Advocacy

EANC Call to Action – Raise Congressional Awareness of Baltic Issues!

EANC is joining forces with our Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) colleagues to rally our communities to contact their Members of Congress (MoCs) at their local district offices during the August Congressional recess.  All Estonian Americans are invited to contact their Senators and Representatives during the week of August 20th to raise awareness among MoCs and advocate for issues important to the Baltic region.  This concentrated effort will send a clear message to Congress that Estonian and U.S. national security are closely linked and that a strong NATO is the cornerstone for both nations’ defense against the Kremlin’s aggressive agenda.BAW Aug 2018 save the date

EANC is coordinating talking points and background information with its colleagues in the American Latvian Association and Lithuanian American Council for dissemination to Baltic American communities nationwide prior to the event.  Topics will include recognition of support the U.S. has already sent to the region, the importance of NATO unity, full implementation of sanctions against Russia, Nord Stream 2 and the threats it poses to Baltic security, H.Res.826, which recognizes this year’s Baltic centennials, and membership in the House Baltic Caucus.

EANC calls on all interested Estonian Americans to take part in this important advocacy event.  Participation in any capacity is welcome.  Options include calling your MoCs’ local offices during that week; making appointments to visit their offices, either individually or by organizing a group of local Estonian or Baltic Americans to go together; or writing letters or e-mails to the local offices on the topics outlined above.  Coordination among Baltic Americans in the same district to visit their Representative and/or Senators together would be especially effective.

Please stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks and RSVP to jbanc@jbanc.org if you intend to take part.  EANC will reach out to its council members and local Estonian society leadership to help them organize their communities.  A successful event will leave MoCs with a strong awareness that Estonia is important to their constituents and help ensure Estonia’s security remains a priority for U.S. policy in the Baltic region.

Contact information for local offices can be found at whoismyrepresentative.com.

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Advocacy

Press Release on Support for NATO in Congress

Representatives of the Estonian American National Council (EANC) to the board of the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC), along with the American Latvian Association (ALA) and the Lithuanian American Council (LAC) representatives, drafted the following statement for release by JBANC.  All agreed on the importance of informing our constituent communities regarding our views following the recent NATO and Helsinki summits.   We invite our community members to share the statement locally and contact the offices of their representatives in Congress to discuss the points it highlights.

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Press Release: JBANC Thanks Congress for NATO Support

July 24, 2018

PRESS RELEASE: For Immediate Release

Contact: jbanc@jbanc.org

The Joint Baltic American National Committee Thanks Congress for NATO Support

The recent NATO Summit and subsequent events have emphasized the importance for the Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC) to reiterate its support of NATO.  JBANC understands that the strength of the Alliance is a product of more than its members’ levels of defense spending.  JBANC expresses its appreciation for the actions taken in both chambers of Congress to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to NATO and Article 5. We applaud the efforts of Senators Shaheen and Tillis to revitalize the Senate NATO Observer Group (SNOG), and the recent Senate and House resolutions affirming the importance of NATO.

Emphasizing to lawmakers the importance of defending NATO’s frontiers and Western values in the Baltic region is central to JBANC’s mission. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are on the front lines of the Kremlin’s aggressive behavior toward the West. Their participation in the Alliance has set a strong example for meeting the 2% benchmark for defense spending and for per capita contributions to out-of-area missions.  They have also developed niche expertise in cyber, information and energy security, further enhancing NATO capabilities and readiness in hybrid warfare.

We thank the U.S. government for its strong support of the region to date in the form of Enhanced Forward Presence, European Deterrence Initiative funding, the National Guard state partnership program, and joint exercises – and call for the continuation of these programs.   A permanent U.S. military presence in the Baltics would be a further sign of U.S. support and would bolster the alliance’s deterrence effectiveness in the region.  We deeply appreciate the role Congress has played in securing U.S. support for the Baltic nations and will continue to advocate on these issues on behalf of the Baltic-American communities.

JBANC represents the Estonian American National Council, Inc., the American Latvian Association, Inc., and the Lithuanian American Council, Inc.

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Advocacy

EANC Meets with Baltic Embassies

The Estonian embassy hosted Baltic diplomats and Baltic American community representatives for the first JBANC-Baltic embassies meeting of 2018.  The ambassadors updated us on their countries’ priorities and upcoming events and a productive exchange occurred on many relevant topics.  In addition to the three embassies and the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC), the meeting included representatives from the Estonian American National Council (EANC), the American Latvian Association (ALA), and the Lithuanian American Council (LAC).  EANC was represented by President Marju Rink-Abel and Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey.

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Embassy officials and Baltic American community reps discussing issues on June 29th.

