences.  President Obama, in announcing our impending troop reductions in Afghanistan, has called for nation building at home in America.  Polls suggest that a majority of Americans agree with renewed focus and investment in our domestic well being.  The fact that our jobs and our prosperity are linked to our trading partners — not only in Asia, but also to our largest trading  partner, Europe, — can hardly be ignored.  Good jobs and fair trade are always welcome and always wanted by us, wherever they come from, and 40% of all world trade is between the U.S. and Europe.

U.S. and some European opinions and interests are likely to continue to diverge, although thinking back to past arguments over Cold War security issues, I would hardly call this a new phenomenon.  For us in the U.S., some of these differing views surprise and even irritate and we will say so.  That said, I would not characterize certain opinions in Europe as Europe’s opinion, especially as I see the broad agreement with our Estonian allies on the vast majority of issues here in this small northeastern corner of the continent.

So I arrive at some, but not all of Richard Hass’ conclusions.  Clearly there is no thought  of doing away with NATO.  And yes, Europe and transatlantic relations no longer uniquely dominate U.S. foreign policy.  That said, the U.S. must not “accept and adjust to” the absence of a strong and important Europe from our common set of regional and global responsibilities.  Europe matters not because of fading historical ties to us, but because it has significant human and material resources to bring to bear to meet the challenges of a shrinking globe.  For European prosperity and safety, stability in Europe alone is not enough.  If other parts if the world go to pot or meet success without European participation, Europe suffers.  In the end most of our friends on this side of the Atlantic will come to appreciate such consequences – and opportunities – without American browbeating.

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A Turbulent 2010 Brings Success For U.S. and Estonia

An eventful year 2010 has marked and shaped my first year in Estonia.  Political, economic, environmental and other powerful influences have challenged U.S. and Estonian leaders.  The final tally is very positive.  America, with the help of friends like Estonia,  dealt successfully with environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  Our economy is recovering — too slowly in terms of our unemployment picture–but market trends are clearly up.  On the diplomatic front we ratified a landmark new strategic arms treaty with Russia that will improve security and transparency not just for us and Russia, but for Estonia and NATO as well.  In Tallinn and Lisbon we set the stage this year together for the Alliance in the 21st century.  Estonia and the U.S. actively exercised our combined military capabilities together, both on NATO territory and further afield.

Estonia is completing its turbocharged 20-year journey from re-independence to full European, transatlantic, and global integration tomorrow at midnight when Prime Minister Ansip holds in his hands that first Estonian euro.  Symbolic of so much more than just a new currency for the country, Estonia’s entry into the eurozone is even more significant because the euro has been through some difficult times this past year.  Estonia’s cooly responsible economic and financial policies are exactly what the euro needs today and, as usual, its government is ready to step up and carry the burdens as well as the benefits of a common European currency.  Estonia will begin 2011 on the best possible footing, economically, politically, militarily, and in every other way — to seize new opportunities and contribute to common efforts with its partners on both sides of the Atlantic.

For 2011, I am looking forward to building on the already excellent U.S.-Estonian with an eye not only to our strategic relationship, but also the people to people bonds.  We will work on U.S. companies bringing jobs to Estonia and for Estonian investments enhancing U.S. business activities.  We will keep pushing hard on U.S. digital content access for eager E-stonian consumers.  And we Americans will be active participants in an exciting Tallinn Cultural Capital of Europe 2011.

Hallie and I and my entire team at U.S. Embassy Tallinn are most grateful for our friendships here in Estonia and wish us all a great 2011 together!


Filed under economy, good governance, Peace and Security, U.S. -Estonian Relations, U.S. Foreign Relations

Happy to Connect Estonians

Our Embassy recently organized a visit to the United States by a group of Estonian local government leaders from various parts of the country.  Such programs to visit the U.S. for all kinds of Estonian professionals are an important part of our Public Diplomacy and outreach programs.  Among the participants of this local government program was Mr. Innar Mäesalu, the Deputy Mayor of Vöru, in southern Estonia. We always look for feedback from such visits to hear what worked for our guests and what did not, so we can repeat the good and fix the not-so-good.  This time, I was particularly pleased with a comment Mr. Mäesalu offered after his return.  He had met civic leaders from Narva and Sillamäe for the first time during their U.S. visit together and and he now planned to visit them in northeastern Estonia this month.  “Without this program, I would have never met them,” Mr. Mäesalu told us.   People to people diplomacy in action.


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“Open House” and “Town Hall” – A Translation

During more than three decades of diplomatic service, I have greatly enjoyed exploring different cultures and societies and in turn sharing with them the “odd”  things Americans do.  Of course, unique or similar (but rarely if ever the same) holiday celebrations were among those sharing experiences.  But among the most consistently challenging American events to bring across the cultural threshold have been the “Open House” party and the “Town Hall” meeting.     Let me say up front that I have obviously not served everywhere and that are some countries where one or the other of these two forms of getting people together are similar.  But from Latin America to Western and Eastern Europe in my experience, the two concepts were not routinely in the local vocabulary or practice.

An “Open House,” such as my wife and I will once again be hosting at our home this coming Christmas for our Estonian and American colleagues and friends, is a warm, informal, and uncomplicated way of hosting and enjoying some holiday good cheer without the pressures of coming on time, a formal receiving line, or dressing appropriately.  The house is literally open for several hours for guests to come and stay as long or as briefly as they wish to enjoy a relaxing time with us and in each others company.

The “Town Hall” — literally of course a seat of local government — is in this case a short form for a meeting open to a large number of people, regardless of rank or position, to discuss issues of common interest with each other and a principal figure, be it a president, school principal, or ambassador.  Participation by a maximum number of attendees is key.  Format is not.  While common courtesy and respect for divergent views is most important, everyone gets to voice an opinion and anyone gets to speak.   The idea, again, is to discuss issues in a non-threatening and informal atmosphere that encourages interaction and engagement by folks, including those who are normally more reserved.  It can get a little messy and loud at times, but it can be a great catalyst for dialog.

If you are not an American and are invited to either one of these two types of events, watch us among each other and go with the flow and break into the conversation.  It may feel a bit foreign at first, but it grows on you quickly.


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Estonia Answers “911” Calls

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.

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Filed under Civil Society, good governance, U.S. -Estonian Relations, Uncategorized

Summer in Estonia: Starting to Feel at Home

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.

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