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Address by Foreign Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus at the Lennart Meri Conference


I am honoured and privileged to address you tonight and I am grateful to President Ilves for giving me this opportunity.

Lennart Meri was known as someone who did not find monologues particularily inspiring. You might have heard the story of how Lennart Meri was giving a welcoming speech to graduates of the Estonian School of Diplomacy. He talked at length about Estonian history and our culture. All the young diplomats were sitting quietly, smiling politely. And finally Lennart Meri said: “Now tell me, what do YOU think about it? Otherwise I´ll keep on talking and talking and nothing will come of it.” There was silence for a moment, before a brave young diplomat said: “But you are the president. That’s your job.”

It was the last time when young diplomats were invited to meet Lennart Meri.

Since for me this is the first time our president has asked me to speak here, I promise to be brief. And leave room for questions discussions.

The topic of this years’ conference is The Limits of Order. This is not only right time but also the right place to discuss it, taking into account that we Estonians are by nature obsessed with laws and regulations.  As President Ilves said at the opening session that was excellent, not surprisingly, as are all discussions at the Lennart Meri Conference, and it provided a lot of food for thought.

It was extremely useful to be reminded by  eye witness Radek Sikorski what happened in Kiev a year and a half ago and that led us to the situation we are facing today.

Also, during the next two days, we will most likely hear repeated several times, that the European security situation has changed dramatically and this could lead to a change in the world order. If you dont mind,  I'll take the role of knowingly being a bit provocative towards that dooms day mood.

One country has again violated international law and basically all agreed principles that have governed Europe for the last 50 years. It has done so in order to dominate an independent, sovereign state and obstruct an independent nation from choosing its future, from choosing its allies.

Russia has once again challenged existing European security and order.
Did it come as a surprise? It shouldn’t have. The signs were already there in 2002, when Russia refused to withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia. By not doing so, it violated the obligations Russia had agreed with the OSCE, and also violated one of the basic principles of the European security system – the approval of a state to receive foreign troops on its ground. And then came the war in Georgia in 2008. Then the flagrant aggression in Ukraine.  The annexation of Crimea.

So should  we say it has been the murder of international order based on agreed principles existing so far? Should we? Or would that conclusion be exactly the one that those who are challenging international order, would really want us to draw?

The international order and it´s limits have been challenged and tested in the most brutal way several times. The world order was put to the test with 9/11. The limits of order are tested every day by Daesh and other terrorist organizations. The limits of order are challenged daily by vicious cyber-attacks.
Have those attempts to murder international order been successful? Have those attacks in fact  created a more united response? Or has the order become more vague?

I recently read an article by Alex Prichard, Professor at Exeter University entitled Anarchy, Anarchism and International Relations, where he described and analyzed the concept of anarchy (as opposed to norms) in international relations, both from a historical and philosophical perspective. Anarchy  - as a system opposed to order, based on values, agreements and norms.

This provoked me to ask - are we moving towards anarchy in international relations with the international order of the last 50 years being undermined?  Towards genuine anarchy in international social theory, where force was central to politics?

Prichard explains that this system of anarchy doesn’t necessarily mean that might makes right, only that might underpins all conceptions of right. Without force, there is no order, since society would atrophy. Order is maintained and it changes through emergent and transforming relations of group force. If force moves, the center of order changes. (as was described by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the first self-identifying anarchist).

Would that be the direction in which we are moving?  Prichard claims that despite the government’s claim to represent the final point of authority in a given area, and despite its claim never to give in to force, what we see in reality is that governments rarely bow to anything other than force.
Would recent developments we all have witnessed be proof of this? Is the architecture of the international security system so badly injured that a system of anarchy will replace it?

Hopefully not. I would even argue – definitely not.

Attempts to make the international community bow to brutal force have resulted in  reactions and stronger unity than anybody ever probably expected. Take NATO as an example. The recent decisions that were made to strengthen that alliance, are much more than it has done in a long time.

Someone said that Russia´s aggression has been a wake-up call for NATO. I´d disagree, since a wake-up call doesn´t do much more than simply wake you up. What it is important, is to get out of bed and get into action as well. And that is what Russia´s aggression has done to NATO.

Or let’s take the European Union. The unity and solidarity of the EU that we see today is the best sanction against the aggressor. And there were times when today’s solidarity would have been more like  fiction, not reality. Now, after having to deal with these very serious challenges to the entire order, it has happened. We have a strong common understanding that agreed international order is essential and vital for the sustainable democratic development of every state and international community as such.

Yes, there is chaos and interconnectivity around us and uniting us. I wholly agree with Ana de Palacio that Daesh and Mediterranean concerns are as much Estonian concerns as Ukraine and Russia are Spanish concerns. Interconnectivity makes us strong.  Yes, we have to think globally and yes, we have to send strong messages and be assertive if we want to be heard.

I also agree with Francois Heisbourg that we might be at the change of world order with 3 crises on our hands and with 2014 being some form of turning point.

In this situation it is  ever clearer that we need order.

International law and norms of responsible state, behaviour to restore a peaceful, just and predictable world order, where might does not make right and nations will never settle for a world where the big are allowed to bully the small, as President Obama said in Tallinn last September.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a Lebanese-American essayist, has written a book “Antifragile – things that gain from disorder”. In it he describes systems that are beyond resilience or robustness. Systems that are not only shock-resistant, but which get better and stronger after and because of shocks. The international order, as we know it today, could be one of the examples of antifragility. I stress – c-o-u-l-d. If our backbone is strong enough.

In this context, I would like to stress 3 points:

1.     the existing international security order hasn’t collapsed or become void. The existing order has been violated and needs to be restored to full respect and compliance by all States;

2.     we have to make it crystal clear that the violation of international law comes at a certain price. Even more, any violation of the agreed order should be, if not self-destructive and unreasonably expensive, then close to that at least.

3.      finally, and perhaps  most importantly – a violator of international law and the international security environment should never achieve its aim – dictating choices and the future of another sovereign, independent nation.  Even more – a violator should never again even think about the use or threat of using force for achieving political aims.

While doing everything necessary to strengthen order, there is also something else to keep in mind – antifragile order doesn’t mean overregulation and pursuing order should not become a pretext for violating international law and especially for limiting human rights.

Just one more example – cyber security and the cyber world. The use of ICT requires  globally recognized rules of responsible state behaviour. There is no question about it. The question is how many rules and what kind of rules.

Existing norms should be examined, both international laws and politically binding instruments, in order to find common ground on some basic questions that concern as all. But overregulation at the price of limiting an open and free Internet or violating human rights would make the whole system more fragile. Which is the exact opposite of our common aim.

Ladies and gentlemen,

To conclude,

The saying by Marcus Aurelius is – fire feeds on obstacles. And there are and will be many of those.

So let us not give in to any form of force by breaking the existing order or introducing an undemocratic order at the price of a violation of international law and human rights in particular. Let us not allow international order to fall or turn into anarchy. Yes, it is up to us not to allow it.

International cooperation, solidarity and unity of transatlantic alliance in restoration of peaceful and just world order and support for every nation’s right to choose its future- that is exactly what I am going to continue to support and stand for in my capacity as Estonian Foreign Minister.

Thank you! Enjoy the wonderful evening and lets have a good conference!


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