NATO: Balts in or out?

  • 2002-02-14
  • Ojars Kalnins
In response to last week's report in The Baltic Times ("Balts react to anti-NATO magazine article") about Jeffrey Tayler's much-discussed Atlantic Monthly analysis on Baltic membership in NATO, we have two opposing viewpoints. The second is from a Danish businessman living in Tallinn who wishes to remain anonymous.

Jeffrey Tayler's case against Baltic states' membership in NATO collapses at five different points in his anachronistic characterization of the real geopolitical situation in Europe.

First, he claims, "If NATO expands to include the Baltic states, it risks acquiring a flash point for tension with Russia." He is saying, in effect, that Russia is more likely to take hostile action against Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia if they are members of NATO, than if they are not.

Does he really believe Russia will challenge NATO, destroy the constructive relationship it is trying to build with the U.S. and Europe, and risk a major war by invading NATO member states? Leaving the Baltic states outside of the NATO alliance is a much more likely setting for military mischief.

Bringing the Baltics into the Western alliance settles their status once and for all, removes them as a target of temptation for Moscow adventurers and enables rational minds in Russia to work constructively with the Baltic states, as it does with other NATO member states.

Second, he repeatedly refers to the Baltic states as "former Soviet republics" and as part of the Russian "Near Abroad." From a legal and moral point of view, the Baltic states are not former Soviet republics. They are formerly occupied Northern European countries.

Even if a case could be made for keeping former Soviet republics out of NATO (I don't think it can), it would still not apply to the Baltic states. The Baltic states did not achieve independence in 1991. They restored it. And the concept of a Russian "Near Abroad" is a Cold War anachronism that appears to support a Russian imperial sphere of influence, while ignoring what is really happening in Europe.

Third, Tayler asserts that Baltic membership in NATO would pose "unsettling strategic risks for Russia." What risks? That a hostile Sweden or Denmark would invade Russia through the Baltic states? With China to the East and Islamic fundamentalism to the south, Russia's northwestern borders with Estonia and Latvia are the most stable, friendliest and least threatening borders it has.

Fourth, he totally misrepresents the living conditions of ethnic Russians residing in Latvia. Latvian law guarantees equal human rights protection to all permanent residents, regardless of citizenship. The Latvian citizenship law allows all non-citizens to apply for naturalization. (Requirements for Latvian citizenship are less stringent than in many NATO and EU countries.)

Satisfaction with Latvian and Estonian human rights and minority protection policies led the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to shut down its missions in these countries in 2001. The "suspicion, frustration and anger" Tayler attributes to Russians in the region is more apparent on the Russian side of the border, where the standard of living and economic opportunities are substantially less than in the Baltic states.

Finally, Tayler implies that President Putin cannot allow the Baltics into NATO because Russian public opinion would not stand for it. This puts the cart before the horse. Russian public opinion is formed by the Russian mass media, which is increasingly coming under Kremlin control. As long as the Kremlin and Russia media express hostility toward the Baltic states, public opinion does likewise.

If the Kremlin were to launch a public information campaign that lessened government hostility toward Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, public opinion would follow suit.

While Russia has been reluctant to establish constructive, friendly relations with the Baltic states, it is pursuing such a policy with NATO. For the Baltic countries, the conclusions are obvious. To improve relations with Russia, they need to join NATO.