Estonian-US Relations After Joe Biden’s Victory

The most important strategic goal of Estonian foreign and security policy is to maintain and strengthen the allied space of democratic countries, at the heart of which lies the United States of America. The victory of Joe Biden – who is a Member of Estonia’s Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana – offers promise for cooperation and unity in the free world. It is also represents the victory of a dignified and respectful policy.

President Elect, Joe Biden’s victory holds at least three positive aspects for Estonia-USA relations. NATO members can breathe easier, because the new U.S. president will not toy with the idea of abandoning its allies, leaving them to face deepening international challenges alone. The U.S. military presence in Europe will be maintained, while Biden is not likely to overlook Europeans’ modest defense spending or violations of the principles of rule of law and protection of minorities in some European countries.

I recommend for Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) to concentrate on implementing Estonia’s value-based foreign policy in a way that would see our words match our actions instead of taking steps to constrain the rights of minorities…

Secondly, Biden perceives Russia as the greatest threat to US national security. In rising to this challenge, Biden will restore the intelligence community’s trust in the White House and cooperation in the field of national security, especially in the presidential administration and the state department. Biden will continue to pursue close cooperation with NATO allies, prioritizing the alliance’s eastern flank in order to deter Russia.

Third, Biden will immediately bring the U.S. back into the Paris climate agreement. Unlike Trump, international cooperation matters to Biden both in terms of addressing global problems and promoting allied relations.

It is likely that USA-EU relations will come to concentrate more on finding common ground which could ideally lead to a restart of trade talks. The latter would be the most anticipated move to counter growing Chinese influence.

When it comes to Estonia-USA relations, we need to concentrate on upgrading working level contacts and creating new ones at the start of the Biden era. It is especially important for Estonia and USA to fully staff their embassies again.

While our current ambassador in Washington Jonatan Vseviov is set to become secretary general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in February – and the new ambassador’s credentials will inevitably take time –  The United States has not had an ambassador in Tallinn for years. While this is not a hindrance in terms of communication between the two countries, an ambassador lends significance and diplomatic visibility to the embassy.

In addition to the new administration, Estonia must retain lobbying efforts in the U.S. Congress where the Republicans have maintained their majority in the Senate and the Democrats held on to the House of Representatives. Because congressmen and senators include newcomers and those who are not up to speed on important Estonia matters, meetings to draw attention to our interests should be arranged.

We need to consider the fact that just like Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the Biden administration will have to concentrate on China. Pressure from Beijing must not be allowed to change the United States’ focus – which needs to be kept on Europe.

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, delivers a statement to the press before meeting with Baltic Leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Aug. 30, 2013. The meeting included, from left, Latvia President Andris Běrzinš, Estonia President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, and Lithuania President Dalia Grybauskaite. Photo: White House

That is why cooperation with U.S. think tanks to influence U.S. policy making toward stronger allied relations and for example, larger defense investments in the Baltics needs to continue. For this, there must be closer cooperation between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

And finally – Biden’s victory is likely not welcomed by all sides inside Estonia’s current government. This is a shame, because Estonia’s relationship with the United States has never nor should it depend on who is president in America.

Baltic heads of state meet with Vice President Biden in Riga, August 23, 2016. Photo: Office of the President of the Republic of Estonia.

However, I recommend Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) to concentrate on implementing Estonia’s value-based foreign policy in a way that would see our words match our actions instead of taking steps to constrain the rights of minorities (for example, prohibiting ambassadors from joining statements made in defense of LGBT minorities or keeping silent on rule of law problems in Hungary and Poland). The same goes for the entire government.

This would greatly help us quickly find common ground with the new U.S. administration. It would also benefit long term Estonia-USA relations and Estonia’s wider reputation among our Western allies.

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