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Baltic Security and NATO
In Riga, I was asked to speak at an international conference on the impact of NATO membership for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on the wider security and stability in Europe.

Remarks at international conference on
“Baltic Membership in NATO – Enhanced Stability and Security in Europe”, Riga, November 9, 2001.

Let me start by stating the obvious: It’s truly an honour to be here today, addressing a topic that only few a decade ago thought was going to be on the agenda, but which is today important for the security and stability of our entire continent.

Latvia, along with Estonia and Lithuania, has come a very long way during the last decade. Few of us expected that as much could be achieved in as short a time.

But that much has been achieved does not mean that we are at the end of the road. We all know that the process of internal reform to build a competitive economy, a true rule of the law, a society where all its inhabitants feel truly at home, and where everyone can approach the future with confidence, is a long and a demanding one. But by its record during the past ten years, Latvia along with its two neighbours, has proved that it has the will and the maturity to master these challenges.

A decade ago or so, I used to say that the situation of the Baltic countries was the litmus test of the new security order that we were seeking to establish in Europe after the end of the Cold War.

Looking back, I have to confess that this was only partly correct. It was based on the then rather natural assumption that the core of the challenges we were facing had to do with the relationship between Russia and the rest of Europe.

And with that perspective the situation of the Baltic countries, having been a contested twilight zone between Russia and other parts of Europe for centuries, was obviously a core challenge.

The three countries had just regained the freedom and independence that the occupation of 1940 had so brutally deprived them off. But at hearth they remained insecure, uncertain of their future, and with the knowledge that there were likely to be those that regarded the situation achieved in 1991 as just transitory, perhaps drawing parallels with the situation when, in the case of Latvia and Estonia, their independence was first recognized in 1920.

All nations are product of their own particular histories. Enter a bookstore in Paris, New York, London or Berlin, and you can find ample testimony to this fact. Our nations, also in this our ago of globalisation, remain shaped by the collective experiences of the past that have shaped our national consciousness.

For the three Baltic nations, these have been the experiences of a struggle for national and cultural rights and independence in a region of Europe in which competing powers – Swedes, Poles, Germans, Russians – have also sought to assert their powers.

And it has been the experience that at some point in time, there is always the risk that some of these powers will come together and make deals at the detriment of the fate of these small nations along the Eastern shores of the Baltic Sea in the north of Europe.

But these fears, part of that collective conscience that has shaped all nations, are not limited to the three Baltic countries. To some extent, you find the same in all European countries.

Napoleon and Alexander at Tilsit. The Berlin Congress on the Balkans. The dictate to Germany at Versailles. Stalin and Ribbentrop in Moscow. The deals on Europe at Yalta.

All of these were meant to secure the stability of the time according to the will of the dominant powers at the time. But all of these caused as much insecurity as security, and at the end contributed more to the instability of our continent than towards its stability.

When we entered the post-Cold War era in 1989, followed by the regaining of the independence of the Baltic countries and the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, we all wanted to build a new order of peace and prosperity in Europe based on principles different from either the balance-of-power or the deterrent of the past.

During the first decade of the post-Cold War era, there was both success and failure.

The peaceful reunification of Germany was a truly historic achievement. So was the peaceful withdrawal of Soviet and Russian sovereignty and power from the three Baltic countries.

In other cases, we were suddenly confronted with challenges we were not sufficiently prepared for. The political order in the multi-ethnic mosaic of South-Eastern Europe once again surfaced on the agenda of international politics, and we failed to avert a succession of wars and conflicts thar might not yet have fully come to an end.

When we talked about the situation of the Baltic countries as the litmus test of the new order we sought to establish in Europe, we underestimated the extent to which old national and cultural tensions and rivalries would resurface. There were not one, but several, litmus test, and while we have been doing well on some, we have been doing less well on others.

For me, it was obvious from the very beginning that the future of the three Baltic countries could only be secured by their integration into a wider international framework. Respecting the national and cultural identities we all cherish, it was obvious that the tighter this integration could be, the better would it be for their security, their stability and their future.

This was not only, and not even primarily, a question of being able to meet some imagined future new threat from a resurgent and revanchist Russia. No close reader of history can entirely discount that possibility, however distant it appears today.

It was primarily a question of giving the three Baltic nations, and their re-emerging national political cultures, the confidence in the future necessary in order to be able to take all the decisions necessary to secure their internal as well as external stability in the future.

Looking back over the past years, it is obvious that the process of preparing for accession to both the European Union and NATO has been the major factor driving political, economic and social reforms in all the three countries. The processes of integration have provided the blueprints necessary to guide a very demanding transition from a run-down, closed, and totalitarian system to modern European economies and open societies.

This has affected every aspect of the policies necessary in order to fully join the family of European nations and the structures of Atlantic security. There has been major progress in both Latvia and Estonia, with Lithuania being in a different situation, in meeting the challenges left also by the policies of demographic occupation of the Soviet decades, and starting to turn what a decade ago looked as a major problem into what should become a major possibility for the future.

We all know that there is a close relationship between the internal and the external situation of a country. And we all know, that in these respects those states that are the home of major national groups different from the constituent nation have a more demanding situation to cope with.

After years primarily active in other parts of Europe, I have been able to walk the streets of Riga, Tallinn, Tartu and Narva more frequently again during the last year, and I have been impressed with the progress I have seen in this respect.

