While the world’s attention remains focused on Ukraine, Crimea is portrayed as its hotbed. No wonder as this peninsula is an absolutely pivotal portion of the Black Sea theatre for the very survival of the Black Sea fleet to both Russia and Ukraine.
In the larger context, it revels the old chapters of history books full of overt and covert struggles between Atlantic–Central Europe and Russophone Europe for influence and strategic depth extension over the playground called Eastern Europe.
However, there are two other vital theatres for these same protagonists, both remaining underreported and less elaborated.
Author brings an interesting account on Caspian and Artic, by contrasting and comparing them. He claims that both water plateaus are of utmost geopolitical as well as of geo-economic (biota, energy, transport) importance, and that Caspian and Arctic will considerably influence passions and imperatives of any future mega geopolitical strategies – far more than Black Sea could have ever had.
Between Inner Lake and Open Sea
As the rapid melting of the Polar caps has unexpectedly turned distanced and dim economic possibilities into viable geo-economic and geopolitical probabilities, so it was with the unexpected and fast meltdown of Russia’s historic empire – the Soviet Union. Once considered as the Russian inner lake, the Caspian has presented itself as an open/high sea of opportunities literally overnight – not only for the (new, increased number of) riparian states, but also for the belt of (new and old) neighbouring, and other interested (overseas) states.
Interest of external players ranges from the symbolic or rather rhetorical, to the global geopolitical; from an antagonizing political conditionality and constrain to the pragmatic trade-off between (inflicting pain of) political influence and energy supply gain. Big consumers such as China, India or the European Union (EU) are additionally driven by its own energy imperative: to improve the energy security (including the reduction of external dependencies) as well as to diversify its supplies, modes and forms on a long run.
On a promise of allegedly vast oil and natural gas resources (most of which untapped), the Caspian is witnessing the “New Grand Game” – struggle for the domination and influence over the region and its resources as well as transportation routes. Notably, the Caspian is a large landlocked water plateau without any connection with the outer water systems. Moreover, 3 out of 5 riparian states are land-locking Caspian, but are themselves landlocked too. (Former Soviet republics of) Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have no direct access to any international waters. That means that pipelines remain the only mode of transportation and delivery of carbonic fuels, thus creating yet another segment for competition, and source of regional tension as the 3 raparian states do depend on their neighbours for export routes.
Both the Artic and Caspian have numerous territorial disputes and are of absolute geopolitical importance for their respective littoral states, and well beyond
Finally, due to both the unsolved legal status of the Basin as well as the number of political and territorial disputes in Caucasus and on the Caspian, numerous new pipeline constructions and expansion projects have been proposed, but so far not operationalized. For the EU, the most important being the Nabucco pipeline, which, although not fully guaranteed, serves as the hope for reduced dependence on Russia.
The following lines will therefore consider the geopolitical, legal and economic (including the energy security for the final end–user, supplier and transiting countries) features of the Caspian theatre, complex interplays and possible future outlook.
To explain the long lasting Russian presence at Caspian and still prone interested in the region, two factors are at interplay: geopolitical and geo–economic.
Ever since Peter the Great, Russian geopolitical imperative is to extend the strategic depth. It naturally necessitated ensuring the security for its southwest and southern flanks of the Empire. Such a security imperative brought about bitter struggles for Russia over the domination of huge theatre: Eastern and Central Balkans, Black Sea, Caucasus and Caspian basin. Russia was there contested by the Habsburg empire, by the Ottomans, Iran (and after collapse of the Ottomans by the Britons) all throughout the pre-modern and modern times.
Just a quick glance on the map of western and southwest Russia will be self-explanatory showing the geostrategic imperative; low laying areas of Russia were unprotectable without dominating the mountain chains at Caucasus, Carpathian – Black Sea – Caucasus – Caspian – Kopet Dag. Historically, the main fight of Russia was with the Ottomans over this line. When the Ottomans were eliminated from the historic scene, it was Britain on the Indian subcontinent and in Iran as a main contester – the fact that eventually led to effective splitting the basin into two spheres of influence – British and Russian.
The Caspian water plateau – a unique basin
The Caspian (Azerbaijani: Xəzər dənizi, Persian: دریای خزر or دریای مازندران, Russian: Каспийское море, Kazakh: Каспий теңізі, Turkmen: Hazar deňzi) is the world’s largest enclosed or landlocked body of (salty) water – approximately of the size of Germany and the Netherlands combined. Geographical literature refers to this water plateau as the sea, or world’s largest lake that covers an area of 386,400 km² (a total length of 1,200 km from north to south, and a width ranging from a minimum of 196 km to a maximum of 435 km), with the mean depth of about 170 meters (maximum southern depth is at 1025 m). At present, the Caspian water line is some 28 meters below sea level (median measure of the first decade of 21st century) . The total Caspian coastline measures to nearly 7,000 km, being shared by five riparian (or littoral) states.
