A recent meeting of the BALTSEA assistance group, the signing of a comprehensive Lithuanian-Polish military agreement, and discussions at the Security Policy Conference in Munich have underscored the Baltic states’ steady progress toward meeting the qualifications for admission to NATO. In spite of that progress, however, these three recent events also revealed intra-NATO differences regarding the scope, pace or even the wisdom of admitting the three Baltic states to the alliance.
The Baltic Security Assistance (BALTSEA) Group conferred on January 25-26 in Tallinn to review progress on the military programs it supports in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Established in 1997, and made up by now of fourteen NATO and Nordic countries, BALTSEA coordinates assistance on a multilateral basis by those countries to the Baltic states’ trilateral defense projects. Those joint projects now well underway are the Baltnet air space control system, the Baltron naval squadron, the Baltbat motorized infantry battalion and the Baltic defense college.
Baltbat’s size and mission are currently being expanded. Its national Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian components are slated to grow this year from platoon- and company-level units into battalions in their own right, designated as Estbat, Latbat and Litbat, armed with NATO standard caliber weapons and ammunition. Beyond their current peacekeeping mission, these units are to be trained for operating autonomously in full-scale combat as well. A new project on the drawing boards is the Estonian-Latvian-Lithuanian military air transport squadron Baltwing.
The BALTSEA session highlighted a unique asset which the Baltic states can contribute to NATO–namely, a level of defense and security cooperation on a subregional basis not to be found in any other area of the EuroAtlantic space. This type of cooperation not only offsets the disadvantages of small size to the individual states’ defense posture, but also enhances the defensibility of the Baltic area as a whole. And it has already gone a long way toward disposing of the misperception that the three states’ size and location render them “militarily indefensible.”
On February 5 in Vilnius, Defense Ministers Linas Linkevicius of Lithuania and Bronislaw Komorowski of Poland–a member of NATO since 1999–signed a far-reaching agreement on bilateral military cooperation. The document reflects in the first place Poland’s support for Lithuania’s candidacy to join the alliance –an aspiration facilitated by Lithuania’s physical contiguity to NATO territory. But it reflects as well Poland’s role as a connecting link between the three Baltic states and the alliance. The agreement’s many items include: continuing development of the Polish-Lithuanian joint battalion LitPolBat in accordance with NATO standards; training of Lithuanian military specialists in Poland; participation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in activities of NATO’s joint German-Danish-Polish corps, which is headquartered on Poland’s Baltic coast; and the goal of setting up regular information exchanges via Poland between NATO’s Integrated Air Defense System and the Baltnet air space control system, the main base of which is situated at Karmelava in Lithuania.
Baltic progress toward meeting NATO membership criteria is clearly recognized in Washington by the incoming Bush administration and also in Congress on a bipartisan basis. In Western Europe, however, a number of governments seem inclined to view the issue of Baltic accession to NATO through the prism of extraneous considerations. One set of considerations has to do with the scope and pace of NATO’s enlargement. On the premise that the alliance can only be enlarged in a piecemeal fashion, various member countries have favorite candidates and tend to push those at the potential expense of other candidates. As a rule, member countries favor the speedy admission of their neighbors to the east and south. In that unnecessary and potentially divisive contest, the candidacies for example of Slovenia or Slovakia are sometimes counterposed artificially to the Baltic states’ candidacies. Last year’s Vilnius Declaration, issued jointly by all aspirant countries, was meant to avoid unhealthy competition among them and has had a measure of success in that regard.
The other set of considerations is peculiar to Germany at the present moment. The Social Democrat-Green government and the Christian-Democrat opposition both seek to build some kind of vaguely defined special relationship with Russia and seem loath to allow the Baltic issue to become an irritant between Berlin and Moscow. Germany’s special position tends to singularize the country within NATO on the Baltic issue. While the government tends to package its reservations in a rhetoric of studied ambiguity, the conservative opposition is more open in advocating a postponement of the issue of admitting the Baltic states to NATO. These German views were aired at the Security Policy Conference, held in Munich on February 3-4. A Christian-Democrat policy paper distributed there, and presentations by two leaders of that party, appeared to be in consensus with the government’s position on postponing the consideration of Baltic accession to the alliance until an unspecified time.
In an accompanying newspaper article, Germany’s former long-serving defense minister, Volker Ruehe, went so far as to recommend against admitting the Baltic states at all. He argued that the three states are so successful in their economic and political transition as to be safe and secure on those grounds alone and through future membership in the EU. The “Ruehe doctrine” would, in effect, exclude the Baltic states from NATO because of their own success. This viewpoint, should it continue to be asserted in Berlin, can only encourage an obdurate resistance in Moscow to NATO’s enlargement (BNS, ELTA, LETA, January 25-February 5; Sueddeutsche Zeitung, February 4; see the Monitor, December 18, 21, 2000, January 8; Fortnight in Review, January 19).http://www.jamestown.org
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The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at [email protected], by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions