The Baltic nation of Estonia is not only one of NATO’s most active members, it lives on the often tense front line of the Atlantic alliance’s complex relationship with Russia. Estonia’s key role as a US ally, and its critical place in European security affairs are why the Atlantic Council invited Defense Minister Urmas Reinsalu to hold an, off-the-record discussion on the challenges facing NATO and the Baltic region, notably as Russia increases pressures on Ukraine and other neighbors.
Since joining NATO in 2004, Estonia (population 1.3 million) has asserted a role far beyond its size. Among NATO’s 28 members, It is one of only four that in recent years has regularly met the alliance’s goal of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense. Estonia hosts NATO’s cooperative center on cyber defense, and is “a recognized leader on issues of cyber security and Internet freedom,” according to the State Department. It is one of the largest contributors per capita to NATO’s Afghanistan mission and, with its Baltic neighbors serves as the starting point of a crucial supply route to Afghanistan, the Northern Distribution Network.
At the same time, Estonia lives in a difficult neighorhood. Reinsalu visited Washington just days after the Russian newspaper Izvestia reported confirming Russia’s first-ever deployment of Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, its territory between the Baltic states and Poland. Estonia and its Baltic neighbors, Lithuania and Latvia, have expressed concern at the threats signaled by Russia’s deployment of forces near their borders, including its Zapad (West) military exercises, and by Russia’s pressures against Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to abandon their plans for greater integration with Europe.
Reinsalu joined the Atlantic Council’s Transatlantic Security Initiative for this discussion as NATO prepares for its drawdown in Afghanistan and for its 2014 summit conference, with its implications for the “next chapter” of the alliance’s history.
Prior to his appointment as defense minister, Reinsalu served as the director of the Office of President Lennart Meri. He was chairman of the Social and Constitutional Committee of Estonia’s parliament, the Riigikogu. Reinsalu also serves as the chairman of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, one of Estonia’s main political parties. He is a law graduate and speaks English, German, Russian and Finnish in addition to his native Estonian.