A rock and a hard place

  • 2002-08-22
U.S. President George Bush's battle shield seems to have lost some of its shine.

An all-out diplomatic stand-off between the European Union and the United States has emerged over the International Criminal Court, designed to prosecute war criminals, and the Baltic states are caught in the middle of it.

U.S. diplomats worldwide are shopping around an agreement that would exempt American troops from prosecution. Some of the countries they have approached most earnestly are aspiring NATO members, many of which are candidates for membership in the European Union — the Baltics included.

The rhetoric out of Washington is uncompromising — sign or draw the ire of a country at war. As part of legislation passed recently in Washington, the United States has even threatened to cut off military aid to non-NATO countries that don't sign and pull out its peacekeepers.

It worked on Romania, a country desperately seeking NATO membership, which couldn't sign up fast enough.

Its signature roused a clear message from the EU to the United States — back off.

The Baltics probably have as much affinity for and connections with America than any country in Europe other than Ireland.

European Union members, whose foreign policy is inextricably tied to one another, have little to lose in criticizing the U.S. proposal.

It's more complicated here. Invitations to join NATO will be dished out in three months.

Foreign ministry officials in all three countries have said the situation has become tense.

But so far the Baltics are playing it just right. The worst decision would have been to follow Romania.

The EU is calling America's bluff and the Baltics have nothing to fear in following the EU's lead.

First, America has invested far more in securing memberships in NATO for Eastern European countries than it has in fighting the International Criminal Court. NATO membership is not under threat.

Second, it needs all the international support it can get as the war on terrorism continues, a war with which many countries have already grown weary.

Foreign policy rows between the United States and the EU will likely only heat up in the coming years. The Baltics would do well to set the tone now by standing beside Europe on this one.