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Toomas Hendrik Ilves at DGAP, Berlin November 6, 2014

Toomas Hendrik Ilves at DGAP, Berlin November 6, 2014 © Dirk Enters (DGAP)


Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the King's horses and all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

That is an old English nursey rhyme, and I would argue that it is a metaphor for European security in this Annus Horribilis, a quarter century after the Annus Mirabilis of 1989. There are many theories about where this nursery rhyme came from, but the most interesting one refers to a battle from 1648 (that this audience probably know better than most). The battle took place in Colchester, England, when a large cannon of the Royalist side in the English Civil War fell down after someone from Cromwell's army shot the wall underneath the cannon. The cannon was so heavy that they could not pick it up again. And thus it was useless.

And this is where we have come when it comes to European current security architecture. Why is it that everyone today feels more insecure than even during the Cold War, when at least we had agreed upon rules of international behaviour regarding what countries may or may not do? Saber-rattling or threatening with nuclear weapons was generally considered boorish and not done. And when we look at the last several months, we actually do see threats or posts about nuclear weapons. There were two blocs, true, armed to the teeth, but it was a stand-off. After 1975 and the Helsinki Final Act we had agreed – at Soviet insistence – to no changes in borders through force or through threat of force; we had the third basket which the West insisted on, in order to push human rights to the East. So the question is: what has changed?

The real problem, what has changed, not the specifics and not just in Ukraine, is that the old rules no longer apply. What was agreed to and what was generally followed even at the height of the Cold War, right now is shattered.

We thought that on our own continent, the wars of the 20th Century, the defeat of Nazism and the collapse of communism had proven, as Francis Fukuyama maintained 25 years ago, once and for all the primacy and Hegelian ineluctability of the triumph of liberal democracy. Indeed we thought then that democracy, given a chance, would reign supreme.

As we have seen in the past eleven months, it hasn't. Ideas such as territorial annexation, based on co-ethnics abroad, which we last saw in 1938 with the Anschluss of Sudetenland and Österreich and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia – ideas we believed were settled for good on May 8, 1945 –, have returned. They are part of the current security dialogue, accepted too often even in the West.

Annexation of another country's territory because your compatriots live there – that was the justification for the annexation of Crimea, and for the ongoing occupation of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts – is a genuine reality today. Growing up, I thought this was something that would be forbidden forever and would never happen again. Today, even within the European Union, we hear people say, even if not officially, that we have to accept it, that we have to accept that Crimea is gone. Now let us see what that would mean for Europe if we would accept that argument as an organizing principle here. We've seen what happened in former Yugoslavia.

That was the oldest foundation of the Post-War security settlement rendered now null and void in 2014. I should also raise the prohibition of aggression that came into effect with the UN Charter, also from 1945, stating that Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

The next foundation of European security to fall, far more important for Europe in particular, as I already mentioned, was the Helsinki Final Act from 1975, in which the trans-Atlantic countries – from Vancouver to Vladivostok – agreed, and I quote: "not to use force to change borders or challenge the independence of any state; to regard one another's frontiers inviolable and to refrain from making each other's territory the object of military occupation."

That, I would say, was one of the great accomplishments of the post-World War II period, actually of the diplomacy of the 20th century. It also continues, saying that no such occupation or acquisition would be recognized as legal. And it has been violated, and declared invalid, by a self-proclaimed successor state of an original signatory of 1975 – as Russia has declared itself the full legal successor of all obligations incurred by the Soviet Union.

Then there's the 1990 CSCE Charter of Paris for a new Europe, in which the signatories, all the then members, including newly free Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary as well as, again, Russia's legal predecessor, agreed to "fully recognize the freedom of States to choose their own security arrangements." And here I would recall that the casus belli in both the Georgian and the Ukrainian wars, according the presidents of Russia, was the announced desire of Georgia to join NATO and more recently, in case of Ukraine, even the European Union – which is hardly a security arrangement.

And then, which is especially unfortunate and will have long term implications, there is the failure of all of the three countries to hold on to the Budapest memorandum from 1994. Who, in their right mind – or even if you are not in your right mind, like North Korea – would give up their nuclear weapons today, after what they saw happened with the Budapest memorandum? No country would do that. In fact, we should be worried that countries would move even further.

This is a remarkable collapse, and I do not think we have fully understood how great change has taken place in the fundamental rules that have guided the security architecture up till now. And it only took a few short months, and perhaps one could argue that it hasn't affected us directly, but it is a profound change. I was born in 1953 and grew up knowing no one would do those things, there was the old Mutually Assured Destruction-language thinking of "the unthinkable". Now we are dealing with the unthinkable.

Those were all just the formal arrangements. Then there are also the accepted rules of military behavior, which are not formalized, but in practice they have been followed in the post-Cold-War world. There are certain things you don't do. You don't show the underside of the planes carrying missiles – that was how the opponents threatened each other during the Cold War, but that is being done today.

In a span of three days last week, we saw Russia test its full panoply of nuclear missile delivery systems – surface to surface, air to surface, and sea to surface. We have had 19 different planes, fighters and bombers intercepted all over Europe, not just the so-called "nervous Baltic region" but as far as Portugal. Last Friday, Danish intelligence service released their threat assessment for the next period, and in that report they recount that last summer, when 90 thousand people, including all of the Danish political elite, had gathered on the island of Bornholm for a political debate festival, Russia practiced a bombing raid on the island with fully armed tactical nuclear weapons. We see now a level of aggressiveness in military behavior that we haven't seen since 1991.

Of course there are always the Verstehers who will offer psychological explanations for this, based on the fairly dubious idea of a "national character", talk of understandable motivations and patronizing sighs that it takes time for nations to change. That's all very nice for feuilletons, but governments and especially diplomats should not play psychologists or engage in wishful thinking. We must deal with the facts on the ground. And one of the facts on the ground today is that in 2014, on the European continent, we have uninvited and invading boots on the ground. That is one of the fundamental facts on the ground – mostly when we talk about "boots on the ground" people think of East Europeans wanting American troops on their territory, but the real fact is that there are live Russian boots on the ground today, and no one wants them there.


For much of this year I have been giving speeches and publishing articles and interviews arguing precisely what I summed up here, that the Post War and Post Cold-War security architecture has crashed down and no one in Europe seems to be able to, or to want to raise it. So I was actually quite surprised when I read the speech by President Putin at the Valdai Club in Sochi on October 24 that, Mirabile Dictu, Mr Putin and I are in complete agreement. The old security archecture is in shambles, and that's what he says. However, there is a threefold difference between what he says and what I say:

First of all, Mr Putin blames the West for this collapse. It is our fault that the security architecture has collapsed.

Secondly, he enumerates, quite seriously, the various uprisings in Syria, Libya and Ukraine as examples – he imputes all of this to nasty American meddling, but let's be honest, coming from a country that actually did have a popular uprising against the authoritarian, totalitarian regime, I can tell you it was not the Americans who did it, it was the Estonians who did it, the Latvians, the Czechs, and here – on the anniversary – the East Berliners. 500 000 East Europeans were on the street twenty five years ago – they were not there because the Americans did anything dubious. So that kind of mindset is imputing the collapse of the security architecture to the West and denies the possibility of the people in the region actually not wanting to live under authoritarian and corrupt rule.

And third, what he did not say there, which is what I am saying, is that the eviceration of the order is due to the actions not of the West, but unfortunately, due to the actions of the Russian Federation.

It seems that this has been the intent all along. I would say even longer than we have wanted to admit. We did not want to admit anything in 2008, when we recall the alacrity with which the European Union decided to go back to business as usual after the Georgian-Russian war – after president Sarkozy had made a deal, one of the points of which was that Russian troops must leave the territory of Georgia. That was agreed to at a Council meeting in September and until that, the EU would sanction trade with Russia. A month later, the same president Sarkozy stopped the sanctions saying "thank God, common sense prevailed" – he pushed through the sanctions, then was grateful that he managed to stop them. So we already saw the collapse of the post-Cold-War architecture there but we didn't want to pay attention, and this is where we are now.

I won't go into analysing too much at length the content of that most important and indicative speech, I am sure many of you have read it. All I can say is that in its anti-Western and especially anti-American rhetoric, we have seen nothing like this since the day Mikhail Gorbachev assumed office.

