VILNIUS 's The Baltic states are preparing to mark the three year anniversary of their admission into NATO. As the day approaches, Estonia draws praise for its efforts, Latvia analyzes the impact that NATO membership has had, and Lithuania prepares to celebrate the event.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns expressed gratitude on Monday, March 26 for Estonia's participation in the ongoing operations in Afghanistan. The praise came with a grain of salt, however, as the American official also used to opportunity to implore other European countries to increase their contributions to the operation.
In a discussion entitled "Latvia's Three Years in NATO 's Gains and Challenges," Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks noted that the greatest benefit Latvia has seen from joining the alliance has been a psychological one.
"The main thing that Latvia has gained from NATO is additional psychological security. We are no longer in a "grey zone" and are able to support with out experience those counties that want to become NATO members," Pabriks said.
He noted that this psychological security has given Latvia a certain amount of self-confidence. He explained that this increased self-confidence and general feeling of safety allows the country to focus on issues of reform and development.
Defense Minister Atis Slakteris commented that "the country's policy is right as long as there is such a confidence." He also added that he thought joining NATO was the right step and that it frees up funds for the country.
Some of the other advantages analyzed at the meeting included an improved ability of security services and the armed forces to meet western security standards and an improved relationship with Russia.
Lithuania meanwhile is gearing up to celebrate the event with a number of events. National and NATO flags will be raised at Daukantas square at noon on Thursday, March 29 's the date that Lithuania joined in 2004.
"Membership in NATO is one of the biggest Lithuania's political acquisitions. We are valuated by the alliance; we create security and stability in the world together with them. We are a part of NATO and the decisions made by the Alliance are our decisions as well," Defense Minister Juozas Olekas said in a press release.
The press release also called the anniversary a historic step in military integration with NATO.
The agreements of the Baltic states with NATO have been an Air Policing Mission in which other European countries rotate responsibility for controlling Baltic air space, cooperation with military fleets, particularly in the field of mine clearing, and an international training of special operation units to fight terrorism. All three Baltic states lend their aid to the mission in Afghanistan.