On April 4, 1949, Johannes Kaiv, the acting consul general of Estonia’s government-in-exile, sent a letter to Secretary of State Dean Acheson, which read:
I have the honor to offer my best wishes to the signatories of the North Atlantic Pact, and to express my confidence that they, inspired by the ideals of democracy, of individual liberty, and the rule of law, will strive relentlessly for peace with justice, which excludes peace at any price. Therefore, I express the belief that countries which were forcibly deprived of self-government and independence will benefit by this noble endeavor.
Estonia would have to wait 55 years to join NATO, a decade after the nation regained its freedom from the Soviet empire. But the values that make NATO relevant today are the same that Kaiv identified in 1949, when he lamented the fate of his occupied homeland. As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of this historic alliance, we must remember what is at stake: protecting democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.
In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine, illegally annexed Crimea, and supported armed proxies that continue to occupy a part of eastern Ukraine to this day. According to the United Nations, 13,000 Ukrainians have died, with as many as 30,000 wounded, as a result of Russian-backed aggression in Ukraine.
Had Estonia not been a member of NATO in 2014, would it have shared Ukraine’s tragic fate? We doubt that the residents of Tallinn—or Vilnius, Riga, Warsaw, Prague, or Budapest, for that matter—would ever want to test that proposition.