Exploring the role of civil society, diaspora, governments, and media
Hundreds of thousands of Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians were forced to flee their homelands during World War II and tens of thousands came to America, setting up new lives and organizations in their adopted home. Some older organizations, especially among the Lithuanians, had already existed in the U.S. for decades. With a deep desire to see their homelands become free again, Baltic-Americans also organized politically.
Since the 1950s, the Baltic-American community played an active role in efforts to raise awareness about Baltic issues in the United States, and worked with U.S. officials to gather support for the restoration of independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
One of the milestones was the establishment of the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) in 1961 by its three parent organizations, the American Latvian Association, the Estonian American National Council, and the Lithuanian American Council. It allowed to better coordinate common efforts, and after regaining independence, one of the most important goals was to work towards NATO membership.
Some of the examples of the advocacy efforts between the 1950s and 1990 include regular communication with the U.S. Administration and members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, organizing protests, raising awareness in the U.S. media, and recognizing friends and supporters with Baltic Freedom awards. One of the symbolic highlights during this period was the proclamation of June 14 as Baltic Freedom Day by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. A pivotal turning point in the Baltic fight for freedom was the peaceful Baltic Way demonstration on August 23, 1989, which received widespread international recognition.
Events in 1990 and 1991 marked the end of a half century of occupation of the Baltic countries by the Soviet Union, with the Supreme Councils in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania declaring the restoration of independence in each country. International recognition followed.
Although the restoration of independence in the Baltic countries happened relatively peacefully (witness the “Singing Revolution”), Soviet military actions resulted in the loss of lives and injuries during events in 1991 in the three Baltic countries.
The United States never recognized the Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries, famously setting a standard of non-recognition via the Welles Declaration issued on July 23, 1940. This helped Baltic diplomats over the years in their efforts to preserve legitimacy and continue to work in the interests of the Baltic nations. On September 2, 1991, the U.S once again formally recognized the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
During this period, the Baltic Institute (BI) was established in the United States. The BI helped coordinate and support defense and security ties between the U.S. and Baltic countries, and was led by Baltic-Americans with experience in the U.S. military.
The year 1992 marked the first steps in renewing meaningful transatlantic ties and starting cooperation with NATO, the United States, and with other allies.
For instance, in March, NATO Secretary-General Manfred Wörner consulted with Latvian leaders on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Latvia and the protection of Latvian borders. In July, representatives of the US government were invited to participate in a NATO sponsored visit to Latvia.
During the year, the administration of the U.S. National Guard prepared a concept paper for National Guard participation in the development of the Latvian Home Guard. The Military Liaison Team concept was established and strong cooperation developed between the Michigan National Guard units with Latvia, the Pennsylvania Guard with Lithuania, and the Maryland Guard with Estonia.
In a broader context of NATO enlargement, the leaders of Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary publicly announced for the first time their desire to seek full NATO membership at the Visegrad Summit in Prague on May 6.
The year 1993 marked the establishment of the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) to counter a perceived faltering of United States policy with regard to the Russian Federation.
During a meeting in May, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott recalled that Lennart Meri, President of Estonia, "… was looking down the road to when Russian troops might re-occupy his country since Yeltsin was sure to give way to a more traditional Russian leader. The only way to protect Estonia was with membership in NATO under the American nuclear umbrella."
The U.S. began to work on a new policy toward Central and Eastern Europe "…to bolster democracy, reduce trade barriers, and reward nations undertaking economic reform and developed a guide for the U.S, policy toward NATO.”
Significantly, on November 30, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher said at the CSCE Plenary Session in Rome, Italy, that: "…We have proposed to our NATO allies a Partnership for Peace that will extend practical security cooperation to the North Atlantic Cooperation Council partners and other European nations. At the same time, we propose to open the door to an evolutionary expansion of NATO membership."
During 1991-1993, United States European Command (USEUCOM), headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, played a major role in establishing cooperation programs with the nations that became newly independent after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Through an interagency process that began in 1990, USEUCOM was tasked with forming teams to develop cooperation programs initially in 12 countries. The programs’ goals included "promoting the development of non-political militaries accountable to democratically elected civilian leadership…moving toward friendly security relationships…and helping the military understand U.S. defense policies and Western society," while remaining "sensitive to democratic civilian concerns and avoid[ing] programs undermining the authority of civilian leadership."
Awareness of Russia’s sensitivities around what it considered to be U.S. expansion into its former territory was another guiding concern.
Under USEUCOM’s Joint Contact Team Program (JCTP), Military Liaison Teams were established in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1993. Of the 40 active duty, reserve, and National Guard military personnel who worked for the JCTP or on these teams on behalf of the Baltic nations, at least 15 were Americans of Baltic descent eager for the unique opportunity to serve in their U.S. military capacity while helping bring their countries of heritage into the Western security fold. The teams facilitated the National Guard State Partnership programs later that year and eventually evolved into the state National Guard-led Offices of Defense Cooperation that manage military cooperation programs, training, and exchanges today.
The year 1994 marked significant progress in closer Baltic transatlantic integration. On February 14, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. Following that, on March 22 the U.S. allowed the Baltic countries to receive U.S. defense technologies and to participate in the Foreign Military Sales Program.
On May 5, The NATO Revitalization Act (H.R. 4358), introduced by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), called for the Administration to “…establish special benchmarks & a timetable for enlargement,” and mentioned the Baltics.
On July 6, in a historic visit, President Bill Clinton traveled to Latvia – the first U.S. president in office to do so. During his visit he met with presidents of all three Baltic countries to discuss U.S.-Baltic cooperation and the Russian troop withdrawal process from the Baltic states.