But I would suggest you read it again, if for no other reason, then to understand that psychological analyses, bad as they may be in international relations, do have a role, and I as an anti-Freudian must admit that there is at least one concept about which Sigmund Freud was right: there is a psychological defense mechanism he called projection – ascribing to others everything you are doing wrong yourself. I think that is a pretty good summing up of the Valdai speech.

In that speech, however, we find a distillation of views we have seen uttered in a number of speeches in the last 5-6-8 months, but rarely in so concentrated form. It's as if someone has taken Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilisations not as a descriptive work on potential threats, but rather as a prescriptive textbook to follow. Instead of looking for common values there is a conscious decision in the rhetoric at various levels of Russian leadership to create a civilisational opposition, to pose Russia, based on Orthodoxy and pan-Slavism, reverent of the early 19th century doctrine of Nicholas I of autokratia, derzhava and Orthodoxy, as a conservative, healthy civilisation as opposed to the decadent, gay, weak civilisation of Western Europe. In line with that, rejecting some of the fundamental values of the Enlightenment such as fundamental freedoms and rule of law – values which we hold dear but about which several authoritarian states, also China, say that "we have different civilisations, and we have different rules". And now we see this doctrine grow more and more popular.

In this regard, I am worried about a rejection not only of the prohibition of border change through force, but also of the other part of the Helsinki Accords, the Third Basket, which means the increasingly loud denunciation of liberal values that we have seen, be they cast in crude terms regarding homosexuals or more extreme forms, persecuting free speech, shutting down free media, which is completely absent today. Most recently they shut down the Human Rights organization Memorial. This is coupled with something that many of us have observed, very strong mutual admiration (and perhaps even funding) of the Russian political elite of the extreme, undemocratic left and right in Europe, including some of the most unsavory parties that have taken root here – most recently a newly created fake organisation, the ASCE, brought so-called observers to the so-called elections in Luhansk and Donetsk, and they used a typography identical to the OSCE. If you look at the list of the people, you get extreme right and you get extreme left. And it is not simply about what is going on over there, it is going on here, in Europe.

I could go on enumerating these worrisome, often unsavory and even dangerous developments. Yet my question today is: how do we here in Europe, liberal democracies, go forward in this new and unforeseen security environment (a phrase, if some of you recognise it, from the NATO-Russia treaty from 1997)?

Recognising that in the past nine months we have seen a sea change in international behaviour on our continent, do we continue to just wish that this will all go away? Do we continue to look for mild statements – "oh, they must be backing off, he made a milder statement today, so we should consider easing up on the sanctions"? Do we say "let us recognise as reality that Crimea is gone" and proceed merrily on? Do we step over the broken eggshells of our Humpty-Dumpty security architecture?

Or do we begin to think anew? And what does thinking anew mean in this context? Do we propose a new security treaty, as has been suggested? Recall that already 6 years ago, just a little more than a month before the Russian-Georgian War, in June 2008, President Medvedev proposed a new "European Security Treaty" that would replace the treaty of the OSCE. That was rejected at the time by sounder politicians in the West for what it was, a treaty to legitimize spheres of influence, a droit de regard over the Zwischenländer between NATO and Russia, the countries that are part of neither.

There are several new proposals, such as "Helsinki at 40" to deal with the so-called "new realities"; we should be aware that this might be a slippery slope.

This is not merely a European issue. The current conflict in Europe is also not really about Ukraine. It is about Russia, and its relationship with the West and to Western values. The world in the Valdai vision would in fact be divided into spheres of influence, where there is no doubt that the Russian president would be a central organising figure in different circles and spheres. How realistic this is for a petrostate with 140 million people is a separate matter. But let us also be quite clear, the Valdai vision is a clear rejection of the Post-War security architecture from Vancouver to Vladistok.

So let us face it, we actually do have to rethink our security architecture. The speech of the Russian President in the Valdai Club carries a clear, if not explicit, threat that if Putin's vision is not accepted, if we do not accept the new rules of the game demanded by Russia, Ukraine will not be the last military conflict to plague Europe, and the exact quote is: "Ukraine ... is one example of such sorts of conflicts ..., and I think it will certainly not be the last".