The very legal status of this unique body of water is still unsolved: Sea or lake? As international law defers lakes from seas, the Caspian should be referred as the water plateau or the Caspian basin. Interestingly enough, the Caspian is indeed both sea and lake: northern portions of the Caspian display characteristics of a freshwater lake (e.g. due to influx of the largest European river – Volga, river Ural and other relatively smaller river systems from Russia’s north), and in the southern portions where waters are considerably deeper but without major river inflows, salinity of waters is evident and the Caspian appears as a sea. (Median salinity of the Caspian is approximately 1/3 relative to the oceanic waters average).
The geomorphology of the Caspian is unique and many authors have referred to the formation similarities of the Black Sea–Caspian–Aral and their interconnectivity back to Pleistocene. Most probably, some 5,5 million years ago two factors landlocked the Caspian: the tectonic uplift of the basin and the dramatic fall of the earth’s oceanic levels which literally trapped the Caspian to the present shores. Due to its unique formation and present water composition variations, the Caspian hosts rare biodiversity and many endemic species of flora and fauna (presently, threatened by rising exploration and exploitation of vast oil and gas reserves).
The Inner Circle – Similarities
The so-called “Inner Circle” of the Caspian Basin consists of the five littoral (riparian) states, namely Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, sharing the common coastline.
As much as the geographically distant as well as different by their distinctive geomorphology and hydrology, the Arctic and Caspian – when contrasted and compared – however resemble several critical similarities.
Both theaters are grand bodies of water surrounded by 5 riparian/littoral states. (Meaning both are water surrounded by landmass, while Antarctica represents landmass surrounded by water.) Both of them are of huge and largely unexplored natural resources and marine biota. Both the Artic and Caspian have numerous territorial disputes and are of absolute geopolitical importance for their respective littoral states, and well beyond. Finally, both theaters are also of unsolved legal status – drifting between an external quest for creation of special international regime and the existing Law of Sea Convention system (UNCLOS).
Ergo, in both theaters, the dynamic of the littoral states displays the following:
1. Dismissive: Erode the efforts of international community/external interested parties for creation of the Antarctica-like treaty (by keeping the UNCLOS referential);
2. Assertive: Maximize the shares of the spoils of partition – extend the EEZ and continental shelf as to divide most if not the entire body of water only among the Five;
3. Reconciliatory: Prevent any direct confrontation among the riparian states over the spoils – resolve the claims without arbitration of the III parties. (preferably CLCS).
One of the most important differentiating elements of the two theatres is the composition of littoral states. The constellation of the Arctic Five, we can consider as being symmetric – each of the Five has an open sea access (as the Arctic itself has wide connection with the oceanic systems of Atlantic and Pacific). On contrary, the Caspian Five are of asymmetric constellation. The Caspian Five could be roughly divided on the old/traditional two (Russia and Iran), and the three newcomers (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan). This division corresponds also with the following characteristic: only Iran and Russia have an open sea access, other three countries are landlocked – as the Caspian itself is a landlocked body of water.
Like no other country, the Persian proper is uniquely situated by connecting the Euro-Med/MENA with Central and South, well to the East Asia landmass. Additionally, it solely bridges the two key Euro-Asian energy plateaus: the Gulf and Caspian. This gives Iran an absolutely pivotal geopolitical and geo-economic posture over the larger region – an opportunity but also an exposure! No wonder that Teheran needs Moscow for its own regime survival, as the impressive US physical presence in the Gulf represents a double threat to Iran – geopolitically and geo-economically.
 The Caspian basin records gradual and cyclical water level variations that are basically synchronized with the volume discharge of the Volga river system and co-related to the complex North Atlantic oscillations (amount of North Atlantic depressions that reaches the Eurasian land mass interior).
Need of multi-track diplomacy in International Relations
Authors: Areeja Syed and Asfandiyar Khan
‘Track one’ diplomacy is one of the most prominent types of diplomacy where states on the official level interact with the other states to promote cooperation, peace, and stability. A policy where one state’s government directly interacts with the decision-makers of the other State. Therefore ‘Track one’ diplomacy includes government, official departments, Ministry of foreign affairs, etc. Track-one diplomacy may also possibly be referred to as “first track” or “first tier” diplomacy. In most of the cases, we have seen that the government of the states on the official and track 1 level are unable to solve the disputes between the states. States need to adopt the multi-track diplomacy tactic to resolve a conflict or to maintain better ties with other states. Multi-track diplomacy refers to that diplomacy which includes two or more than two tracks while conducting diplomatic practice with other states.
