In an April 30 opinion piece Vladimir Socor, a senior analyst at the Jamestown Foundation, said that "Baltoskepticism - that counterpart in NATO to the Euroskepticism that lingers elsewhere - is slowly but clearly losing ground among West European members of the alliance."
"This incremental shift of opinion accompanies a stronger American momentum toward NATO's Baltic enlargement. Support is now growing also among the alliance's European partners for issuing membership invitations to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania at next year's allied summit," Socor wrote.
He said it was significant that added support in Europe is coming from certain policy makers who were undecided or doubtful in the past.
Socor wrote that Baltoskeptics fall into three groups. One group, including Germany's governing Social Democrats, feels that the alliance's inclusion of the Baltic states would upset Russia and jeopardize business relationships.
Another group, including some allies on the Mediterranean, favors early NATO membership for countries other than the Baltic states. A third group questions the Baltic states' qualifications for NATO membership soon, or perhaps ever, the author noted.
Citing reasons for the downturn in the influence wielded by skeptics, Socor quoted Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, who said in April: "There's no sense in delaying NATO's enlargement because of Russian opposition. That problem should be treated like an aching tooth. If you just wait, the problem will grow worse. You have to go to the dentist immediately."
Amato, addressing the press jointly with his Estonian counterpart Mart Laar in Rome, praised the contribution of Estonia in NATO peacekeeping operations. Socor wrote Amato drove home the point that the deciding factor in preparations for NATO membership wasn't size, but rather a country's readiness to contribute to common security and having the means available to do it.
The author also quoted Czech President Vaclav Havel, who recommended that the three Baltic states be invited to NATO in next year's enlargement round.
"The more it is postponed, the more difficult it may become," Havel said two weeks ago. "The new international order is being born now, and Russia should not perceive the Baltic states as its satellites."
Socor also mentioned that Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, who recently visited the Baltics, urged the alliance to accept all three Baltic states next year.
The article devotes a good deal of attention to the attitude on NATO enlargement among the political parties of one of its most important partners, Germany.
The article notes that two political forces - the ruling Social Democrats and the opposition Christian Democrats - recently made public their positions, recommending that the Baltic states be invited to join NATO at the next summit. Social Democrat ideologues criticized the foot-dragging of the Social Democrat-Green coalition and underlined the need to invite the three Baltic states next year.
Socor reported that the CSU wing of the opposition Christian Democrat Union/Christian Social Union has endorsed a policy paper that also supports enlargement of the alliance next year to include the Baltic states.
The Wall Street Journal Europe reported that the position of both parties could help in forming bipartisan consensus on the nature and pace of NATO expansion, including an invitation for the Baltic states.
Iceland Ambassador Jan Baldvin Hanibalsson, the former Icelandic foreign minister who recognized the independence of the Baltic states 11 years ago, said last week: "Leaving Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania once again outside the overall security system, in a gray zone or political no-man's land that waits to be filled by reborn imperial ambitions of a new generation of nationalist leaders in Russia, would certainly not be conducive to stability and peace in Europe in the future."