Path to NATO must not be abandoned, say experts

  • 2001-05-03
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - European Union membership is a must for Estonia to get into NATO, think Estonian experts. But according to Toomas Luman, chairman of the Commerce and Industry Chamber and a member of the consultative board on EU matters in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it would be a mistake to consider NATO membership as an obstacle on Estonia's path to the EU.

Many observers agree that the road to Europe has been long and arduous, but that Estonia is now too far down it to turn back. It would be a bleak scenario indeed should Estonia abandon the process, argues Luman.

"It would cost us a security guarantee," he said.

Romania's recent problems hindering its progress to becoming a member of the EU have become a crucial factor in considering it as a serious contender for NATO, say defense analysts writing in the Estonian daily Postimees.

Nevertheless, most of the NATO officials who have visited Estonia this year have highly estimated its progress and hope Estonia will manage to start allocating 2 percent of its GDP for defense needs - a necessary condition to enter NATO - as soon as possible.

Lewis Moonie, British deputy minister for defense, visited Estonia on April 25 and stressed that the Baltics should continue with bolstering their armed forces.

"None of the NATO members has yet made a decision regarding enlargement; next year will be the right time to announce such a judgment," said Moonie at a press conference.

Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik said the cooperation between Estonia and Britain has been successful.

"Great Britain has supported Estonia in the training of our armed forces and budget planning," said the minister.

Luik attended a defense cooperation summit in the Baltic region held in Berlin on April 27. According to the press department of Estonia's Defense Ministry, the defense ministers of Germany, Poland and Denmark showed support for the Baltic countries' attempts to enter NATO and emphasized the importance of cooperation between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The summit is a regular event taking place annually since 1995, although the Baltic defense ministers have been attending it only since 1997.

All the parties agreed that they are ready to provide bilateral and multilateral assistance, and in that context special attention was called to the Kiel initiative of cooperation between Baltic area naval forces.

"The general message we are bringing back from Berlin is that the NATO countries that took part in the meeting enthusiastically support Estonia's and the other Baltic countries' NATO bids," Margus Kolga, deputy chancellor for Estonian defense policy said.

"We were told that no red lines would be drawn in that process," he added. The Baltics got a clear message to collaborate more with each other and link that cooperation more closely with NATO membership plans, said Kolga.

The issues discussed included NATO membership action plans, questions related to Russia and Belarus and cooperation in the Baltic Sea region.

Spain also sees Estonia as a competitive candidate to get an invitation to NATO at the next year's summit, said Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique when visiting Estonia this April.

Boleslaw Izydorczyk, director of the NATO Partnership for Peace Coordination Center, visited Estonia last week and said that the officers-training system is satisfactory.

The center was set up for the coordination and assessment of military issues in the Partnership for Peace program. Izydorczyk was particularly impressed by the Kuperjanov detached infantry battalion, according to Rear Admiral Tarmo Kouts, Estonian defense forces commander.