The co-founders of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, Louise Diamond and John Mcdonald developed and applied the concept of Multi-Track Diplomacy. Multi-Track Diplomacy is an intangible way to view the procedure of international peacemaking as a living system. In Mul-titrack diplomacy, all the communities whether they are individuals, official or unofficial institutions and communities, work together for a common goal which is to maintain and stability around the globe. It consists of nine tracks. Where peace initiative is taken by:
Track 1: Government officials
Track 2: Professional conflict resolution.
Track 3: Business.
Track 4: Private Citizens.
Track 5: Research, training, and education.
Track 6: Peace activism.
Track 7: religion
Track 8: funding
Track 9: public opinion/communication (McDonald, Multi-Track Diplomacy, 2003)
As mentioned about that ‘track one’ diplomacy is all about government level processes. Let’s understand the track two and track three Diplomatic levels first. ‘Track two’ terminology was first used by Joseph Montville in 1981. The purpose of using this terminology was to introduce the unofficial efforts which could help bring peace between the parties. Montville realized the importance of unofficial efforts and felt the need to differentiate the phenomenon of government to government diplomacy and people to people diplomacy. That was the reason he gave the name to people to people diplomacy as ‘track two diplomacy’. The original concept of Track two or citizen diplomacy just included the common people discussing issues that are most of the time considered as the official negotiations or issues. Track Two Diplomacy has supplemented Traditional Diplomacy or Track One Diplomacy and considered as off the record and informal contact among the members of rival groups or countries with the purpose to formulate plans, to affect public opinion and systematically arrange human and material resources in a manner which would be useful in settling their disputes. It was stressed by Montville that Track Two Diplomacy is not a replacement for Track One Diplomacy; however, it reimburses the restrictions that the psychological hopes of people have imposed on leaders. Track Two Diplomacy aims to offer a bridge or supplement official Track One talks. (Fledman, Schiff, & agha, 2003) Firstly, no political or constitutional power is hindering Track Two groups so they can convey their views on matters that openly influence their families and communities. Secondly, Track Two gives power to the socially, economically, and politically alienated groups by providing a platform to them and which can be used to express their opinions regarding the ways that can be used to achieve peace in their countries or communities. Third, Track Two is successful at the phases of pre-violent and post violent conflict, thus it is a very effectual instrument in preventing the violent conflict and establishing peace after conflict. Fourth Track Two involves grassroots and middle leadership who are in direct contact with the conflict. Fifthly, electoral cycles do not affect Track Two diplomacy. (Mapendere, n.d)
Any peace-making process will become unsteady, flimsy and weak when there is no involvement of people in the efforts to create a new social order. Hence, Track Three diplomacy is a strategy that functions and intercedes in a divided society and attempts to reunite it. Its purpose is not to settle an extensive conflict; however, it pays particular attention to the ideas of communication and understanding as a means of making the solution possible in the future. It is not aimed at altering the nature of bothersome conflictual relations. It is not aimed at uniting the opposing parties to negotiate for an equal share of something. Instead, the dynamics of a quarrelsome relationship that is the reason behind the problems are investigated by the participants. Later on, the participants progressively formulate a capacity for planning actions to alter these relations. This kind of diplomacy signifies the deepest force in fostering security. For example, security ties between the US and Taiwan have become better and the sturdier role in improving the whole relationship has been played by Track Three diplomacy. Moreover, Track Three diplomacy was significant in the relationship between the US and the Soviet Union when a vital role was played by the American business executive Arm and Hammer by promoting trade between the USSR and the US during the Cold War. (McDonald, 1991)
It is required in Track Three to have people to people contact in which ingenuity, compromises, and novelty of courageous people and groups who do not give up their efforts for peace, is included as well. Different arrangements, plans, and programs demonstrate its struggles to unite people so that the other side can be understood and enough pressure can be created from below to cause the belated political will to take place to go towards the next level that is a peace agreement. For instance, the conclusion of the Oslo Peace Accord made it possible for Track Three initiatives to operate the purpose of which were to inspire common Israelis and Palestinians to understand each other and in doing so, start the mutual reconciliation processes. (Wasike, Okoth, & Were, 2016)
Multi-track diplomacy is the amalgamation of all the tracks and is used when the usage of only one track is unable to address a certain issue. Original and the pure concept of multi-track diplomacy place ‘track one’ diplomacy on top of the list whereas putting the entire unofficial tracks below the track one. But Dr. Diamond and Ambassador McDonald reorganized the diagram and place all the tracks in an interconnected way. No track is superior then the other and not only a single track can work alone, but all are also interdependent on one another. All the approaches have separate values and resources, but when coordinated they can work more powerfully. It must be recognized that the main and deep-rooted conflicts between the states cannot be resolved solely through the official negotiation, but now there is a dire need to utilize all the tracks, and include the government, civil society and non-governmental organizations or entities while bringing long term peace.