Topics discussed included the progress made this year on Capitol Hill, the NATO summit taking place July 11-12, Congressional visits to the Baltic nations and other upcoming events.  Participants noted that House Baltic Caucus (HBC) membership increased by 50 percent since the beginning of 2017, which is the biggest increase in HBC history.  H.Res.826 congratulating the three nations on their centennial celebrations is gaining ground, with a goal for it to pass by July 23rd.  The date is significant as the anniversary of the 1940 Welles Declaration establishing the U.S. policy of non-recognition of Soviet annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  Upcoming events include commemorations of the anniversary at Sumner Welles’ gravesite and the August 23rd Black Ribbon Day remembrance of the victims of Stalinism and Nazism.

Discussion on the NATO summit overwhelmingly affirmed the need to maintain unity in the alliance and continue transatlantic cooperation.  All will be watching the summit closely and EANC will report on the outcomes relevant to the Baltic region.

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Final Baltic Embassies-JBANC meeting photo with outgoing Estonian Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission.  Photo credit: Estonian Embassy

The meeting marked the last official event for the tenures of Ambassador Lauri Lepik and Deputy Chief of Mission Marki Tihhonova-Kreek, who is returning to a position at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after three years of service in Washington.  EANC led the participants in thanking both for their work and wishing them well in their future endeavors.

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Advocacy

Estonian Perspectives on NATO and the Summit

In the weeks leading up to the 2018 NATO Summit, several Estonian officials have been through Washington to share their views on NATO’s priorities and outcomes for the summit.  They have included Ambassador to NATO Kyllike Sillaste-Elling, Ministry of Defense Permanent Secretary Jonatan Vseviov, Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Marko Mihkelson, head of NATO’s Cyber Defence Section Christian Lifländer, and International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS) Director Sven Sakkov.  Their overwhelming consensus called for a clear affirmation of transatlantic unity and commitment to the democratic values on which the alliance was founded.

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EANC meeting with Estonian Foreign Affairs Committee members. From left: Committee Member Henn Põlluaas, EANC’s Karin Shuey, EANC President Marju Rink-Abel, Committee Member Maire Aunaste, Committee Chair Marko Mihkelson, Committee Member Barbi Pilvre, Estonian Ambassador to the U.S. Lauri Lepik, JBANC Managing Director Karl Altau. Photo credit: Embassy of Estonia

The main topics of the summit will likely include burden-sharing, or meeting the 2% of gross domestic product benchmark for defense spending reaffirmed at the Wales summit in 2014; cooperation between NATO and the European Union; and streamlining NATO’s command structure to be more efficient in responding to threats.  While past summits have had some focus on the Baltic region, this one may not put Estonia and its neighbors in the spotlight.

Nonetheless, Estonia has been a NATO success story.  It has been meeting the 2% goal since 2013.  The Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) mission to deter Russian military aggression “has become part of the furniture” according to Ambassador Sillaste-Elling, indicating seamless cooperation among the British, French and Danish forces stationed in Estonia and their host nation’s troops.  Estonia continues to be a leader in cyber defense.  Mr. Lifländer stated that cyber attacks are “becoming more common but not necessarily more sophisticated” as defense against them has evolved from a “technical phenomenon to part and parcel of what we do.”  Secretary Vseviov cited the success of EFP and the speed of its implementation from planning stages in the fall of 2016 to boots on the ground in April 2017.  He also commended the first-ever cyber tabletop exercise in Tallinn, where EU defense minsters learned the strategic-level implications of responding to cyber threats.  NATO and EU cooperation are critical when such challenges arise.

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Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) strategy session with Estonia’s Ambassador to NATO Kyllike Sillaste-Elling and Deputy Chief of Mission to the U.S. Marki Tihhonova-Kreek. Photo credit: CEPA

Estonia has also made good use of its allocation from European Deterrence Initiative funding by enhancing its infrastructure to host allied forces and increasing its own defensive capabilities.  The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2019 allocates $6.3 billion to deter Russian aggression in Europe under the European Deterrence Initiative and Estonia will likely get a portion to continue improving its forces.

Several challenges remain in the region, as identified by these leaders during their meetings.  One important point is that deterrence is a process, not an end state.  While the EFP presence is a good start in addressing land-based threats, the deterrence mission needs to evolve and keep pace with air- and sea-based aggression, as well.  Mr. Sakkov

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Presentation on Capitol Hill of ICDS report on the status of Baltic air defense.  From left:  Estonian Embassy Political Affairs Secretary Kristjan Kuurme, ICDS Director Sven Sakkov, report co-author Sir Christopher Harper,  Estonian Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Marko Mihkelson. Photo credit: Karin Shuey

and ICDS recently released a report concluding that air defense “is the biggest military capability gap in the [Baltic] region, and while the three states have taken steps to address this, the full range of systems required…is prohibitively expensive” for their defense budgets.  Overcoming the logistics and administrative efforts involved in moving troops and equipment across borders is another critical challenge.

But the most critical overarching need is for the alliance to remain unified in its purpose and commitment to a Europe whole, free and at peace.  Without unity, the finer points are moot.  The summit will take place July 11-12 in Brussels; EANC will monitor the meetings and report on the most relevant outcomes from an Estonian American perspective.

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