TO DIE FOR TALLINN? For some, it’s an uncomfortable question. Because is Estonia is so very small, and full of moose and pine, and stubborn tech-savvy peasants, that the idea of risking nuclear war for a tiny peninsula does alarm.
Yet, I feel it is both an important question and a false one. Let me explain. It is important, because Estonia is part of the West. It is part of our common space. It is as Western as the Outer Hebrides or North Vancouver. We move with ease within our common Western space without thinking about it. In Estonia, in Canada, in Scotland, it is 2015 everywhere. So we should be ready to defend our common 2015. And if we don’t — why not just surrender everything. Here, take Tallinn, take North Vancouver, and the Isle of Lewis.
What’s the difference?
The difference is that when you cross into Russia, you do not cross into 2015. You do not move deeper into our common space. When you cross into Russia, you cross space and time, you are beamed back into 1985. You cross into hungry cops out for bribes, Lenin in the metro, militsiya on the street corner, a supreme superman ruler who intends to stay in charge until the end of his natural life. And also, denim jackets.
The border between Estonia and Russia, between the West and the non-West, is real and worth defending. But while we must be vigilant in defending our common space, we must also not be deluded by its value. Estonia is a land of moose, pines, and tech-savvy peasants. Some shudder to think that we would go to nuclear war for moose, but we must turn the question around: are these same moose really so important for the Russians?
The true principle behind Estonian NATO membership was a northern one. It had little to do with Ukraine and nothing to do with Georgia. It had to do with the Baltic Sea. Denmark and Norway were already NATO members. So went Western control of the Danish Straits and the Baltic Sea. Russia maintained its exclave in Kaliningrad (nee Königsburg). Estonian NATO membership did not alter this balance of power. It couldn’t. All that Estonian NATO membership did was effectively take Estonia off the post-Soviet table. Recall, to attempt another occupation of this land of moose could lead to nuclear war (and trust me, Russia would lose that war). On the flip side, Estonia strategically wasn’t worth very much and therefore was not worth the risk.
Estonia’s fate is much less tied to 2004, when it joined NATO and the EU, and more to the early 1990s, when Swedish economic influence secured the country’s place among the Western markets. By 1998, Sweden dominated Estonian FDI and the country’s banking sector, and the economic crisis of 2008 only brought the two countries closer. Estonia’s banks are Swedish banks. Estonia’s money is European money. Estonia is a part of the West. You can deliberate sacrificing it to an unreasonable aggressor, but in the end, you’d just be sacrificing a piece of yourself. A pinkie perhaps, or maybe just a baby toe.