Towards the Bolder Presence of OIC on global Arena
Authors: prof. Emmy Latifah and Sara Al-Dhahri*
For over half a century, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) serves as a focal point for its member states (MS) and as a clearing house between its members and the rest of the world. The OIC does that by providing a standing forum and diplomatic tools to solve disputes, and to address challenges in accordance with its charter.
Being the second-largest intergovernmental multilateral system after the United Nations (UN), whose members largely occupy the most fascinating part of the globe (that of its geographic and spiritual centre, as well as the sways of rich energy deposits), gives to the Organisation a special exposure and hence a distinctive role.
The OIC Charter clearly states that it is important to safeguard and protect the common interests and support the legitimate causes of its MS, to coordinate and unify the efforts of its members in view of the challenges faced by the Muslim world in particular and the international community in general. For that matter, the Organisation should consider expanding its activities further. One of the most effective way to do so, is by setting yet another permanent presence in Europe. This time it would be by opening its office in Vienna Austria, which should be coupled with a request for an observer status with a Vienna-based Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – as prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic tirelessly advocates in his statements.
The OSCE itself is an indispensably unique security mechanism (globally the second largest after the UN), whose instruments and methodology could be twinned or copied for the OIC. Besides, numerous MS of the OSCE are members of the OIC at the same time. Finally, through its Mediterranean partnership dimension, this is a rare international body that has (some) Arab states and Israel around the same table.
Presence means influence
Why does the OIC need permanent presence in Vienna? The answer is within its charter: To ensure active participation of the Organization’s MS in the global political, and socio-economic decision-making processes, all to secure their common interests.
Why Vienna in particular, when the OIC has its office in Brussels (Belgium) and Geneva (Switzerland)?
When it comes to this city, we can list the fundamental importance of Vienna in Europe and the EU, and globally since it homes one of the three principal seats of the OUN (besides Geneva and New York).
Moreover, numerous significant Agencies are headquartered in Vienna (such as the Atomic Energy Agency, UN Industrial Development Organisation, Nuclear Test Ban Treaty organisation, etc.), next to the segments of the UN Secretariat (such as Outer Space, Trade Law, the ODC office related to the issues of Drugs-Crimes-Terrorism, etc.).
Surely, there are many important capitals around our global village, but after New York, Geneva and Brussels, Vienna has probably the highest representation of foreign diplomats on earth. Many states have even three ambassadors accredited in Vienna (bilateral, for the UN and for the OSCE.)
The OIC has nine of its MS who are the OPEC members as well. Four of those are the OPEC’s founding members. Vienna hosts OPEC as well as its developmental branch, the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID).
Some of the OIC MS have lasting security vulnerabilities, a fact that hampers their development and prosperity. The OIC places these considerations into its core activities through co-operation in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, organised crime, illicit drugs trafficking, corruption, money laundering and human trafficking. Both the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UN ODC) and the OSCE have many complementarities in their mandates and instruments in this respect.
As an Islamic organization that works to protect and defend the true image of Islam, to combat defamation of Islam and encourage dialogue among civilisations and religions, the effective tool for that is again Austria. It is the very first European Christian country to recognise Islam as one of its state religions – due to its mandate over (predominately Muslim) Bosnia, 100 years ago.
Back to its roots
The Organization was formed by a decision of the Historical Summit in Rabat, the Kingdom of Morocco on 25 September 1969, after the criminal arson of Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem.
Today, after fifty years of this ferocious incident, the OIC still firmly holds as one of the main cases its resolute support to the struggle of Palestinians, yet under foreign occupation. It empowers them to attain their inalienable rights, including that of self-determination, to establish their sovereign state with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital while safeguarding its historic and Islamic character, and the holy places therein.
When we look back to Austria, it was Chancellor Bruno Kreisky (himself Jewish) who was the very first western leader to receive that-time contemporary Yasser Arafat, as a Head of State, and to repeatedly condemn many of the Israeli methods and behaviours. As prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic wonderfully reminded us during his recent lecture with Amb. Goutali of the OIC and Excellency Elwaer of the IsDB President’s Office; ‘Past the Oil embargo, when the OPEC – in an unprecedented diplomatic move – was suspended of its host agreement in Switzerland and requested to leave, it was none but that same Chancellor, Kreisky who generously invited the OPEC to find Austria as its new home.’
The OIC is also heavily involved in environmental issues, such as water implementation. According to the Stockholm International Water Institute, around two-thirds of the world’s transboundary rivers do not have a cooperative management framework. The OIC Science-Technology-Innovation (STI) Agenda 2026 has also called on the MS to first define water resource quality and demand by planning national water budgets at the ‘ local ‘ level where appropriate. In this regard, certain MS lack the ability to conduct a thorough exercise. An organized and focused action plan to adopt the OIC Water Vision is introduced to help Member States address water-related issues.
