The Baltic Defense College, Baltdefcol, is about to graduate its first class of staff officers. Located in Tartu, Estonia, this institution is unique and indeed unprecedented in international military experience in several respects. First, as a joint interstate staff college; second, as an incubator of the senior officer corps of nascent armed forces; and, third, as a connecting link among three groups of countries. These are the NATO alliance, the three Baltic states as NATO aspirants, and the Nordic countries of Sweden and Finland (which are non-NATO countries with national traditions of total defense. Strategies of total defense dovetail with the Baltic states’ own defense concepts.
Baltdefcol grew out of a 1997 initiative by the defense ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and their five counterparts from Nordic countries, three of which–Denmark, Norway and Iceland–are NATO members. Sweden serves as Baltdefcol’s supporting lead nation, but Denmark is at least as active in the group of thirteen supporting nations. The college is in some respects a brainchild of Denmark’s Brigadier-General Michael Clemmesen, the commandant of Baltdefcol since its inception in 1998. The supporting nations provide the funding, technical equipment and the teaching and operating staff of the college under a five-year program. Parts of those responsibilities will then be gradually turned over to the three Baltic states, subject to a step-by-step review of their ability to assume those responsibilities.
The main mission of the college is to create a pool of staff officers, educated to the NATO level, capable of leading the development of the Baltic states’ defense forces and preparing the three states for NATO membership. English is the sole language of instruction and administration at Baltdefcol, and NATO procedures are being taught and used. The students are, as a rule, mid-career officers, mostly of major and lieutenant-colonel rank. The one-year courses include policy and strategy, operations and tactics, logistics, staff management and administration, military technology, and total defense, each of which courses incorporate the principles of civilian leadership and democratic control of the armed forces. Frequent staff exercises are being conducted not only at the College but also at various locations in all three Baltic states. This year’s graduating class includes thirty-two student-officers, twenty-eight of them Balts. Next year’s class is slated to include up to forty-two officers, plus–for the first time–civil servants involved in national security and defense policy.
Baltdefcol’s location is in some ways fraught with symbolism. Tartu, Estonia’s second-largest city, is the site of the region’s oldest and most distinguished university, established almost four centuries ago by Sweden–the country which now sponsors Baltdefcol. Tartu was twice occupied and devastated, once by the Tsarist and once by the Soviet military. The College is housed in a recently restored building of the functionalist style, that distinctly Nordic contribution to modern architecture before the second world war. Estonia and Latvia had successfully assimilated that architectural style–a sign of Baltic progress and modernization which were soon nipped in the bud under Moscow’s occupation. The city and the building illustrate the Baltic states’ European cultural anchors and the need to secure them from any recurrent threats.
As Lithuania’s representative at Baltdefcol, Major Arunas Stasaitis, told the Monitor last week in Tartu, the military and diplomatic history of the three Baltic republics from 1918 to 1940 also forms an object of scrutiny at the college. A major lesson–and warning–of that period is the failure of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to establish defense and security links with each other. At the same time, the Western democracies, including the Balts’ Nordic neighbors, failed to develop strategies for protecting the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. As a cumulative result of those failures, the Baltic Republics were in no position to resist Moscow’s ultimatums and were occupied for almost fifty years. Today, inter-Baltic, Baltic-NATO and Baltic-Nordic security and defense programs–of which Baltdefcol is one example (see the Monitor, January 31, May 5)–should prepare the three restored states for NATO membership, which alone can guarantee the irreversibility of their independent development.
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