Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 105

The North Atlantic Council and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council held back-to-back meetings at the foreign affairs minister level on May 24-25 in Florence, Italy. The Baltic states’ quest for NATO membership figured prominently on the agenda of both events. The meetings reviewed the first annual reports on the implementation of the Membership Action Plans (MAPs) by Baltic and other aspiring countries. The evaluation was on the whole positive, focusing on the three Baltic states’ efforts to become not only “consumers” but also providers of security in the framework of NATO. As evidence of such progress, the conferees cited the successful participation of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian units in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans under NATO command.

NATO ministers, furthermore, signaled approval of the commitment made at the May 19 conference in Vilnius by the three Baltic states and six Central and Southeast European countries to earn invitations to accession negotiations by 2002, the date of NATO’s next summit. Foreign Affairs Minister Algirdas Saudargas of Lithuania, as host of the May 19 conference, presented its decisions to the NATO ministers. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, German Foreign Affairs Minister Joschka Fischer, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, and Hungary’s Foreign Affairs Minister Janos Martonyi–the latter on behalf of the newly admitted trio of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary–spoke up in support of the Vilnius decisions.

In what may be taken as a pointed reminder, the NATO ministers underscored the sine qua non of adequate defense spending by aspirant countries. Due to revenue shortfalls this year, Lithuania and Latvia have fallen behind schedule in their effort to raise defense spending to the NATO benchmark of 2 percent of the annual gross domestic product over the next two to three years. In Lithuania, moreover, the conservative government faces attacks on the defense budget from resurgent left-of-center parties which seem poised to win the parliamentary elections this coming autumn. Only Estonia, the Baltic leader on economic reforms, is at this point firmly on course to reach the 2 percent level by 2002.

Joint efforts by the Baltic states in upgrading their defense posture and achieving inter-Baltic military interoperability form a major part of their national MAPs. Those efforts receive substantial assistance from NATO countries in terms of planning, financing and technical assistance. The meetings in Florence confirmed the Baltic commitment to such teamwork, as did the May 26 joint session in Tartu of the Baltic Council of Ministers and the Baltic Assembly (intergovernmental and interparliamentary body, respectively, of the three Baltic states). The participants resolved to intensify efforts at joint procurement of military equipment, a relatively novel concept. They signed, moreover, a set of agreements on the exchange and protection of classified information–a prerequisite to the joint procurement. And they agreed to concentrate their resources on four existing trilateral programs–the joint peacekeeping battalion Baltbat, the common airspace control system Baltnet, the joint naval squadron Baltron and the common defense college Baltdefcol in Tartu–deferring further trilateral programs until those underway approach fruition.

Estonia’s Prime Minister Mart Laar, a trained historian, told the joint session in Tartu that the three Baltic states need to draw lessons from their failure to cooperate during the first independence period. Their cooperation during the 1920s and 1930s was only declarative, with the result that Moscow was able to intimidate and subjugate them individually, Laar pointed out. The occupying power always tried to nip Baltic cooperation in the bud and evidenced “panicky fear” when the cooperation became a reality ten years ago. From the historian’s perspective, Laar observed, Baltic cooperation is more developed and purposeful now than at any time in the past. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have learned the value of demonstrating that “pressure on one Baltic state will bring a response from all three…. The recent [Russian] propaganda attacks on Latvia produced Estonian and Lithuanian reactions which demonstrated our unity” (NATO communiques, May 25; BNS, LETA, Tallinn Radio, May 24-27).