Baltoskepticism–NATO’s counterpart to the Euroskepticism which lingers elsewhere–is slowly but clearly losing ground among Western European members of the alliance. This incremental shift of opinion accompanies a stronger American momentum toward NATO’s Baltic enlargement. Support is now growing also in NATO Europe for inviting Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to join the alliance at its next summit. Significantly, much of the added support in Europe comes from policymakers who used to be noncommittal or even refractory toward an early admission of the three Baltic states to the alliance.
NATO’s Baltoskeptics on both sides of the Atlantic basically fall into three groups. One–which includes Germany’s governing Social-Democrats, for example–feels that the alliance’s Baltic enlargement would upset Russia and jeopardize the national business with it. Another–including, for instance, some allies on the Mediterranean flank–would favor the early accession to NATO of certain countries other than the Baltics. And yet another questions the Baltic states’ qualifications and overall readiness to join NATO in the near term.
In the course of debates, those three basic positions often intersect and reinforce each other. The cumulative effect could hold off an allied decision to take in the Balts. And that possibility in turn emboldens the Kremlin to challenge the growth and the very role of NATO. For a while, shrill tones from Moscow seemed to feed second thoughts in some Western councils about NATO’s Baltic enlargement. But as the debates take their course and the allied summit draws within sight, the Baltoskeptic ranks are thinning. Some governments and policymakers, previously identified with that stance, have recently come out in favor of admitting all three Baltic states to the alliance without needless delay.
Thus, earlier this month, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuliano Amato declared: “There’s no sense in delaying NATO’s enlargement because of Russian opposition. That problem should be treated like an aching tooth. If you just wait, the problem will grow worse. You have to go to the dentist immediately!” Amato was speaking at a joint press conference with his Estonian counterpart Mart Laar in Rome. “Considering Estonia’s population size,” the Italian prime minister went on, “Estonia’s contribution to NATO peacekeeping operations is really remarkable and shows the professional excellence of its military.” He drove home the oft-overlooked point that a candidate country’s qualifications are not judged by the country’s physical size, but by the readiness to contribute to the common security proportionately to its size.
Amato’s dentist analogy calls to mind a recent comment by Latvia’s foreign affairs minister, Indulis Berzins, about the advisability of admitting these three small states to NATO as a group, instead of taking them in one by one and inflaming Moscow each time. If you must cut the cat’s tail–Berzins cited his country’s folklore–do it just once instead of three separate times.
On April 13, Czech President Vaclav Havel told the international press that all three Baltic states, along with the Czech Republic’s eastern neighbor Slovakia, ought to be admitted to NATO as a matter of priority next year. His unique moral authority enables Havel to address this issue more forthrightly than some other leaders might do publicly. “The new international order is being born now,” he said, “and Russia should not perceive the Baltic states as its satellites.” With an eye to trends in Russia’s internal developments and foreign policy, Havel advised against any delay in taking the Balts into NATO: “The more it is postponed, the more difficult it will become.” Four days later in Prague, Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy received the Lithuanian armed forces commander, Brigadier General Jonas Kronkaitis. According to Vetchy’s announcement, he “praised the three Baltic states for their concerted strategy in the quest for accession to NATO.” This is in tune with Havel’s support for inviting all three, not just one of them, to join the alliance at the next summit. And it shows that a special interest in promoting non-Baltic candidacies–such as that of Slovakia–is fully compatible with taking in the Baltic states in the same round, as long as they qualify.
RESIDUAL POLITICAL OBJECTIONS CHALLENGED.