As for the implementation plan for OIC Water Vision, Vienna is focal again. This city is a principal seat of the Danube river organisation – an international entity with the most elaborated riverine regime on planet. This fact is detrimental for the Muslim world as an effectively water-managing mechanism and instrumentation to learn from and to do twinning with.
So far, the OIC covers Vienna (but only its UN segment) non-residentially, from Geneva – respective officers are residentially accredited only to the UNoG. Permanent presence, even a small one– eventually co-shared with the developmental arm of the OIC – that of the IsDB, would be a huge asset for the Organization. That would enable both the OIC and the Bank to regularly participate in the various formal and informal multilateral formats, happening daily in Vienna.
Absence is the most expensive
International security is a constant global challenge that is addressed the best way through the collective participation in multilateral settings. It is simply the most effective, cheapest, fastest – therefore, the most promising strategy to sustainability and stability of humankind.
According to the Global Peace Index (2019 figures), the economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2018 was $14.1 trillion. This figure is equivalent to 11.2% of the world’s GDP, or $1,853 per capita. The economic impact of violence progressed for 3.3%only during 2018-19. Large sways of it were attributed to the Muslim Middle East.
The OIC fundamental purpose is to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, as embedded in its and the UN Charter and other acts of the international (human rights and humanitarian) law.
In this light, requesting the Observer status with the largest Security mechanism on the planet (outside the OUN system), that of the OSCE, which has rather specific mandates; well-elaborated politico-military, early prevention and confidence building mechanisms; net of legally binding instruments; extensive field presence (incl. several OIC members), and a from- Vancouver-to-Vladivostok outreach is simply the most natural thing to do. This would be very beneficial to the OIC MS, as well as one of the possible ways to improve its own instruments and their monitoring of compliance and resolution machinery.
That move can be easily combined with the bolder presence before the Vienna-based Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in advocating a just and sustained settlement for the Middle East – which is a nuclear free MENA.
Among the 57 OICMS, 21 of them are listed within a top 50 countries in the Global Terrorism Index for 2019. (With a ranking of 9.6 points, Afghanistan is infamously nr. 1 on the global terror index, making it the nation most affected by terrorism on Earth. The OIC member – Afghanistan, scored the most terror attacks in 2018 – 1,294; and the most terror-related deaths in 2018, with 9,961 casualties. Several other MS follow the same pattern.)
The OIC Charter (article 28, Chapter XV) clearly states that the Organisation may cooperate with other international and regional FORAs with the objective of preserving international peace and security and settling disputes through pacific means.
As said, Vienna is a principal seat of the second largest security multilateral mechanism on earth, OSCE. This is a unique three-dimensional organisation with its well elaborated and functioning: politico-military, economy-environment; and the human dimension – all extensively developed both institutionally and by its instruments.
No doubt, the OIC so far successfully contributes to international peace and security, by boosting understanding and dialogue among civilizations, cultures and religions, and by promoting and encouraging friendly relations and good neighbourliness, mutual respect and cooperation. But to remain to the contemporary challenges, it necessities more forums to voice its positions and interests. Many of the OSCE Member states have even three different ambassadors and three separate missions in Vienna. Presence of other relevant international organisations follows about the same pattern.
The strategic importance of the MENA (Middle East- North Africa) lies on its diverse resources, such as energy, trade routes, demography, geography, faith and culture. The OSCE has a Mediterranean partnership outreach, meaning some of the LAS and OIC members states are already participants, whereas the Central Asian states, Caucasus as well as Turkey, Albania and Bosnia are fully-fledged member states of the OSCE.
Taking all above into account, the OIC should not miss an opportunity to open another powerful channel of its presence and influence on the challenging and brewing international scene. It would be a permanent office to cover all diplomatic activities and within it– the observer status before the OSCE (perhaps the IAEA, too). This would be to the mutual benefit of all; Europe and the Muslim world, intl peace and prosperity, rapprochement and understanding, present generations and our common futures.
* Sara Al-Dhahri is an International Relations scholar of the Jeddah-based Dar Al-Hekma University and the Project Coordinator for Sawt Al-Hikma (Voice of Wisdom) Centre of the OIC.
Geopolitics and e-Diplomacy of Estonia
Around 1,500 BC, a group of nine asteroids crashed on the island of Saaremaa in Western Estonia, incinerating all kind of life-form within a radius of six kilometres and the native inhabitants who settled in this cold part of the world in 10,000 BC.
Located on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe, it is impossible to know who took over the Estonian lands after the crash, but we know for sure the new settlers have been under the rule of foreigners from the Russian Empire, the Teutonic Order, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union.
Because of the tormented past of the Estonian nation, it is impossible to tell if the contemporary citizens are more Nordic (Denmark, Sweden) and German (Teutonic) than Russian. Estonian identity is probably more of a spectrum with Saaremaa people having more ancestors coming from Sweden and Denmark compared to the people in Tartu who have been influenced by the Holy Roman Empire and the Teutonic Order. By contrast, the citizens in Ida-Viru County (Eastern Estonia) are “Russian with a twist”.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union and the recovered national autonomy, the Government of Estonia had to take political decisions following the geography and aspirations of most of its citizens to integrate the Euro-Atlantic society. Based on the past and the Nordic-Teutonic identity, the Government of Estonia embraced the idea of joining the European Union, NATO, and later on the Eurozone.
Both Germany and Austria (former parts of Holly Roman Empire) have recognized the Germanic background of the Estonian people when the Nordics – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Greenland and the Faroe Islands (Denmark) – have denied the Nordic identity of Estonia because of the Russian minority and various political reasons.
Moscow adopted an ambiguous relationship with Estonia when the Soviet troops became the Russian troops and stayed on the national territory between 1991-1994. As of today, the Estonian society is divided regarding the Soviet past, and some are calling the soviets “invaders” when others prefer to see them as “liberators”. Contrary Georgia (Abkhazia and South-Ossetia), Moldova (Transnistria), and Ukraine (Crimea and the Donbas), the Russian minority in the Ida-Viru County agrees on staying under the Estonian influence while remaining attached to Orthodoxy and Russian language.
From an economic perspective, Estonia is nowadays one of the most developed countries on the European continent with a nominal GDP of €29,800 per capita, HDI 0.87 (30th worldwide), and attractive to international businesses. The Estonian government also settled the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn and changed the country into one of the most digitalized society in the world with e-Governance and e-Residency.
With the current crisis going on in countries with Russian speaking monitories and the relevance of cyber-diplomacy in our societies, Estonia might be an example to follow when it comes to the good bilateral relationship with Moscow and the future of e-Governance.
Geopolitics of Estonia: Know your opponent (The Art of War, Sun Tzu)
The territory of Estonia consists of a mainland and 1,500 islands in the Baltic Sea covering a total of 45,227 km2 with a humid continental climate and 50 meters average elevation. In such a context, the highest mountain Suur Munamägi (318 meters) is the birthplace of many myths, and the flat land and islands make it easy for invaders to occupy the territory and settle outpost on the islands. Nowadays, Estonian lands are impossible to defend and any fighter jet can fly over the territory in a couple of hours.
Due to the Soviet past and American soft power in the country, the Government of Estonia established strong relationships with NATO during the ’90s and integrated the Alliance in 2004. However, it would be naïve to assume the Estonian Ministry of Defence relies exclusively on NATO’s recommendations to ensure the national safety, the key to Estonia’s successful and peaceful relationship with Russia coming from bilateral foreign relations between Tallinn and Moscow.
From David and Goliath to Baltic brothers: Estonia-Russia relationship after the Cold War
With only 1.3 million inhabitants – 68% Estonians, 24% Russians, 8% others, – the Estonian ethnicity almost disappeared during the Soviet times and still struggles to survive in a globalized world.
Contrary to many countries with an important diaspora, the Estonian identity could disappear in case of a conflict between NATO and Russia. Besides usual national matters, the Riigikogu (State assembly) is responsible for preserving the Estonian language – spoken only in Estonia, – and the History and traditions of the Estonian nation. This responsibility must be underlined because the threat of disappearing partly explains the reluctance to accept Russia as a state language. It also pushes the Riigikogu to pursue good governance and to provide high-level living condition and education to citizens, in order to avoid young Estonians moving and staying abroad. Demographics are the main concern of the Estonian leaders ahead of any hypothetical conflict with Russia.
When it comes to the relationship with Moscow, Tallinn has adopted a mixed strategy combining a pro-NATO/EU diplomacy and pragmatic bilateral relationship with Russia based on mutual understanding and shared interests in the Baltic Sea. Russia is often presented in the Estonian media to be the main threat to national security and NATO partners are afraid to see another Crimea crisis happening in eastern Estonia.
In such a context, the Kaitsevägi (Estonian Ministry of Defence) is welcoming NATO troops on the national territory, developed quality relations with nuclear powers (France, Great Britain, the United-States of America) and with non-NATO countries such as Sweden and Finland.
Should Russia (or anyone else) attack Estonia, the Riigikogu will immediately ask for the application of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty:
“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith”
However, article 5 does not take into consideration the principle of asymmetric warfare (e.g. support to an eventual separatist movement in eastern Estonia).
Theories and practice are two distinct things and some of the NATO member states might also be reluctant to attack a nuclear power. Finally, such reply will need the approval of all NATO member states and some have quality relationships with Moscow (e.g. Turkey) and not ready to risk the lives of soldiers for a country of 1.3 million inhabitants.
