Hey, NATO, Why Can't You Be More Like Estonia?

Tallinn Photograph by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Before he gets to this week’s NATO summit in Wales, President Barack Obama is meeting with the presidents of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. There is great symbolism in this meeting. All three countries were once Soviet Socialist Republics—not just members of the Warsaw Pact, like Poland and Hungary, but parts of the USSR. Roughly a quarter of Estonians are ethnically Russian, and 7 percent of the country’s residents don’t hold passports—mostly Russians who remained after the fall of the Soviet Union. Lithuania sits on the Baltic Sea next to Kaliningrad, a piece of Russia with access to the Baltic but cut off from the rest of the country.

There are obvious reasons for these countries, all NATO members, to be nervous right now. Last week in Politico, Edward Lucas, a journalist who has covered the region since the late 1980s, wrote that it was time for the President to have an “Ich bin ein Berliner” moment in Tallinn, to make clear a threat that any Russian attack on the Baltic states would mean an immediate NATO response on all of Russia’s borders. The president does not, so far, seem to be having that moment in Tallinn.

He might yet use his time in Estonia to prepare to take the rest of the NATO countries to task when he gets to Wales.

All member countries are obliged to keep defense spending at 2 percent of gross domestic product. Only four countries do: the U.S., the U.K., Greece, and tiny Estonia. France and Poland are close, at 1.9 and 1.8 percent, respectively. Denmark and Norway spend only 1.4 percent of GDP on defense; Germany and the Netherlands, only 1.3 percent; Canada, only .9 percent. Rich countries all.

Why, the president could ask his counterparts at the summit, can’t you be more like Estonia?

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