On September 27, Estonian and Latvian delegations handed their countries’ respective NATO Membership Action Plans (MAPs) to top officials of the alliance at its Brussels headquarters. On September 29, Lithuania followed suit. Mandated by the NATO’s Washington summit conference in April of this year, the Baltic states’ MAPs are designed to meet qualifications for admission to the alliance early in the next decade. The documents spell out coordinated measures in the military, economic and financial, legal, political and diplomatic spheres. The plans are drawn up for a five-year period and are subject to annual adaptation, so as to meet possible changes in the economic and political environments, both internal and external. Implementation of the plans is to be reviewed on an annual basis at joint conferences of the NATO Council with the Baltic states’ Foreign Affairs and Defense ministers.
Estonia’s MAP envisages: (1) raising defense spending to NATO’s benchmark level of 2 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2002; (2) creating a 30,000-strong mobilizable reserve–up from the current 25,000–while reducing the infantry component and expanding the naval, air and rapid-deployment components of that force; (3) maintaining a peacetime army of at least 3,000 conscript soldiers; and (4) emphasizing sophisticated troop training and effective air defense and antitank weapons procurement, rather than expensive heavy weaponry.
The Latvian MAP includes the following goals: (1) raising defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2003–a timetable which reflects the need to make up for the past governments’ neglect in this area; (2) creating a 50,000-strong mobilizable reserve, including regional battalions and territorial defense units; and (3) maintaining a 10,000-strong peacetime army, including 6,000 conscripts.
The three MAPs underscore the priority of common Baltic defense projects: the joint Baltic Battalion (BaltBat), naval squadron Baltron, joint airspace control system Baltnet and joint defense college BaltDefCol. These projects are currently moving ahead with technical and financial support of NATO allies, mainly the United States and the Nordic countries.
In statements accompanying the presentation of the MAPs, Presidents Lennart Meri of Estonia and Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia have set 2002 as the target date for their countries to be invited to accession negotiations. NATO, however, has declined to set an official target date for the start of accession negotiations with the Baltic states. It is also unclear whether the three countries are to be treated as a group or individually in terms of admission to the alliance. Lithuania considers itself to be somewhat more advanced than Estonia and Latvia in terms of preparedness; it consequently favors admission on an individual basis and enjoys the support of neighboring Poland in that regard. Estonia and Latvia for their part favor the group approach, which is also that of most Western military planners (BNS, ETA, LETA, September 27-30).
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