On July 14, the U.S. Senate adopted the NATO Participation Act by a vote of 76-22. It was introduced by Senators Hank Brown (R-CO), Paul Simon (D-IL), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and others. It proposed to make qualified CEE countries eligible to purchase excess defense equipment.
On July 26, an agreement was signed between Russia and Estonia to withdraw troops from Estonia by August 31, 1994, and paved the way for troop withdrawals from Latvia by the same date. Russian troops had left Lithuania exactly a year earlier.
On October 7, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the NATO Participation Act of 1994 defining U.S. commitment to expand NATO. Following that, on December 1, Warren Christopher, the U.S. Secretary of State, in an address at the meeting of members of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels, said: “The United States believes it is time to begin the process - to begin deliberate consideration of the practical requirements for adding new members to the Alliance…The process of expansion should be steady, deliberate, and transparent. Each nation should be considered individually. No country outside of NATO will have a vote over any other.”
On January 11, 1995, Valdis Birkavs, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, during a visit to Washington, DC, introduced “Latvia’s ‘Checkerboard’ NATO Integration Plan” to members of the Clinton Administration.
On January 31, Linas Kojelis, President of the U.S.-Baltic Foundation (USBF) in his letter to Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), Chairman of the House Committee on International Relations, stressed the importance of the Baltic states to be permitted to join NATO. He also emphasized that “…blockage of Baltic entry into NATO, or making them ‘second class candidates,’ is effectively a veto by Russia.”
On February 8, all three presidents of the Baltic states inaugurated the United Nation’s first Baltic peacekeeping battalion.
On March 24-26, JBANC organized its first “Conference on Baltic Affairs” in Washington, DC. In April, the Latvian Parliament adopted a new foreign policy which included the objective to become a NATO member.
On November 21, 32 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to President Clinton expressing concern over reports that the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces was considering a new military doctrine that called for moving Russian troops into Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, if they were to join NATO. On November 22, during a press conference in Riga, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry stated that Latvia was making rapid progress and conforming to the five standards NATO had set for new members.
1996 Part 1
The year 1996 marked increased readiness for the Baltic countries to move towards the goal of joining NATO.
On January 16 in Riga, Latvia, commanders of the Baltic navies agreed that their fleets would participate in NATO Partnership for Peace exercises to be held in the Baltic Sea in 1996. These exercises included the summer BALTOPS and autumn Baltic Circle operations. In addition, the commanders agreed that in July there would be a joint Baltic navy exercise under the operational name Amber Sea.
On January 19, an American aeronautics delegation met with Baltic specialists in Riga to discuss Baltic regional airspace control and monitoring. The Americans proposed to upgrade Baltic airspace control systems to align them with Western European standards. Assistance was to be provided within the context of the NATO Partnership for Peace program.
On January 24, speaking in Brussels after meeting with NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, Estonia’s Prime Minister Tiit Vähi stated that Russian extremists posed a threat to the security of the Baltic countries. Therefore, concluded Mr. Vähi, NATO should assist the Baltic countries militarily, encourage their military cooperation, and in due course, admit them into NATO. This was to be a strictly defensive measure because Estonian membership in NATO was not to be considered an anti-Russian action, but as a step toward achieving regional stability.
On February 2, the first joint maneuvers of the Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion began at the Ādaži military camp near Riga. This was the first time that soldiers from all three Baltic nations had participated in such maneuvers, which represented a new phase in the development of the battalion, which was scheduled to be ready for deployment in 1997.
On February 12, President Clinton in a meeting with representatives from the CEEC said he wouldn`t delay the NATO enlargement timetable, and stated his Administration would respond appropriately if Russia engaged in aggressive behavior.
On March 13, Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis told ambassadors from the EU and NATO countries that the existence of Latvia in the modern world cannot be linked to a status of neutrality. Latvia, a small country, cannot hope to maintain its integrity standing alone. Therefore, Latvia must join the states of Europe in matters of trade and security. His wish is that there be a `modern and European-like Latvia` within Europe. On March 20, in a meeting in Prague, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced that “NATO has made a commitment to take in new members and it will not keep new democracies in the waiting room forever.”
On April 3, Estonian Prime Minister Tiit Vähi stated that in view of the current communist resurgence in Russia, western nations should guarantee the security of those nations left out of NATO, including the Baltic nations.
Throughout the process, we also saw attempts of disinformation and scare tactics employed by Russia. For example, on April 11, in an article by Lt. Gen. Valeriy Dementyev and Anton Surikov of the Defense Research Institute of Russia, NATO and the U.S. were labeled as “potential adversaries” and the Baltic states as “enemies.” On April 27, in an interview, Anton Surikov, with the Defense Research Institute of the Russian Federation, stated that “...if NATO expanded to the Baltic states, Russia would position its troops in the countries; and if the West defended the Baltics, Russia would launch its nuclear weapons.”
On April 17, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana ended his Baltics visit in Riga by stating at a press conference that NATO membership was still possible for all three Baltic nations, but did not answer questions regarding what type of, if any, protection would be offered to countries left out of NATO. Estonian President Lennart Meri stated that if NATO expansion comes at the expense of the security of other countries, then it follows that NATO will not be fulfilling its purpose.
On April 26, at a symposium in Washington, DC, sponsored by the National Confederation of American Ethnic Groups, the ambassadors of the Baltic states (Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia, Ojars Kalnins of Latvia and Alfonsas Eidintas of Lithuania) discussed NATO expansion and stressed the necessity for the Baltic countries to join NATO.
