Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid visited Washington, DC on April 3rd and 4th in conjunction with the summit meeting between President Trump and all three Baltic leaders. Her busy agenda included meetings at the White House followed by a joint press conference; a U.S.-Baltic business summit hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; a dinner event at the Atlantic Council that featured outgoing National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster’s final address before leaving his post; President Kaljulaid’s first solo public speaking appearance in the U.S., also hosted by the Atlantic Council; a visit to Arlington National Cemetery; and finally a reception at the Estonian embassy. EANC was represented at several of these events. While reporting of the visit is widely available on the websites of the organizations that hosted the events and of many Estonian and U.S. press outlets, this article will focus on insights picked up by EANC’s Washington, DC Director as she moved through the week.
Everything EANC’s representative witnessed, from the press conference and business summit to the second Atlantic Council event and embassy reception, left an impression of President Kaljulaid as an intelligent, dignified, diplomatic leader. She joined her colleagues in treating the summit as a meeting of equal partners on the transatlantic stage and demonstrated expertise on a variety of topics, including digital society, cyber security, artificial intelligence, genome mapping and global economics.
The business summit showcased the Baltics as a great place to do business. President Kaljulaid emphasized Estonia as the first stop for secure commerce, especially in the technology sector, finding it “weird” that all countries don’t require digital identification at both ends of transactions to ensure the safety of corporate and personal data. She described the success of public-private cooperation in building Estonia’s secure internet backbone as a model for other nations to follow. Panelists from U.S. companies doing business in the Baltics confirmed through their very positive experiences that the Baltics are open for business, citing work ethic, drive for innovation, loyalty, and resourcefulness as assets offered abundantly by business leaders in the region. Also at the event, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who attended the White House meeting, noted that the Baltic presidents developed a good rapport with President Trump, who was impressed with their candor on topics including defense, economic, and energy cooperation. A video of the business summit is available at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website under Recent Events.
The Atlantic Council’s Conversation with President Kersti Kaljulaid highlighted Estonia as the world’s most digitized nation. The president discussed artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, cyber security and Estonia’s creation of a borderless and secure digital society, and how all these factors impact Estonia’s digital government. While addressing these very complex topics, Kaljulaid’s delivery made them surprisingly understandable. She noted that there isn’t much Russian oligarchic money in Estonia because their digital economy is so transparent, and that the 2007 cyber attack didn’t meet the threshold for a NATO Article 5 response because it didn’t come close threatening Estonia’s security and sovereignty, having shut down certain services for only a few hours. She also mentioned Estonia’s bid for the Eastern European non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council next year with a plan to bring discussion of the digital realm to the international table. The full video is available at the Atlantic Council’s website under Events/Webcasts for April 4th. The video of the dinner event, titled 100 Years of US-Baltic Partnership, is also posted on the same page.
The Estonian president’s visit to Arlington National Cemetery paid respects to three men with connections to Estonia. She visited the graves of Robert Frasure, the first U.S. ambassador to Estonia after independence in 1991; General Aleksander Einseln, who retired from a distinguished U.S. Army career in 1985 and returned to his native Estonia in 1993 to become the chief of Estonia’s defense forces; and Private Jaak Kuri, who was born in Estonia, fought for the U.S. in Vietnam, and was killed there at age 24. General Einseln’s full honors interment ceremony took place on April 2nd and was attended by the author on behalf of EANC.
President Kaljulaid’s final appearance of her U.S. visit was at the Embassy of Estonia, where she shared some thoughts about her trip to a gathering of Estonian Americans, government officials, and other friends of Estonia. The reception also featured the presentation of the book, Sailing to Freedom, by Voldemar Veedam and Carl B. Wall. It is the second printing of the 1952 account of the trans-Atlantic crossing in the small sailboat Erma from Sweden of Estonian refugees to find security in the US.
The president noted that every journalist who interviewed her during the week asked some version of the same question: What did you get from President Trump? Her response clearly illustrated her intent to hold equal ground with the U.S. leader. She said she did not come to the U.S. “with an empty bag, [asking anyone] to fill it with goodies.” She, along with President Grybauskaitė and President Vējonis, showed their mettle as world leaders and contributors to international security, standing side-by-side with their colleagues to solve global challenges together.
EANC was honored to take part in this historic visit and extends its thanks to the Embassy of Estonia, the Department of State, the White House Press Office, the Atlantic Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for their successful execution of the week’s events.