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Ilves launches defense think tank

Nov 22, 2006
By Joel Alas

TALLINN - Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves launched a new defense think tank on Nov. 21, urging the nation's academics to come up with innovative solutions to security challenges. Ilves said Estonia should not focus solely on itself, but consider how it could influence other nations undergoing similar transitional challenges.

"We don't just look regionally, we look to common interests. We should do everything possible not to simply be 'new Europeans' or 'Eastern Europeans,'" Ilves said.
The president spoke at the launch of the International Center for Defense Studies, a research body established by the Estonian Ministry of Defense. He urged the think tank to produce internationally-acceptable research that helped further debate on security issues.

"Estonia can make a scholarly contribution to look at the mistakes made in the accession process to the EU and to NATO. Some things were done well, and some not so well," Ilves said.

He added that other aspiring EU nations, such as Georgia, looked to Estonia as a guide for how to integrate.
"There is much room for historical analysis," the president said.
When asked whether Estonia had enough defense or academic capabilities to set up such an organization, Ilves said: "We have to do the best we can. We can't sit and bemoan our size."
He said academia had a role to play in looking at other options. "If your only tool is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. There are many things we don't think about but should."
Ilves said many think tanks in Estonia failed due to a lack of funding, and called on present and future politicians to properly support such research institutions.

He said it was also important that governments veer away from trying to influence the research or direction of such institutions.
"In my time as foreign minister and in the European Parliament, I relied very heavily on the output of think tanks. I never got input from any Estonian think tanks. There has been too little input from Estonian scholars."
Ilves warned Estonians against thinking they hold a greater insight into Russian strategic issues simply because of "our unfortunate history" as "operated-upon subjects of a colonial empire."
"This may not be applicable to Russia today. We need to get over the idea that we know better. If we do know better, then we must show it in our research."

In answering a question from the audience, Ilves refuted suggestions that he had become a vocal leader of eastern European nations.
"I was not 's as one newspaper put it 's posturing as a spokesman for eastern Europe. That is something that has been ascribed to me by others. I don't like the idea of considering new versus old Europe. My vision is not to emphasize divisions."
Another speaker at the launch, Dr. Jamie Shea, the director of policy planning for NATO Secretary-General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, said defense analysts had to think in terms of clean-up and reconstruction.

"We have to focus not just on winning battles, but on stability and reconstruction," Shea said.
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