On May 5, delegates to the American Latvian Association (ALA) 45th Annual Congress in DC adopted a resolution calling for the U.S. government “...to introduce a NATO resolution declaring that any attempt to restrict the sovereignty of any democratic country in Central and Eastern Europe by force, threat of force, or economic extortion will be opposed collectively by the member countries of the NATO alliance by means considered adequate to ensure stability and peace…”
1996 Part 2
On June 4, NATO Enlargement Facilitation Act of 1996 (S. 1830, H.R. 3564) bills were introduced by Senator Robert Dole (R-KS) and by Representative Benjamin Gillman (R-NY). They amended the NATO Participation Act of 1994 by expediting the transition of emerging democracies in Central and Eastern Europe into full membership in NATO.
On June 25, the presidents of the three Baltic states (Lennart Meri of Estonia, Guntis Ulmanis of Latvia, Algridas Brazauskas of Lithuania) met with President Bill Clinton at the White House where they “expressed satisfaction with their cooperation through the Partnership for Peace programs…” and also noted “...that NATO enlargement remains on track…”
On July 1, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, as part of his reelection campaign, stated that Russia will never leave the Baltic region, and that Russia would never permit the Baltic countries to join NATO. Previously he also expressed in a letter to President Clinton that he did not publicly support NATO membership for the Baltics.
On July 19, Operation Baltic Challenge, the first NATO run land-based military exercises held in the Baltic countries, commenced at the Latvian Army Training Center at Ādaži. United States Marines and National Guard soldiers from three states joined soldiers from the military establishments of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in the maneuvers.
On July 23, by a vote of 353 to 55, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill calling for the expansion of NATO and the granting of up to sixty million dollars to assist the three leading candidates for NATO membership, as well as any other country, as designated by the President. Many House members criticized the Clinton administration for its slowness in fostering NATO expansion.
On July 25, the U.S. Senate approved S. 1830, the NATO Enlargement Facilitation Act of 1996 by a vote 81-16.
On August 20, the fourth meeting of the Baltic and Nordic foreign ministers convened in Riga, with issues focusing on regional cooperation, Baltic security, and Baltic integration into European and Atlantic structures. Represented at the meeting were the classic ‘3 + 5’ Baltic and Nordic countries: Estonia, Latvia, and, Lithuania, plus, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden...The foreign ministers also agreed there was no substitute for NATO membership for the Baltic countries as far as their security was concerned.
On August 28, Germany’s Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel met with his Baltic counterparts in Leipzig to discuss how to facilitate their entry into both the EU and NATO. The meeting marked the fifth anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Germany and the three Baltic countries. He not only assured the visitors of German assistance in joining the EU and NATO but also in dealing with their relations with Russia.
In September, responding to the statement of U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry that the Baltic countries were not ready because of their armed forces capabilities, the Baltic presidents promised to make necessary steps to fulfill all NATO membership eligibility requirements.
On September 10, Lithuania’s defense council decided to double Lithuania’s defense expenditures in 1997. The move was seen by commentators both as a means to bolster Lithuania’s campaign to join NATO and also as a necessary step due to recent signals from the West that NATO admission may not be forthcoming, and that the Baltic nations may be left to fend for themselves.
On September 28, in the wake of comments by the U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry on the previous day, the three Baltic presidents issued a joint statement stating that the Baltic nations would make a renewed commitment to gain NATO membership as soon as possible by intensifying diplomatic efforts and making necessary sacrifices to upgrade their military forces to meet NATO standards and to defend themselves better.
On September 30, President Clinton signed an omnibus appropriations act into law, which included an amendment to the NATO Enlargement Facilitation Act of 1996 and a statement that the forcible incorporation of the Baltics into the USSR should not be a disadvantage to their NATO aspirations.
On October 10, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, speaking in Denmark, echoed Secretary Perry, stated that the Baltic nations have not been ruled out as candidates for NATO membership.
On October 16, Valdis Pavlovskis of the Baltic American Freedom League met with Daniel Fried, Special Assistant to the President on Central and Eastern Europe) to discuss Baltic security, NATO enlargement, Baltic-Russian relations and the U.S. role.
In Brussels, in a speech before delegates from each NATO member nation, Lithuanian President Algridas Brazauskas made a strong pitch to the assembly for Lithuania’s admission to NATO. Brazauskas urged that such admission would go towards repairing the historical wrong of Western Europe standing by while the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania in 1940.
On October 26, representatives of seven Baltic American organizations participated in a meeting held at the White House to discuss Baltic security and the importance of U.S. efforts to stabilize the region. Members of the meeting were presented with copies of the U.S/. Department of State “Baltic Action Plan” on the integration of the Baltic countries into the West outlining multilateral, neighborly, and bilateral relations.
On November 1, the U.S. Committee to Expand NATO, committed to the admission of additional European nations to NATO, was incorporated as a DC-based non-profit. Its goal was to seek bipartisan political and public support for NATO enlargement. The group strongly believed that a united, democratic, and free Europe wouldn’t need to rely on American troops.
On November 26, during a summit in Riga, the Baltic presidents issued a joint declaration confirming Baltic determination to work for NATO membership.
On January 21, Representative Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-NY) introduced H.Con.Res. 10 advocating for early membership in NATO for the Baltics, which was supported by 42 co-sponsors.
On February 12, the Embassy of the Russian Federation discussed Russia`s long-term policy towards the Baltics by stating: “The entry of Baltic countries into NATO would become a serious barrier between these states and Russia, [and, ed.] would have an extremely negative impact on the prospects of formation of a long-term model of constructive cooperation in the region.”
