THREE NONARGUMENTS AGAINST NATO’S BALTIC ENLARGEMENT. NATO’

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 37

s approaching moment of decision on Baltic membership seems to produce fresh qualms about enlargement in that region, even as older reservations are being laid to rest. The current set of misgivings runs as follows. First, Baltic entry would hurt NATO’s relations with Russia because the latter would feel both threatened and offended by such a move. We must take Moscow’s loudly stated, blanket opposition to NATO membership of “former Soviet republics” seriously. After all, the Baltic states include sizeable ethnic Russian minorities. Second, the Baltic states’ size and location might make them “indefensible” in a crunch. And, third, why not entrust the Baltic states’ security to the European Union, or why not instruct the Balts to follow Finland’s and Sweden’s neutrality models.

The first of these arguments–in its essence, “defer-to-Moscow”–would implicitly accept in the Baltic case the neo-Soviet phobia in Moscow about NATO “reaching Russia’s borders.” Yet the alliance rightly and successfully refuted that Russian objection when Poland joined NATO two years ago. By now, Moscow itself recognizes that its fears and protests had been misplaced and it seeks to mend relations with Poland. Unlike Russia, Ukraine welcomed from the outset the accession of her neighbors Poland and Hungary to NATO on the grounds that it stabilized Ukraine’s own environment and enhanced her security. Norway, for its part, has been a NATO member “on Russia’s border” for more than fifty years with beneficial, stabilizing effects in that region and an exemplary record of responsible conduct, as demonstrated again recently during the Kursk submarine disaster. And Norway is among the convinced supporters of inviting the Balts to join the alliance.

The other part of the “defer-to-Moscow” argument would presumably keep the Balts out of NATO because they had once been annexed by the Soviet Union. That notion would, however, tacitly renounce one of the fundamental principles of the post-Cold War international order–namely, that every country has an inherent right to choose its security arrangements and allies. That formula is even enshrined in the NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations (1997) and was once more subscribed to by Moscow in the OSCE’s Charter for European Security (1999). This would seem to be a compelling case for taking Russia’s word and signature on those pacts seriously. Taking the Balts into NATO would be a natural corollary of the West’s fifty-year policy of not recognizing Moscow’s occupation of the Baltic states. It would by the same token conclusively preclude bullying or ideas of restoring control over “former Soviet territories” in the future. And there is no empirical basis whatsoever for assuming that the ethnic Russian minorities as such would oppose the Baltic states’ entry into NATO. If anything, political attitudes among those population groups on the whole indicate a growing acceptance of the Baltic states’ independence and integration with the West.

The next objection to Baltic membership in NATO–“the [Baltics] are militarily indefensible”–suggests that the small Baltic states would play only the role of security consumers, without being able to perform the complementary role of security producers. In actual fact, Baltic membership would boost the allied air defense, surveillance and monitoring capabilities for the avoidance and prevention of conflict. NATO itself unites large, medium-sized and small countries–a mix which represents one of NATO’s chief virtues as an alliance of democracies and which underlies NATO’s political attractiveness.

The Balts would certainly be no “freeloaders” as allies. In terms of military spending, Lithuania and Estonia are set to attain NATO’s benchmark level of 2 percent of the gross domestic product in 2002, with Latvia scheduled to do so in 2003. Far from all of NATO’s members can boast that defense spending level. The Balts are reaching it while having to overcome the sequels of Soviet-inflicted underdevelopment. Baltic military forces are of course small, but are rapidly developing with Western assistance, and are backed up by nationwide paramilitary defense organizations. With international support, the Baltic states are already now in a position to impose high costs on any aggressor, if not to deter aggression altogether. Only NATO membership could perform that deterring function and, with it, guarantee the peace in that region.

The third argument would indefinitely postpone NATO’s enlargement in the Baltic region, making the European Union responsible for the Baltic states’ defense and security. Inasmuch as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are likely to join the EU as members within the next few years, they would be asked to accept the EU’s implicit or “back-door” security guarantees as a substitute for NATO’s actual guarantees. The problem with this argument is that the EU lacks and will lack for the foreseeable future a credible deterrent capability, without which the security guarantees cannot credibly be sustained.

In sum, EU membership is no substitute for NATO membership. If it were, then–as one Baltic statesman recently remarked–EU countries might as well drop out of NATO, but none does or would because all regard NATO as the only existing guarantee of their security.

Nor are the Swedish or the Finnish neutrality models applicable to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Disproportions of size and of wealth preclude that analogy from the outset. But an equally important reason stems as so much else from Russia’s perceptions of the region. Moscow views Sweden and Finland as parts of the “far abroad,” with the option to join NATO at any time if they chose, and thus practically immune to Russian domination. At the same time, Moscow views the Baltic states as parts of its “near abroad,” in which Russia claims a substantial say on the foreign policies and defense alignments of “former Soviet republics.” Only the admission of the Baltic states into NATO can move them from the “near abroad” into the “far abroad” in Moscow’s perception and, with that, guarantee the peace in the Baltic region (see the Monitor, December 18, 21, 2000, January 8, February 5-6; Fortnight in Review, January 19).

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