Russia must not be left out as Baltics reach NATO goal

  • 2001-05-31
  • Mark Taylor
NATO Parliamentary Assembly Secretary General Simon Lunn was in Vilnius this week for the first assembly meeting in an Eastern European country. Mark Taylor of The Baltic Times caught up with Lunn for a brief interview.

The Baltic Times: What do you think will be accomplished here at the assembly?

Lunn: It will raise the awareness of all parliamentarians attending about the aspirations of this region and this country regarding membership in the alliance and the European Union.

It will also give them a chance to see just how much progress has been made and assess the society itself, because as you know integration into both the alliance and the EU is not just about the status of the armed forces but about a society ready to join what is the club of Western nations.

I think that people coming here will be very impressed by what they see. So the first accomplishment will be to improve public awareness of this particular region.

TBT: Which one of these candidates is most ready for membership in the alliance?

Lunn: I don't think that's a good thing to speculate on, because we then turn this process into something it shouldn't be. I've traveled in all three Baltic countries. I have connections with each of them. I have probably had the longest relationship with Lithuania, but I think that each country has made considerable progress, and of course each is different, with different characteristics.

Each country has made very good progress and I know that when people look at countries for the next round of enlargement these countries will have done very well. They will be considered well up the list of the nine countries being considered for membership.

All three Baltic countries have made tremendous progress in reforming their armed forces, and they have all made contributions to NATO missions in southeast Europe, which are very much appreciated. Each of them is showing a willingness to share the tasks of the alliance as well as share in its values.

The countries' readiness, the alliance's readiness, how many countries the alliance can accept, and the problem of Russia. There are a lot of factors to be taken into account. I think the assembly agrees that we believe in NATO enlargement, but let us debate and think through all the consequences rather than look at individual candidates.

TBT: How are the concerns of Russia being addressed by the alliance, and how do you respond to criticism that they are not being addressed enough?

Lunn: There are two issues. There is whatever grievance Russians have with the situation in the Baltic countries.

First of all, the issue about the Russian-speaking populations is for the individual countries here to sort out. It's my knowledge that bodies such as the Council of Europe and the OSCE have in fact said that they believe that the situation for the Russian-speaking population meets their standards. I think the Baltics have been given a clean bill of health.

On the other issue, the broader strategic issue about whether it's correct for countries that were once part of the Soviet Union, albeit unwillingly, to be a part of NATO, or is it a step too far. Obviously, we have to persuade the Russians that this is an unacceptable view. To say that the Baltics, in any way shape or form are in their sphere of influence is obviously unacceptable.

It is quite clear that countries have a right to choose the alliances they belong to. We repeat that again and again to the Russians, but then we have to go one step further because if they are not understanding that message then the message that we must say is that NATO is no longer an organization with the mission it had during the Cold War. It is an organization with a mission of collective defense, but collective defense is an entirely different thing today.

NATO has adopted very new missions in terms of trying to develop stability and security in other parts. Russia should be a partner in that and NATO has made great efforts through its founding act. We have made great efforts to develop partnerships with the Russian Parliament since 1990 and 1991. They have attended these meetings and obviously we have still not succeeded in convincing the political bodies in Russia that NATO is not a threat. We know that very well.

However, they should feel that countries on their borders that feel secure are much better than countries who don't feel secure. Baltic countries should also understand that Russia is a partner, not the eternal enemy.

TBT: How would you assess Lithuania's job of hosting this assembly?

Lunn: I came here in 1991 when the Parliament was sandbagged and there was a lot of fear and uncertainty here. We had a seminar with the Seimas (parliament) and the Seimas did a great job then. The effort, the care, having a committee to meet regularly, they have done a great job and I hope it brings its own rewards. People will leave this assembly very impressed.