On March 5, the President Boris Yeltsin of Russia warned the rest of Europe about the supposed danger of eastward NATO expansion. He threatened that “no one in Europe could ever feel secure,” while also “insisting that Russia had no imperialism designs on the three Baltic countries.”
On March 18, the Baltic American Freedom League (BAFL) sent a letter to President Clinton asking him to tell President Yeltsin to stop falsely accusing and threatening the Baltics, as well as to reiterate support of the Baltics.
On March 21, during the Helsinki summit, President Yeltsin had asked President Clinton “for private assurance that NATO should not bring in former captive Soviet republics.” Following this exchange, President Clinton told reporters “NATO enlargement at the Madrid summit will proceed and President Yeltsin made it clear that he thinks it’s a mistake.”
On March 22, in a reference to the recent summit, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov stated “I hope the Baltic states will not join NATO, because this would shatter the whole relationship between Russia and NATO.”
On April 3, the defense ministers of the Baltic states met in Vilnius to sign a mutual cooperation communique. An Estonian spokesman warned that the signing of the communique should “not be interpreted to be the formation of a defense union” but instead “is designed to increase the changes of NATO admission for the three Baltic nations.”
An editorial, published on April 9 in the Washington Post, argued that Baltic nations “should be admitted to NATO as they more than other nations need NATO protection from Russia.”
On April 24, Representative Benjamin A Gilman (R-NY) introduced the European Security Act of 1997 (H.R. 1431) seeking to ensure that NATO`s door will remain open and recommending that the Baltics gain membership when they satisfy all pre-conditions. Also on April 24, the ambassadors to the United States from the Baltics testified at the Helsinki Commission hearings on NATO admission in Washington, DC The co-chairman of the commission, Senator Alfonse D`Amato of New York “stated he favors admission of all three Baltic nations into NATO at the July summit in Madrid.”
On May 14, Russia declared that it would “reconsider the [NATO-Russia Charter] agreement if the Baltics were to be considered as candidates for NATO membership.” Though Baltic government officials “welcomed with caution” the agreement that was reached between NATO and Russia, Latvia`s Foreign Ministry also gave approval “so long as [NATO and Russia] do not use Baltic membership as a bargaining chip.”
On May 23, Senator Slade Gorton (R-WA) introduced S.Con.Res.29, a companion resolution to Representative Solomon`s H.Con.Res.10 supporting early NATO membership.
On May 27, The NATO-Russia Founding Act was signed in Paris. The Act specified that Russia: a) “had a voice, not a veto,” b) “will not be a part of the North Atlantic Council,” c) “statements in the Act concerning NATO’s unclear and conventional posture policies were unilateral NATO statements,” and d) “NATO can use this forum to raise its own concerns with Russia.” That same day, the three Baltic presidents met with the presidents of Poland and Ukraine in Tallinn, where they “discussed regional cooperation, security, and European integration.” They also “expressed approval for the signing of the Founding Act.”
On June 11, the European Security Act of 1997 was reintroduced by Representative Benjamin A Gilman (R-NY) on June 3 as H.R. 1758. It passed by voice vote and was incorporated into the State Department Authorization Act (H.R. 1757). The Act called for Baltic membership into NATO as early as possible and designated the Baltic countries for NATO transition assistance. It did not pass until October 21, 1998.
On June 13, before meeting with Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated “that Latvia had a chance of joining NATO after the first round of expansion.” Minister Birkavs stated that “he hoped that NATO expansion would be like the Olympics, an event which comes around every two or four years, and not like the Hale-Bopp Comet, which occurs once in a lifetime.”
On June 16, Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Slade Gorton (R-WA) incorporated S.Con.Res. 29, introduced on May 23, into the State Department Authorization bill (S.903).
On June 17, the U.S. Senate passed the State Department Authorization Act S.903 (H.R. 1757), by a vote of 90-5. The bill included a 180-day military assistance eligibility amendment of $20 million to the Baltics to upgrade their defense forces.
On June 23, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Ronald Asmus, in a visit to Tallinn, discussed the proposal of the U.S.-Baltic Charter with Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian officials.
On June 26, while in Riga, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Asmus, stated “the U.S. would not recommend a timetable for any nation’s admission to NATO until that nation fully achieves qualification for NATO membership.”
At the Madrid Summit, from July 7-9, members of NATO extended invitations to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join NATO. In the invitation, the Baltics were regarded as “aspiring members.”
On July 18, British Prime Minister Tony Blair sent a letter to Estonian President Meri to express his support for the Baltic`s aspirations to join the European Union and NATO.
On September 7, the Cooperative Best Effort `97, a Partnership for Peace training exercise, started in Latvia, in which 800 soldiers participated from fourteen countries. Latvian Defense Minister Tālavs Jundzis stated “the exercises will help Latvia`s Armed Forces to achieve greater integration into NATO military structures.”
On September 9, a joint statement by Richard Holbrooke, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Anthony Lake and Paul Wolfowitz gave support to NATO expansion as a means to “strengthen the alliance, reinforce new democracies, renew the American commitment to Europe, and reaffirm American leadership.”
On September 23, some anti-NATO deputies in the Russian Duma launched a verbal attack against the Baltic countries, singling out Latvia for proposed economic sanctions.
On October 7, Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) representatives met with Susan Eisenhower, of the Center for Political and Strategic Studies and a leading NATO enlargement skeptic, to discuss opposition to NATO expansion. In her opinion, NATO expansion would decrease Allied security and European stability.
