Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 138

Officials in London last week stunned the visiting Lithuanian parliament chairman, Vytautas Landsbergis, by presenting a list of reservations bordering on objections to the Baltic states’ admission to NATO. The British officials made it clear that they did not share the objections, but were conveying views which are being expressed by some allied governments and officials, and which may cause NATO’s 2002 summit to postpone a decision on inviting the Baltic states to join the alliance.

As summed up by those officials, the counterarguments to Baltic membership of NATO run as follows. 1) An alliance made up of many countries is unwieldy. The Kosovo crisis has demonstrated the difficulty of coordinating the positions of all member countries. 2) Prior to any decision on the Baltic states, NATO must be persuaded that the accession of its new members–Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary–“has been successful and productive.” 3) The Baltic states might be too small to be deemed useful to the alliance. 4) Russia, though not holding a veto on allied decisions, is an influential country opposing the admission of the Baltic states to NATO. The West, while “aware of the small nations’ concern about their security,” must at the same time take Russia’s views into account, and the Balts themselves should take a balanced view of Western and Russian interests. 5) Unlike the Central European member and candidate countries, the Baltic states were “part of the Soviet Union” (BNS, ELTA, July 13).

These counterarguments may be described, respectively, as the “growth-is- disruptive,” “one’s own merits-are-secondary,” “small-is-useless,” “defer-to-Moscow,” and “Ribbentrop-Molotov-still-haunt-us” way of thinking.

The first of these reservations reflects frustration with the unedifying behavior of a few allied governments during the Kosovo and other phases of the Balkan conflicts. The Baltic states, however, have strongly and promptly supported all of NATO’s decisions on the Balkans and other international issues. The Balts’ attitude suggests that their accession would, if anything, reinforce the alliance’s cohesion by adding a group of countries that would follow allied decisions in a predictable and disciplined way.

The second reservation would, in effect, render the Baltic states’ admission dependent upon the performance of NATO’s new members, irrespective of the Balts’ own performance in preparing for membership. Of those new members, Poland and Hungary are proving themselves beyond a doubt. But elements in the Czech government have at times openly dissented from allied policies. And some frontrunning candidate countries with large armies are economically not in a position to sustain military modernization in the near-term. Subordinating the Baltic states’ fate to considerations that relate to other countries would ultimately be a disservice to all concerned. To avoid such a pitfall–and the politically disruptive competition among aspirants and their sponsors within NATO—the Baltic states and other aspirant countries recently proposed that NATO invite all of them to accession negotiations, with the actual admission to follow in due course on the basis of the countries’ merits.

The third reservation overlooks the fact that NATO would be unthinkable without countries like Iceland or Luxemburg, which are smaller than the Baltic states, and which have proven their usefulness to the alliance. In similar ways, the Baltic states’ strategic location is a unique asset which far exceeds their size.

The fourth reservation, if taken to its logical conclusion, would imply turning Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into a grey zone, out-of-area for NATO, with the attendant consequences in terms of reduced security and potential East-West competition under uncertain rules. Should the Baltic states’ admission be dragged out in deference to Moscow’s objections, NATO will have forfeited one of its most effective arguments for enlargement, not only in the Baltic region but elsewhere as well. That argument holds that the alliance’s enlargement guarantees stability, whereas the failure to enlarge risks generating instability and even inviting destabilization.

The fifth reservation is one which had, earlier this year, prompted Landsbergis to remark that even if the Ribbentrop-Molotov line has since 1991 disappeared from the maps, a faint contour of it persists in the minds of some Western policy makers. To state that the Baltic states’ past incorporation into the Soviet Union interferes with their admission to NATO means, in effect, to penalize the Balts for the Soviet occupation (see the Monitor, January 31, May 5, 12, 24, June 15-16; Fortnight in Review, May 26).

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