What I am most concerned with is that what this kind thinking will lead to is a new Treaty of Westphalia and a new Treaty of Augsburg. In this new vision of security, issues of democracy, rule of law, human rights, would be given a "civilizational" status. It would mean that here, in this part of the world, we would have an Enlightenment based space, if you will; to the East there would be a post-Soviet, perhaps post-communist, and Slavic and Orthodox space, and divided between these two would be the Zwischenländer.

It wouldn't be Cuius Regio, eius religio, it would be Cuius Regio, eius rechte. I would add that it would also imply a recognition of a principle from Roman times where Ubi Romani, Ibi Roma, which is right now enshrined as a new post-Sudetenland principle, Ibi Rusi, Ubi Rusia – where there are Russians, there is Russia.

So: what do we do? What are the solutions?

One solution that has already been suggested by a number of people, most recently by Brzezinski, Mearsheimer and especially in Kissinger's new book, is Finlandisiergung. Various gurus have suggested finlandisierung as a solution, a term by which the Finns are fairly annoyed, but which implies i.e. to be a realist, accept that Crimea is gone, accept the frozen conflicts created in Ukraine's East, accept Russia's droit de regarde over Ukraine, meaning no NATO membership, no EU membership, recognising Russian participation in tripartite negotiations regarding the EU-Ukrainian bilateral relationship – this was something suggested by Primakov in 1999 for the countries that joined the EU in 2004, that was firmly rejected by the Commission at the time. But now we see that in the case of Ukraine there is an agreement about tripartite negotiations about something as mild and weak as the Association Agreement. So some of this has been accepted. The next step would be the same tripartite negotiations regarding Moldova's Association Agreement with the EU. And then, it is believed, we'll have peace, restore a dialogue, remove sanctions, go back to business as usual.

Let us recognise what that really means. Basically, we would be accepting a Pax Rusiana, a division of the world into civilisational components, and those civilisational components, aside from religion, would have to be things like fundamental rights and freedoms. This would mean also a rejection of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This would also reject the Western Enlightenment tradition. As an intellectual background, on the Russian side there is a quite strong acceptance of Carl Schmitt whose idea of dividing politics, of "us Vs. them" – an example of this being the youth movement "Nashi", meaning "ours". This is a popular theory in today's Russia, and we see it enacted in Ukraine, you see it played against other neighbours – you hate the Lithuanians, you hate the Ukrainians, even Finland has fallen under this kind of attacks.

My question is, is that what we want? To reward Russia for the destruction of the Post-War order? And some of us are doing what we do best, that is, we blame ourselves, we say it is our fault. Mearsheimer has taken up in his foreign policy paper the old notion that has been completely discredited that we have promised not to expand NATO, or that East Europe should remain outside of NATO. But in fact, as Uli Speck pointed out just last week, he found a quote by Putin from 2004 saying: "No NATO, but if Ukraine wants to join the EU, that's just fine with us". So we are on a slippery slope, and we forget what people used to say. We should follow carefully because otherwise we are going to be swallowed step by step.

So what do we do when Russia says the old rules of security no longer apply? Are we ready for this? We've seen already cases of acceptance of some of this, people have referred to EU-Russia founding act from 1997, saying we should not get boots on the ground in the new member states. But they haven't even read what the founding act says: it says no permanent troops in the new member states, no infrastructure and so forth – but the problem is the phrase that goes before that, which was "in the current and foreseeable security environment". I would argue that the security environment which existed in 1997 and which was foreseeable in 1997 did not include invasions, violating borders by force etc – but people still say: "we have an agreement, let's stick to it". While the other side is clearly violating the treaties that we have.

To be honest, I am worried. I am also worried that we're too fixated only on the latest event. OK, we had this horrible thing – they invaded Ukraine; they incorporated a part of the country, then they shot down an airplane, and then there are these horrible things happening in Donetsk and Luhansk – but actually, where is this going? We are too fixated on the immediate events, the last bad news, but when we look at the whole picture, how the events have proceeded, we don't understand where we are slowly going. I would use the metaphore of the boiling frog – if you put the frog in the water, when you slowly raise the temperature it doesn't jump out of the pan, because the change in temperature is too small for it to notice, and as a cold-blooded animal it keeps adjusting its temperature whereas if you raise the temperature immediately, it would jump out of the pan. I think that is a pretty appropriate picture of where we are today.

Certainly we need to understand that Europe, in its lack of serious and coherent reaction, is, in the mindset that we see to our East, seen and pictured in Russian media as something like a weak and decadent "Gayropa". That, again, is an expression we are getting used to – Europe seen as weak, unable to act, unable to decide, and they draw the conclusion that all is allowed, that there will not be pushbacks or resistance when the rules are broken. And what we see as a sine qua non of problem solving, deliberation and discussion, is also seen as weakness.

I will close by suggesting a few things for discussion. The bottom line is that we are in a situation that we hoped never to see again. In our rhetoric "this will never happen again" and "Europe is the solution to the problems that will never happen again", or "we are the solution" but now we see we are not the solution, except, perhaps, within our own states. But even here, we see politicians, leading politicians saying that the liberal democratic order is not the model for us, some of them are extremists and are not in power, but we see the results of the last European Parliament elections and we see the success of the parties who explicitly reject Western liberal democracy, who quite explicitly in many cases have expressed their admiration for Putin's approach as opposed to liberal democracy, and I am worried that we are facing a litmus test of what will happen to countries that do want to have liberal democracy.

And when I get a response – so, do you want a new cold war? – I would argue that we do not want a new Cold War, and that it is not a new Cold War that we are facing.

I would argue that if we are to look for an analagous period, it is to be found in the pre-Cold War period, say, 1946 or 1947, when the war was over and the reconstruction had started. It was a very confusing period in the West. We began to see that countries were being taken over – legitimate elected governments of Poland, Hungary, that time Czechoslovakia; an attempt was made in Finland, and there was civil war in Greece. And we saw that something had gone awry, a former ally was doing something funny, and it didn't look good, we saw democratic governments barely out of the war falling to undemocratic Leninist parties. And at that time, just to recall history, the key to starting NATO was written by a Labor minister – Ernest Bevin, the British Labor foreign secretary wrote to the United States that we've got to do something. That led in 1948 to the North Atlantic Treaty, but it took the O, the Organisation to make NATO – and I would argue that Lisbon treaty § 42/7 is a solidarity clause, but there is nothing binding there regarding security. When we look at the period of, say, 1945-1950, NATO was created and it worked.

We are in a similar situation now. Now we do have NATO and the EU. We have the tools, but we need the courage to use our tools better than we are doing now.

And when I say that I fear for Europe, I mean I fear for a Europe that does not have the courage or the ability to use the tools that we have created over the past 65 years to perform exactly these ultimate tasks that they were designed to perform. As much time as I spend on talking about the digital single market, the real task of the European Union is to protect human rights, rule of law, peace and security on the European continent. We should get back to that core task, and to NATO's core task, which is to protect the territory of the allies.

I am afraid if we don't do that fast enough, it'll be too late. And I think this is not going to happen under the present conditions, unless there is a much stronger leadership taken by Bundesrepublik Deutschland, for a number of reasons, of which one and very crucial is the advantage that you actually have an experience of the East and of being a democracy of the West. This is something unique. No other country has that in Europe. I don't see anyone else doing it.

You have the understanding what an authoritarian, totalitarian and undemocratic rule is about. East Europeans have had this advantage for 25 years – one of my favorite quotes this year comes from Jonathan Eyal of RUSI, a UK think tank: "For 25 years we've been telling the East Europeans that they are paranoid, they don't know what they are talking about, Russia is just a normal country, and now since April we have to admit that those East Europeans were right."

This doesn't help. It doesn't help being right – I don't need to say "I told you so" – what we need is a government of a country that has gone through both, that understands the long tradition of Ostpolitik, for better and worse, but that also has the experience that the Bundeskanzlerin and President Gauck have – they know what all that other stuff is about. So this is what Radek Sikorski said here two years ago, and what President Gauck said in February – that please, take the lead; if you'll take the lead, we will support you.