On October 9, Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski stated that “NATO expansion is central to the vitality of the American European connection, to the scope of a democratic and secure Europe, and to the ability of America and Europe to work together in promoting international security.”
On November 5, President of the Estonian American National Council, Mati Kõiva, testified on behalf of the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on NATO enlargement. The Baltic American Freedom League (BAFL) submitted a policy statement to the SFRC, along with testimonies from the Lithuanian American Community and the U.S.-Baltic Foundation.
On November 14, the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act passed in Congress. The Act included $18.3 million in assistance for the Baltics to upgrade their defense structures, as well as $485 million of Support for East European Democracy funding, including some funding for the Baltics.
On December 3, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, in Stockholm before the Swedish parliament, announced “Russia would reduce the size of its military forces in northwest Russia, in hopes of convincing the Baltic nations not to join NATO.”
On December 4, the U.S. State Department issued a statement indicating that while President Yeltsin`s troop reduction announcement was a positive sign, the Baltics should not feel coerced to abandon their efforts to join NATO.
On January 6, on the eve of the signing of the U.S.-Baltic Charter, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, and other administration officials, met with members of the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC), the American Latvian Association (ALA), the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) and other Baltic organizations.
On January 16, the U.S.-Baltic Partnership Charter was signed in Washington, DC, which committed all sides to work toward the inclusion of the Baltic states in Euro-Atlantic institutions. Presidents Clinton, Meri, Ulmanis, and Brazauskas signed the Charter. After the signing of the Charter, President Clinton declared that this “furthers America`s commitment to help.
On January 23, Russia`s Duma passed a resolution calling NATO expansion “the biggest threat to Russia since the end of World War II.”
On February 27, Senator John Warner (R-VA), the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Ranking Member of the Committee, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) proposed “a moratorium on NATO’s further enlargement for three years.” In response, the Baltic American Freedom League (BAFL) sent letters to Senator Warner and other members opposing the moratorium.
On March 20, the Minnesota Legislature adopted resolutions supporting the admission of the Baltics to NATO. An American-Latvian constituent from Minnesota, Lia Ozols, was the driving force behind passing the resolutions.
On March 26, the House of Representatives passed the Appropriations Conference Committee report for the State Department Authorization Act of 1998 (H.R. 1757), which designated the Baltic as eligible to receive assistance under the NATO Participation Act of 1994. It also included a provision urging full membership once all countries fulfilled their requirements.
On March 27, the French Embassy in Vilnius denied Russian press reports that French President Chirac had expressed opposition to Baltic membership in NATO during the “troika” summit. The reports were based on statements by a presidential spokesman who claimed that President Chirac had “made it clear” that he opposed Baltic admission to NATO. The embassy stated that this was “absolutely wrong” and that “words were improperly attributed” to President Chirac.
On April 30, the U.S. Senate approved, by a vote of 80-19, the NATO Accession Treaty (Treaty No: 105-36) for Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic without Senator Warner`s February 27th amendment. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Daniel Moynihan (D-NY) were also among others in support of Senator Warner`s amendment, which would have limited any future possibilities for Baltic accession to NATO.
On May 15, Baltic diplomats and Baltic Americans met to exchange information about how to speed up Baltic membership in NATO. In an interview with the Guardian, Russian president Yeltsin stated that “in NATO expansion, there is a red line for Russia which should not be crossed...otherwise, European stability might not withstand the new tension.” An EMOR poll in Estonia showed that 50 percent of Estonian citizens were in support of NATO membership and 35 percent were opposed.
On July 9, the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) and the Baltic American Freedom League jointly urged Senator Robert Livingston (R-LA), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to support the continuation of $18.3 million in Foreign Military Financing grant assistance to the Baltics and $650,000 for each Baltic country for International Military Education and Training programs.
On July 15, U.S. Senate European Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Gordon Smith (R-OR) conducted a hearing on the Baltics and U.S.-Baltic Policy.
On August 5, U.S. Representatives John Shimkus (R-IL) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) introduced H.Con.Res.320 condemning the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 and urging the President and Secretary of State to “ensure that Russia understands that the Nazi-Soviet Pact of Non-Aggression should be considered illegal and null and void.”
On October 15, President of Latvia, Guntis Ulmanis, in an address at the Intensified Dialogue meeting with the North Atlantic Council in Brussels states “NATO and EU membership has been, is and will remain our highest strategic priority.” While in Brussels, President Ulmanis met and spoke with NATO officials, presenting Latvia’s plan to join NATO.
On October 20, the House of Representatives passed the Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which included military-related funding for the Baltic states.
On October 21, the U.S. Senate passed the Omnibus Appropriations Bill. The legislation allocated $15.3 million for military assistance (FMF) for the Baltics. It also included the European Security of 1997, which was signed into law (Public Law No: 105-277) by President Clinton that same day.
On October 24, in an article, Zbigniew Brzezinski stated that “Lithuania and Slovenia should be seriously considered as candidates for NATO admission in the next round of NATO admissions. He stated “that while Lithuania has managed to fulfill requirements for such admission, at the same time Latvia and Estonia have not.”
On December 2, NATO`s commander of Central Europe General Joachim Spiering and NATO Northwest Europe Air Chief Marshall John Chesire visited Estonia. Spiering stated that “while NATO recommends that applicant nations spend 2% of GDP on defense such is not a requirement...only a recommendation, and other factors were more important in judging membership eligibility.”
