NATO: the Baltic dimension

  • 2001-08-30
  • Harri Tiido
When reading news about the aspirations of a number of nations to join the North Atlantic Treatu Organization, we often meet two different terms for the process: "enlargement" and "expansion." Both are correct. But the intentional use of one or the other suggests a difference in perception, which, in turn, may well lead to a difference in policy prescriptions.

The crux of the issue is one of direction, in other words, which phenomenon leads to which outcome. With the alliance, we are dealing with a process of NATO expansion that is a result of enlargement, not with a process of enlargement that is a result of expansion - otherwise reference is made to NATO as the active side that intends to gain new territories.

In fact, the opposite is true. The aspiring members are the ones who want to join; that is also why we should perceive the process as the free choice of sovereign nations, not as the aggressive design of a political-military alliance.

The argument that NATO enlargement will draw new lines in Europe can easily be dismissed as well. After its establishment in 1949, the alliance has enlarged five times: in 1952, Turkey and Greece were accepted; in 1955, Germany; in 1982, Spain; in 1990, the part of Germany known as the former German Democratic Republic; and in 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. We are working toward the sixth, not the second, round of enlargement. After that, there will probably be another.

In all previous rounds, applicants have been on the active side of the process. This can hardly be characterized as "drawing lines." The only lines that exist in today's Europe are those that are resulting from the free choices of various states. European nations are not choosing sides; they are choosing a certain set of values they prefer to identify themselves with.

All of this applies to the three Baltic states as well. We have chosen Western democratic and free market values upon which to build our future.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are not striving to become members of NATO against anyone. Rather, we seek to join the alliance in order to restore our natural place within the trans-Atlantic family of nations.

For us, NATO membership is one of two main foreign policy goals, and is on par with our aspirations toward membership of the European Union. These two organizations are complementary, not contradictory, and that's why we cannot accept the argument that membership in the EU would be sufficient for us. The "EU-only" option would, in fact, boil down to creating a "gray zone" in our region.

The security and stability that come with NATO membership will also improve our risk-rating, provide safer conditions for inviting additional foreign investments, and enhances the general development of our national economies. So in addition to the security aspect NATO has an economic dimension as well.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania do not intend to become only security consumers. Since 1995, we have been demonstrating this conviction by virtue of our participation in various peacekeeping operations, including the ongoing operations in the Balkans. We have been contributing to security all the while we prepare to become consumers of it.

When discussing our future membership in the alliance, the issue of Russia inevitably arises. Membership will bring clarity not only to our relations with Russia; it will also enhance dialogue between the three Baltic countries and Moscow and, in the long run, will enhance cooperation between Russia and NATO as well.

Russia's comprehension of the new realities in Europe would certainly help Moscow redirect its attention to the more burning, internal issues it faces. The Baltic countries' membership in NATO could enhance that process by settling one pending issue once and for all.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin spelled out the options of Russia- NATO relations, he pretty well revealed Moscow's bottom line: according to Putin's argument, either Russia should be a member of NATO or there should be no NATO at all. In other words, if Russia is not in, others should not enjoy the right of membership either.

President Putin's remarks also reflect the real central issue - the role of Russia in European security structures. But would denying NATO membership to the three Baltic states resolve this issue? Hardly!

In terms of the wider security context, the issue of the "Baltic dimension in NATO enlargement" is, in fact, to large extent irrelevant.

The oftrepeated current understanding is that geography and history cannot determine the enlargement process. Prague in 2002 is the suitable time and place to put that maxim into practice.