Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 93

On May 11 in Bratislava, prime ministers of ten countries aspiring to enter NATO joined with top public figures from NATO countries for a conference on “Europe’s New Democracies: Leadership and Responsibility,” as part of political preparations for NATO’s Prague summit. While advancing the case of the aspirant countries in general, the conference marked a three-fold gain for the Baltic states. First, it underscored the indispensable nature of a Baltic dimension to a new round of enlargement no later than next year. Second, it clearly shifted the emphasis from a one-Baltic-state enlargement scenario to that of admitting the three states as an indivisible group, which they in fact constitute from the regional security standpoint. And, third, it smoothed the competitive edges that had tended to develop among aspirant countries from three European regions, owing to contradictory signals and narrow agendas of a number of European allied countries.

In an address titled “It’s Time to End the Uncertainty,” Zbigniew Brzezinski told NATO allies that enlargement “should be neither a bookkeeping exercise, nor a bureaucratized guessing game, nor a political bazaar.” Noting the growth of political support in the United States and most recently even in Germany for additional admissions at the next summit, Brzezinski asked any remaining doubters to ponder what today’s situation would be, had NATO two years ago been intimidated into not admitting the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. In that case, “Central Europe and the Baltic states would feel acutely vulnerable.” Brzezinski urged that clear criteria and a clear timetable for early enlargement be adopted, and that invitations be issued next year to at least three, and perhaps several more countries, including one or more Baltic states, to join the alliance.

Czech President Vaclav Havel, while strongly endorsing neighboring Slovakia’s admission to the alliance, focused on the three Baltic states’ candidacies as a test for NATO itself. He described the Baltic states not only as an integral part of the West historically and culturally, but also as the West’s eastern border, with a compelling case on those counts for admission to NATO–“especially as they are working hard to be ready for it.” Distancing himself from “Western politicians who insincerely truckle to Russia, supposedly in the interest of peace and friendship,” Havel rebutted the pretense that so huge and so different a country can be integrated into the West without fatal disruption to Western institutions. Instead, he defined the West as “the territory across which NATO can and should extend, from Alaska to [Estonia’s capital] Tallinn.”

Havel warned the hesitant among the allies that any further delay would only make the admission of the Baltic states more difficult. He also pointed out that failure to offer them membership on the basis of “Russia’s geopolitical or strategic interests or even its prestige, would amount to confirming the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, recognizing Russia’s right to a cordon sanitaire or sphere of interest euphemistically termed ‘near abroad,’ in short rededicating ourselves to the old principle of dividing the world and nations regardless of their will.” Moreover, Havel observed, it would unwittingly feed Moscow’s suspicions that NATO actually harbored aggressive intentions.

Hungary’s Foreign Affairs Minister Janos Martonyi reaffirmed during the conference the case he had made the preceding week while on a Baltic visit, namely that a decision on admitting the three Baltic states would become more difficult if delayed past 2002, with the likely result of national dismay in the candidate countries that are working hard to qualify. “We feel–he said–that there is a real risk of instability if the decisions are dragged out indefinitely.” And “the sooner the Baltic states join, the better for all.” Welcoming the Bush administration’s commitment to enlargement and the growing bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress, Martonyi also underscored the value of solidarity among Central European and Baltic countries in promoting an early second enlargement round. Martonyi and his Baltic hosts cited their countries’ common, all too recent experience of invasion and occupation.

In a related context, Brzezinski urged Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic–the countries admitted to NATO in 1999 in the first enlargement round–to fully carry out the commitments they had undertaken prior to membership: “Failure to do so would certainly be exploited by opponents of further enlargement.”

A year ago this month in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, the three Baltic states and six others–Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and Macedonia, collectively the Vilnius Nine–launched the concept of an all-encompassing enlargement of NATO. At the Bratislava conference, the group became the Vilnius Ten through the addition of Croatia and issued a joint statement of political solidarity, unimpaired by the de facto frontrunner status of five of those countries in relation to the other five. The document “rejects notions of security based on spheres of influence” or exclusion of aspirant countries “because of geography, history or current instabilities.” In practice, that would simply mean adhering to the principle that Moscow has no veto on NATO’s decisions or on the aspiring countries’ choice (BNS, ELTA, LETA, ETA, May 3-4, 11-12; Bratislava conference press releases, NATO Enlargement Daily Brief, May 11-12; see the Monitor, February 6, 22, March 6, April 11, 23; Fortnight in Review, April 13).