On December 16, Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis and Defense Minister Ģirts Kristovskis criticized the Latvian government`s plan to cut defense spending, noting that defense spending should be at the previously planned figure of 1% of GDP. They noted that such a cut in spending would harm Latvia’s chances of gaining NATO membership.
In January, according to a draft resolution proposed in the United States Senate, it was recommended that all three Baltic countries be invited to become full status members of NATO. The text of the resolution, formally submitted by Senator William Durbin (D-IL), referred to the Baltic countries as ”undergoing a historic process of democratic and free-market transformation after emerging from decades of brutal Soviet occupation.” Their governments were said to have made “consistent progress” toward qualifying for NATO membership through civilian control of their military establishments and through participation in Partnership for Peace (PfP) programs and NATO peace support operations, and were deserving of commendation. The Baltic countries were further said to be in compliance with NATO guidelines and criteria for membership, would prove to be assets to NATO, and as such, be ‘contributors to the stability, freedom, and peace in the Baltic region and Europe as a whole.”
On March 5-6, the third Conference on Baltic Security organized by JBANC took place in Washington, DC, featuring several panels, one devoted to Baltic candidacy for NATO membership. A nine-point Joint Declaration of Baltic-American organizations urged President Clinton’s administration and Congress to “...insist Russia stop false verbal attacks and covert action against the Baltic countries in what is obvious pressure to dissuade NATO from considering them for membership.”
On April 22, in Washington DC, the three Baltic presidents met with the U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, reaffirming their desire to join NATO. Albright reportedly stated that all three nations will be mentioned in the NATO summit`s final declaration, and that the Kosovo crisis will not interfere with the Baltic nations NATO quest. Albright thanked the Baltic nations for their humanitarian aid for Kosovo and for their support for NATO’s actions in Kosovo.
On April 25, the final communique of the three-day Washington DC NATO summit, stated that the three newest members of the NATO alliance will not be the last ones, obliging itself to add new members in the future, though not setting a timetable for future expansion. The statement mentioned the Baltic nations individually. The mentioning of the three Baltic nations individually was hailed to be a step forward, as at the previous NATO conference they were not so mentioned. The summit also adopted a Membership Action Plan to be used as a guide for NATO aspirants in preparing for NATO membership.
On April 26, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus stated that as a result of the NATO summit, Lithuania would be a member of NATO by the time he leaves the presidency. The summit indicates NATO`s `open door policy` for future admissions. The Latvian government issued a positive assessment of the NATO summit, noting that the summit communique clearly recognizes Latvia as an eligible candidate country. It noted that the Membership Action Plan offers opportunities that Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary only received after joining NATO. Upon his return from the NATO summit, Estonian President Lennart Meri stated that NATO does not expect Estonia to acquire the latest weapons but it does expect it to demonstrate good organization of defense forces and convincing proof of defensive will. He noted that Estonia must act fast, as the next wave of NATO enlargement could even take place prior to the next NATO summit in 2002.
In May during the Washington NATO Summit the Baltic countries were mentioned as candidates for NATO membership, but there was no consensus on whether any invitation would be extended. This produced statements from member states who recognized that after the first round of invitations to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, there would be a second round in three years.
2000 marked the beginning of the official accession process as the first year of the three nations' Membership Action Plan (MAP), working toward full membership in 2002 at the earliest. The process progressed as U.S. and NATO officials made visits to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the U.S. Congress considered the question of NATO membership for the three nations, and the countries themselves and their neighbor to the east held their own debates.
NATO leaders made visits to the Baltic nations in April and May, noting the impressive progress they had already made toward their MAP goals. NATO Secretary General George Robertson and Supreme Allied Commander Europe (or SACEUR, the title of the NATO top commander position) U.S. General Wesley Clark were among the visiting NATO leadership, meeting with national leaders and making positive observations during their visits.
In May, the foreign ministers or deputy foreign ministers of the NATO candidate countries at the time signed the Vilnius Statement urging NATO to issue invitations for full membership in the Alliance. Both U.S. presidential candidates in the 2000 election, George W. Bush and Al Gore, expressed support for the goals of the Vilnius conference. Bush also stated that Russia should have no say in NATO’s decisions on enlargement.
Debates in the Baltic nations and the U.S. during the summer included whether joining NATO would benefit the Baltic candidate countries, whether they should be admitted at once or in stages, whether concerns expressed by the Kremlin should hold any sway over NATO’s process, and whether Western relations with Russia would improve or decline because of enlargement. U.S. President Bill Clinton predicted that former Soviet countries opposed to NATO enlargement would "eventually come to see NATO as partners and not adversaries" (BT 6-8, page 1) while Defense Secretary William Cohen stated that the Kremlin would not have veto power over NATO’s decision to expand into the Baltic nations. (BT 6-15, page 6) NATO Secretary General Robertson held the same position during his visit to Tallinn in May.
The National Guard State Partnerships were well-established by this time and making an impact beyond just military exchanges. The relationships had evolved into programs that forged ties between civic leaders and business interests, and fostered political, economic and social connections that contributed to stability on many levels. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga praised the Michigan National Guard partnership with Latvia for helping the nation overcome lingering Soviet era influences. She told National Guard Magazine that, "Both the expertise of the Michigan National Guard and their investments have been truly crucial. You can see the results." U.S. Ambassador to Latvia, James Holmes added that the program provided "a dimension of diplomacy that we cannot get elsewhere." (Photo 8-25 NG mag)
In November, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA) held its 46th session in berlin, where it adopted a resolution in support of inviting Lithuania, Slovenia, and Slovakia into the alliance by 2002. In December, the U.S. issued a report supporting membership for all three Baltic nations, although it didn’t specify when consensus among alliance members would be reached on issuing the invitation. The report acknowledged several key points, including the importance to the Baltic nations that no non-NATO nation have veto power over alliance decisions; the demonstrated commitment among the three nations to promote security and stability in northeastern Europe; and the continuing special relationship between the U.S. and the three nations established by the 1998 signing of the U.S.-Baltic charter.