Estonian leaders are aware of NATO weaknesses and in order to avoid such conflict scenario by strengthening Estonian soft power in the eastern part of the country and are relying on bilateral cooperations with Moscow more than NATO infrastructures.
The Estonian education system has been the main asset to establish bilateral relationships with many academic programs related to Russia at the University of Tartu, the University of Tallinn, and the Baltic Defence College (military-oriented institution). Russian students are invited to study in Estonia, and the University of Tartu – a German-speaking university in the Russian Empire – is now welcoming Russian citizens. Last but not least, learning the Russian language is not a taboo like in the late ’90s and Russia is the third language (after Estonian and English) in libraries and considered to be an asset in the public administration.
Besides the academic world, Estonia is welcoming Russian entrepreneurs and tourists with a particular focus on Saint Petersburg. Estonia has changed in the past decade, and Tallinn is nowadays more of a destination like Helsinki with high-prices, hipster and vegan places, attracting high-tech Russian entrepreneurs interested in settling in the European Union. Looking at the past, the Bronze soldier event seems far away both in Estonian and Russian minds.
The Russian speaking minority in eastern Estonia can be considered to be a geopolitical asset nowadays. Contrary to Ukraine, the Estonian government became more tolerant following the integration in the European Union, even if some improvements must be done to recognize the Russian language at least in regional political institutions (e.g. like in Switzerland).
Russian speakers are enjoying higher salaries in Estonia compared to Russia and good infrastructure to visit their relatives on the other side of the border. Riigikogu and Kaitsevägi are divided when it comes to the approach to adopt regarding the Russian minority, despite the fact Kaitsevägi is following the recommendations of the Riigikogu. One the one hand, giving favourable living conditions to the minority in Estonia pushes them to stay in the country and can be a source of tensions with 24% of the population having a specific relationship to Russia. On the other hand, pushing the Russian minority to leave the country might create tensions with Russia and weaken the national economy. Overall, the national policy of Estonia is more of a “wait and see” when it comes to Russian speakers.
The reason why the Russian speaking minority is less often in the public debate is also due to the recent emigration of Ukrainian workers – 1.8% of the inhabitants in Estonia – and Finnish people coming to find a job and leaving Finland because of the Nokia crisis. Having a look at the current ethnic groups in Estonia, the next threat to Estonian identity might be foreigners from Southern Europe and Finland coming to settle in the country more than the Russian speaking minority.
Global warming is also a threat as people and companies from Southern Europe are interested in settling in Estonia to enjoy the almost unlimited water resources required in the agriculture and industrial sectors.
Nordics identity versus Estonian e-Civilization
Estonia is the missing piece in the Nordic history and the concept of Estonia as a Nordic nation was first introduced by Toomas Hendrik Ilves. The Viking Age, the Danish and Swedish Empires have played an important role in the construction of identity and Estonia would like to be recognized to be Nordic-based on the language (Finno-Ougrian), religion (10% Lutheran Christians) and the geographic location close to the Arctic circle. 53% of the Estonian youth consider belonging in the Nordic identity group and the President of Estonia prefers to used the expression of “Nordic Benelux”. At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Investment Agency are advertising the Nordic identity of Estonia abroad.
The lack of recognition by the Nordics is mostly due to the German past (Teutonic Order) and the Soviet past, the Russian minority – 24% of the citizens, – the number of Orthodox Christians – 17% of the population, – and the lack of cooperation with other Nordic countries during the Cold War.
Due to the quality of High-Tech and Cyber-defence infrastructures in Estonia, the lack of recognition is diminishing the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) expertise when it comes to cyber-defence.
Moreover, the wish of recognition by the Nordics has pushed Tallinn to adopt a stereotypical policy to be recognized as such. The proposal of a new national cross flag as early as 1918 is still supported in some political spheres, while renewable energies, good governance, e-Governance have developed more than in any other country in the European Union.
The Nordic policy implemented by Tallinn has considerable effects on the “Baltic Tiger” with a GDP increase of around 4% per year and GDP per capita of 12,100 euros in 2010 versus 29,800 euros in 2018. Paradoxically, the Nordic policy of Estonia makes it even more competitive than the Nordics themselves, and Tallinn ranks 3rd in the Business Bribery Risk Index in front of Denmark. The same goes for the energy sector and renewables have grown to over 13% of production whereas they were less than 1% in 2000. As such Estonia is one of the countries to have reached its EU renewable target for 2020 already.
Overall, Nordic countries can emphasis the fact Estonian GDP if lacking behind. Nonetheless, Estonia has an overall unemployment rate of around 4,5% – 7% in Finland and 7.5% in Sweden – and provided job opportunities to Finnish citizens after the Nokia crisis.
Nowadays, 0,6% of the whole Estonian population is coming from Finland, and start-ups from other Nordic countries are settling in Estonia leading to an increasing demand for employees speaking Nordic languages. According to the Centre d’Études Prospectives et d’Informations Internationales projections, the GDP per capita could rise by 2025 to the level of the Finnish economy. Following the same projections, by 2050, Estonia could become the most productive country in the European Union, after Luxembourg, and thus join the top five most productive nations in the world.
The relationship with Nordic countries is a major issue in Tallinn because the national public policy has been based on the Nordic model since the end of the Cold War. In such a context, Estonian identity might have to re-invent itself if the Nordic model is outperformed in the future, which is already the case when it comes to e-Governance and Cyber-diplomacy.
Estonia is at the intersection of the Nordic, Russian, and German (Teutonic Order and Baltic Germans) identities. To the Estonian people, the land is not as important as language and culture, which explains why the concept of e-Governance is nowadays widely developed.
Estonian people have embraced the idea Estonia is not the land but the people, and the diaspora in Finland, Canada, and the United-States of America remains to participate in the political and economic life of Estonia. A typical Estonian citizen living abroad for decades can vote online during the election, pay taxes and register a company without coming to Estonia, read the local news online, and graduate from higher education not showing to the university.
e-Governance and e-Identity are not the only aspects of Estonian uniqueness, and besides the Estonian language, the neopaganism (Estonian native faith) plays an increasing role in society. Taaraism was founded in 1928 by members of the intelligentsia to reaffirm traditional Estonian culture and identity. Viewing Christianity as a universal and foreign religion brought by the Germans, they turned to indigenous religion with its many deities. Taaraists hold a monotheistic worldview in which all the gods are aspects of one only pantheistic reality, which they identify with the god Taara (a deity connected to Indo-European deities such as the Germanic Thunor, the Gallic Taranis, and the Hittite Tarhunt).
Based on the Montevideo convention signed in 1993, Estonia does not belong to the Russian, German, or Nordic worlds and could be recognized for its uniqueness. Moreover, if we focus on the definition of civilizations “the stage of human social and cultural development and organization that is considered most advanced” Estonia can be seen like the first e-Society or e-Civilization (according to the contemporary definition of civilization) based on the accomplishments in the field of e-Governance and cyber-diplomacy in the past two decades.
The three slim blue lions and the conquest of cyberspace
The History of e-Diplomacy in Estonia starts in 1965 with the first school computer in the USSR, when Ural-1 was set up in the town of Nõo in Tartu County. Mass usage of computing networks first came with FidoNet, the first Estonian node of which appeared in 1989 and the first internet connections where introduced in 1992 at the University of Tartu and the University of Tallinn. As early as 1996, the Estonian President started a four-year program Tiigrihüpe to computerized the schools.
In 2005, Estonia introduced a digital ID card system and local elections were held with the possibility to vote online, becoming the first country worldwide to offer such an option. In 2008, NATO established a joint cyber-defence centre in Estonia to improve cyber-defence interoperability and provide security support to all NATO member states.
Nowadays, 99% of the services in Estonia are online, 98% of the citizens have a digital ID-card, and 47% are using internet voting. The Estonian government introduced e-Tax (2000), i-Voting (2005), Blockchain (2008), e-Health (2008), e-Residency (2014), increasing the technological gap between Tallin and NATO/EU partners relying on paper and materialized public services. In Estonia, patients own their health data and hospitals have made this available online since 2008.
Today, over 95% of the data generated by hospitals and doctors have been digitized, and blockchain technology is used for assuring the integrity of stored electronic medical records as well as system access. e-Health solutions are allowing Estonia to offer more efficient preventative measures, increasing the awareness of patients and also saving millions of euros. Each person in Estonia that has visited a doctor in medicine has his or her online e-Health record, containing their medical case notes, test results, digital prescriptions, and X-rays, as well as full log-file tracking access to the data. The banking system has already dematerialized with less and less physical banks and cashless society is a reality to many Estonians for almost a decade.
Ongoing projects are the Data embassy which makes it possible to the Estonian administration to continue operating even if local data centres have been stopped or disturbed due to natural disaster, large-scale cyber-attack, power failure or anything else. Cross border data exchanges, healthcare 4.0, digital transformation in education (by 2020, all study materials in Estonia will be digitized and available through an online e-schoolbag) are a few of the current innovations.
In the future, some Estonian embassies should be fully replaced by the online system doing the work of physical embassies, the same for any state institution. State employees will be able to perform the usual work from anywhere in the world.
As of today, Estonia is the country with the lowest GDP debt in the European Union (8.4% in 2019) and with digitalization is the first nation to save a large amount of paper and time in the administration, diplomatic services are provided immediately without any need for people to move, and e-Services are going hand in hand with savings for the government.
However, the concept of e-Society is challenging to Estonian identity. In such a context of digitalization, nobody knows if Estonian identity will be defined by blood, language, religion, passport, or anything else in the future.
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