Slowly, the painful legacy of the decades of occupation is giving way to a new understanding of the potential power in a more integrated Europe of states being able to draw not only on one, but on several nations and cultures and traditions.

There is no doubt whatsoever that this progress has been greatly facilitated by the process of gradual integration into the European Union, as well as by the sense of security given by the hope that these countries will also be able to be fully a part of the structures of Euro-Atlantic security in the form of NATO.

Without these two powerful factors, the situation might well have been a different one in the past ten years. And it is through these two powerful factors, that we all have the best assurance that the processes of internal and external integration can continue in the decades ahead. We are not at the end of the road.

There is no doubt that this is in the interest of the stability and security of all of Europe. We should have learnt by now, that insecurity and instability in one part of Europe easily becomes an insecurity and instability for all parts of Europe.

And these painful weeks after September 11, we have relearnt the lesson that this applies globally as well. Zones of instability risks becoming not only zones of regional insecurity, but also of global concern and even global threat.

Far too often, the question of whether the three Baltic nations should become members of NATO or not is framed in the terms of the military confrontations of times that have passed. There are discussions on whether their national defence efforts are enough, or whether there is really any possibility of defending small pieces of land against a determined assault by a major power.

Every nation needs a capability to defend its own territory. In the case of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, major efforts are underway to build up a credible such capability. My own country Sweden is honoured to play a major part in supplying modern army material in substantial quantities – a number of full battalion equipments sets are being transferred - to all three countries. Others are doing other important contributions, for example the Baltic Air Surveillance Network.

These efforts are important. The Baltic countries need a capability to control their land, air and sea territories as part of the control necessary of the overall land, air and sea territories of Europe. These are long-term efforts that require also substantial financial resources.
But these efforts are not the key to the stability and the security of the area. The key lies in the assurances given by the integration into wider European and Atlantic structures that the eras of the backroom deals, the more or less agreed occupations and the constant instabilities across Europe are gone.

This is the true message of the parallel process of integration into the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance.

And when it is clear that the era of backroom deals, semi-accepted occupations and constant instabilities are gone, then those forces that under other circumstances might dream of, perhaps even plan or plot such certain changes, or those that correspondingly fear such changes, with them often reinforcing each other, will disappear from the scene, paving the way for a situation in which issues that are highly contentious today might relatively easily resolved tomorrow.

Thus, we have the possibility of arriving at a self-reinforcing vicious circle of external stability and internal integration that will contribute to the development of the entire region.

In my own country, it was very highly contentious in the early 1990’s to state that Sweden was extremely unlikely ever to remain neutral towards any threat directed against the security of the three Baltic countries. We had not yet digested the new European realities.

Today, it is widely accepted that my country doesn’t even have the theoretical possibility of neutrality when it comes to threats against fellow members of the European Union, and taken for granted that all the three Baltic countries will soon belong to this category.

And today, it is widely assumed that these three countries will soon be able to take the steps into membership of NATO as well. There is a broad consensus that this will contribute to stability in the wider Baltic area that it is thus in the interest of all the countries of the region, as well as the rest of Europe.

Over time, this will obviously affect the security policy orientation of Sweden as well.

In a different geographical and historical situation, we don’t feel as if we have a security deficit that makes the question of membership in NATO imminent or urgent.

The priority, for the time being, is the building up of the European Security and Defence Policy within the EU and in the closest coordination with NATO, to which must now be added all the counter-terrorist tasks made far more urgent after September 11.

But as the situation evolves, I believe that both Sweden and Finland will feel that we are in the risk of developing an influence deficit on question of security in Europe that makes it natural for is to take the logical step into the structures of NATO as well. There is simply no reason why we should not be among the nations around all the tables where the discussions on the stability and peace in Europe are held.

After September 11, we have left the post-Cold War era of optimism and confidence, and entered a new era of insecurity and instability. But difficult as the tasks we are now confronted with are, we must also see the possibilities that are there.

There is no doubt that Russia has its own domestic reasons for seeking a close collaboration with the United States and the European Union in this new situation. We must make clear that we will not compromise on our values and our views. But there is no doubt either that we also have much to gain from a closer and better relationship with Russia.

This applies not the least to the Baltic countries. Throughout its turbulent history, Riga has always been a multi-national city. Today, the Latvian city of Riga is one of the few truly multi-national capital cities of Europe. Tomorrow, the European city of Riga has a potential rivalled by very few in this part of Europe.

In my view, we must now open a new discussion on the nature of the relationship between Russia and NATO. With also the Baltic countries, as well as the countries of Central Europe, being members of NATO, we have an obvious interest in a closer relationship with Russia when it comes to handling the different new security threats that we are confronted with.

The extension of close security cooperation towards Russia is the necessary and logical next step after the phase of further enlargement of NATO now being discussed.

After September 11, we are discussing security threats over a much wider spectrum than we often did before. Asymmetric threats have become the fashion of the day as we struggle with the demanding task of bringing those responsible for the mass murders in Manhattan and elsewhere to justice.

Increasingly, we see that we must confront issues of chaos and disorder, of collapsing states and rising criminality, of imploding economies and exploding nations, and of fallacies and fundamentalisms within different faiths across the world. In a world drawing closer and closer together, we are all neighbours of chaos.

This makes it even more important to build the stable security structures in Europe, with the European Union and NATO, and with a closer relationship with Russia, that will make it possible for all of us to concentrate on the wider issues of the world that we are becoming increasingly aware of, and that will be increasingly important to the future security of all of us.


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