The year 2001 marked the continuation of working towards increasing support for the Baltic membership at every level. A variety of public events, close diplomatic cooperation, and work of civil society took place.
On February 9, the conference “NATO - No. 1 Priority” was held in Riga, Latvia. United States Ambassador to Latvia James Holmes reiterated the support of the U.S. for NATO enlargement.
On February 21, the Senate of Michigan adopted Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 6, introduced by Sen. Thaddeus McCotter, calling for support of the addition of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into NATO. It was adopted on March 6, 2002.
During the spring, the candidate countries met in Bratislava, Slovakia, where Czech president Václav Havel advanced the agenda by singling out the Baltic states as countries that should be among the invitees at the next NATO Summit.
On March 8-10, JBANC held its fourth Baltic Security Conference in DC on the topic of “Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania: The Next Ten Years.” NATO enlargement was one of the core topics of discussion during the conference and soon after, JBANC urged its grassroots network to contact the U.S. administration, and Members of Congress for support on NATO expansion that would include the Baltics.
On June 8, in a letter to President George W. Bush before his trip to Brussels, six senators – Richard Durbin (D-IL), George Voinovich (R-OH), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), Jesse Helms (R-NC), Gordon Smith (R-OR), and George Allen (R-VA) urged him “...to include Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia and other nations that are ready and prepared to assume the responsibilities of membership” in the next phase of NATO enlargement.”
On June 13, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) in addressing the CSIS Washington Roundtable on Capitol Hill, stated that “Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are among the great success stories of Europe’s post-communist transition. Their illegal annexation by the Soviet Union sixty years ago should not determine Western policy today.”
On September 10, 20 Baltic-American leaders presented a petition signed by 25,000 Baltic-Americans from 50 states to White House officials urging the Bush administration to support NATO membership for the Baltics.This was the day before the terrorist attacks of 9-11.
On October 5, the heads of the participating nations in the Sofia Summit, Bulgaria signed a joint declaration stating that “Our aspiration to become members of NATO and the European Union reflects our commitment to the common values of the Euro-Atlantic community embodied by NATO...NATO enlargement is a strategic imperative for overall Euro-Atlantic security…”
On November 7, The Gerald B. H. Solomon Freedom Consolidation Act (H.R. 3167) endorsing further enlargement of NATO passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 372-46. It authorized continued military funding for seven countries including Baltics.
On November 28, White House officials discussed progress on the NATO enlargement process with representatives from the CEEC, including JBANC.
During December, the American Latvian Association urged their members to contact their Representatives, Senators and the U.S. administration about including the Baltics in NATO enlargement.
2002-2004 Part 1
2002 was an intensive last lap to cement NATO Membership. At the beginning of the year, nothing was yet 100% certain, but one could sense the day was coming closer. There was still plenty of homework and hard work ahead.
The winter of early 2002 witnessed a blitz of high-level Baltic visitors to the nation`s capital. First to come was Lithuania`s President Valdas Adamkus in January, who met with President Bush. He was continuing the official visit that began the previous September and had been cut short by the tragic events of September 11. Among the topics discussed was NATO enlargement. JBANC, the U.S.-Baltic Foundation and the Baltic American Freedom League, organized a presidential reception on February 5 at the Capitol. This time, it was in honor of President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga of Latvia. Among the 150 guests were Senators Daniel Inouye, Richard Durbin, and Paul Sarbanes. Congressmen Tim Holden, Doug Bereuter, Porter Goss, Dennis Kucinich, Tom Lantos with his wife, Annette, Connie Morella, and John Shimkus attended. During her trip to the United States, President Vīķe-Freiberga met with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and other high Administration officials. She also participated at the World Economic Forum in New York City, met business leaders and the city mayor at Houston, Texas, and cheered the Latvian Olympic team at Salt Lake City.On March 13, 2002, JBANC and the Aspen Institute-Berlin cosponsored a conference in the U.S. Congress with visiting Baltic Defense Ministers Sven Mikser of Estonia, Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis of Latvia, and Linas Linkevičius of Lithuania. Attended by a standing room-only audience, the conference consisted of a panel of the Defense Ministers, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and Washington Post reporter Jackson Diehl. Focus of the discussion was on the Baltic’s preparedness to undertake military obligations of the Alliance and their participation in the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition Enduring Freedom. The main thread running through the Defense Ministers` remarks was Baltic preparedness for NATO membership and current and increasing military cooperation among them. All said they were ready for NATO. They suggested that Russia will adapt to Baltics in NATO very quickly. Former CIA Director Woolsey was strongly optimistic about the Baltics getting invitations to join NATO during the Prague Summit in November. Diehl, while not denying the possibility of Baltic membership, said that the process is not yet over, especially because NATO needs to define its own future.
Over 100 leaders of American Central and East European ethnic organizations met on March 16 in Washington to address grassroots cooperation in support of NATO enlargement. JBANC Board members and staff participated. The gathering heard presentations by the ambassadors of the various NATO aspirant countries. Together they comprise a grouping known as the Vilnius 10 (V-10). The name stems from the joint declaration signed in May 2000 at the Lithuanian capital. It expressed the mutual commitment of Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia to cooperate in their mutual wish to become NATO members. Croatia later joined the group. A key point in the Vilnius declaration was the following: "While each country should be considered on its own merits, we believe that the integration of each democracy will be a success for us all and the integration of all our countries will be a success for Europe and NATO."
