Vol 0, No 32
3 May 1999
T H E A M B E R C O A S T:
What Came from Washington
The recent NATO Summit in Washington did not yield any true surprises for the Baltic states. No, they were not invited directly to join NATO - that was expected. They were listed in some fashion as candidates - that was expected. Russia condemned the listing - that was expected. So, why were all the politicians so thrilled about the outcome of the historic event?
The fact that each country sent an impressively high-ranking delegation was a clear signal how much the three wanted to join the party. The three Baltic presidents -- Estonian President Lennart Meri, Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus - brought along political and military leaders to show to NATO how seriously they were taking the Summit and its related events. This is much in contrast to some other "candidates" to NATO, which failed to send a noticeable delegation.
During the trip, the delegations also did what was expected. The Latvian and Estonian camps made a trip to New York to speak at an economic forum for emerging markets. The Lithuanian contingent, while celebrating the victory of Kaunas Zalgiris in winning the European Basketball Championships (this was even covered in the Washington Post), tagged along with their Polish cohorts in various events in town. It appears that little has changed.
The Summit Communique
Politicians from all three countries, even those against NATO, generally applauded the results of the summit. The final communique was hailed as a "step further than Madrid" in reference to the lack of any mention in the communique after the Madrid Summit. The contingents were euphoric that the Baltic states were named individually and in the same category as Romania and Slovenia. But the wording was delicate:
"Today, we recognise and welcome the continuing efforts and progress in both Romania and Slovenia. We also recognise and welcome continuing efforts and progress in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Since the Madrid summit, we note and welcome positive developments in Bulgaria. We also note and welcome recent positive developments in Slovakia. We are grateful for the co-operation of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia with NATO in the present crisis and welcome its progress on reforms. We welcome Albania's co-operation with the alliance in the present crisis and encourage its reform efforts."
Now, for those pundits who take the listing order seriously, and many do, this was a major blow to Lithuania. Lithuania was pushing hard to be named as a top candidate for the second round, tagging along with Slovenia. It hoped that by following the Polish coattails, it would give them an advantage. Their military restructuring and strength is superior to their northern Baltic neighbours, so why were they listed last, ostensibly in alphabetical order?
Though the Summit finally gave the Baltic states their mention as candidates, this placement is still yet a small hint that Lithuania has not made any true inroads with the NATO brass. Though the names are listed individually, it was only a mild step better than to say "the Baltic states" in the communique. In other words, there was no public commendation of Lithuania's progress over that of Estonia and Latvia. And frankly, that is a blow to Lithuania's high-flying hopes before the Summit.
Lithuanian politicians put on a brave face and stated their euphoria for the results. It is doubtful that the listing question did not enter into their true opinions on the issue, but they have decided to keep that part of their opinion hidden. So has the press, it seems, since no one has picked up the connotations of the listing snub to Lithuania.
Then there is Russia
At the end, most of the world, NATO and Moscow included, still group the three Baltic states as a unit. Fair or unfair, that is plain old reality. In that way, despite any advances by Lithuania over the others, each is still judged as a "Baltic state" rather than an individual candidate country.
With Russia immediately condemning the enlargement scenario, especially the involvement of the Baltic states, it demonstrates that NATO still looks at potential Baltic membership in the same terms as Moscow. NATO possibly fear the confrontation with Russia in an already destabilised Europe. And if NATO does eventually take Lithuania in alone in the early part of next decade, it would cause a security problem in the north-east of Europe. Because, by that time, we would know whether EU enlargement is near conclusion or not, and who is involved. If Latvia is not added to the list of "front-runners" at the Helsinki European Council meeting later this year, then it could turn Latvia into the security black hole of northern Europe. And that would be a nightmare scenario for Latvia, the Baltic states, and Europe.
But still happy
In the end, the politicians are still happy because they can sell the communique as a concrete example of their success in bringing their countries closer to NATO. Perhaps this would be the impetus for Latvia to increase its defence spending, up from around 0.5 per cent of GDP. If this result gives the three countries the momentum to continue their reform, then it was clearly successful.
But as all politicians say, offering NATO membership is a totally political question. If we see how Iceland was occupied by first the British military and then the US military, structure and interoperability do not mean as much as a consensus between the leaders of the countries.
NATO has promised that they will act upon the enlargement issue no later than 2002. By then, the security structure of Europe, the stability and behaviour of Russia, and the resolution (hopefully) of the Balkans conflicts, will be clearer. And if NATO still exists as a credible force then, the same question about the "Baltic states" will return to the tables.
Mel Huang, 3 May 1999
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