2002-2004 Part 2
A conference focusing on the U.S.-Russia relationship and its implications for Central and East Europe attracted Capitol Hill attention on May 15. Coinciding with President George W. Bush`s summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the conference was hosted by the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) and focused on two issues – Security and a New Europe, and U.S., Russia, European Union – Economic Interests.
JBANC and other Baltic American organizations saw an increase in grassroots interest and media support for the Baltics to be invited into NATO. For example, there was a great response from across the United States in writing and calling their Senators in support of the passage of the Freedom Consolidation Act. This legislation passed the House by an overwhelming margin on November 7, 2001 and in the Senate on May 17, 2002. On June 10, 2002 President George W. Bush signed into law the Gerald B. H. Solomon Freedom Consolidation Act of 2001 (Public Law No: 107-187). The legislation gave support to the principle of NATO enlargement, and further authorized continued Foreign Military Finance funding to the Baltic countries. FY03 levels requested by President Bush were a little over $21 million for the three countries combined. In a letter to President Bush thanking him for signing the Act, JBANC Chairman Vello Ederma wrote, “Your steadfast support for the principles of trans-Atlantic cooperation is now more significant in the wake of September 11.”
House International Relations Committee European subcommittee chairman Elton Gallegly (R-CA) introduced H. Res.468 on June 27, affirming the importance and relevance of NATO, and support for the NATO enlargement process. Original co-sponsors of the bill were Republican congressmen Doug Bereuter of Nebraska and Christopher Cox from California, along with Democrat Tom Lantos of California, the Ranking Member of the International Relations Committee. The language of H.Res.468 sought to ensure that the “enlargement of NATO proceeds in a manner consistent with United States interests.”
In early July, a discussion of enlargement prospects before the Prague Summit in November occurred at the “Riga 2002 – The Bridge to Prague” conference, the final of a series of NATO aspirant country meetings, following the founding aspirant Summit held in Vilnius in May 2000. It was not yet certain if four, five or even seven aspirant countries were to receive invitations to join the alliance when NATO members meet in Prague.
U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Brian Carlson remarked: “Standing shoulder to shoulder with the Presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in the bright television lights, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott told the gathered journalists: “There is a special feeling in America about these three countries. They stand a very excellent chance to be invited (to NATO), and I expect that will be the result. If I could cast my vote, I`d say yes.” This was just one of many extraordinary moments in the Riga Summit. The energy and enthusiasm over the past week has been palpable. During their three-day visit to Latvia, Senator Lott, accompanied by Senators Robert Bennett (UT), Craig Thomas (WY), Jim Bunning (KY) and Ben Nelson (NE), relaxed with President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga on a sun-drenched lawn at Jurmala. They chatted politics with Prime Minister Bērziņš as they strolled Old Riga`s cobblestoned streets. A memorial service at the Riga Synagogue touched everyone deeply. At the Summit in Latvia University, Senator Lott`s keynote address was a bell-ringer. “The last century teaches us that when America and Europe are united, peace follows,” he said. “We can never again tolerate the division of this great continent. No more Munichs. No more Yaltas,” Lott intoned. I thought it remarkable that all the participants, including President Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Blair, called for a robust enlargement. There is no doubt NATO invitations will be issued in Prague.”
On July 20, a Baltic-NATO Conference, organized by Artis Inka, Chairman of the Midwest Baltic Coalition held in Chicago; with guest speakers from the Baltic countries and Baltic-American communities. It was held during the Latvian Song and Dance Festival happening there.
On October 7, 2002, the U.S. House of Representatives passed resolutions reaffirming continued American commitment to NATO, and supporting the candidacies of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to join the Alliance. The resolution introduced by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA) passed by a wide margin, while the resolution introduced by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) passed by unanimous consent. The Gallegly resolution, H.Res.468, was amended to endorse member candidacies of seven aspirant countries, including Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Gallegly had recently spent a week visiting the Baltics,and was then Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe in the International Relations Committee. The Shimkus resolution, H.Con.Res.116, supporting membership of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania was originally introduced in April 2001 and eventually garnered 56 cosponsors. Shimkus remarked that it is “important for the House of Representatives to send a message to NATO leaders before the 2002 summit that the United States stands firmly behind the Baltics’ candidacy.”
NATO Road Show informational meetings, originally conceived by the American Latvian Association and President Jānis Kukainis, and assisted by JBANC members, were held in Orlando, Florida in early March, and Atlanta, Georgia on September 13 and Knoxville, Tennessee on September 14. About 50 individuals participated in the Atlanta meeting, some coming from as far as Savannah. Presenters included Renatas Norkus from the Embassy of Lithuania, Janis Eichmanis from the Embassy of Latvia, Karl Altau from JBANC and Roberts Kukainis, President of the American Latvian Youth Association, from Greenville, South Carolina. An informative slide-show presentation detailed the background of NATO enlargement, while the embassy representatives gave specific Baltic perspectives. As at similar information meetings, JBANC disseminated copies of the “Handbook on Activities in Support of NATO Enlargement”, with information on contacting and informing legislators and opinion-makers, which is especially critical in an election year. The Handbook was regularly updated since being first issued in 2000. On its website, a corresponding “NATO E-book” was published by JBANC. Since 2000, JBANC helped organize and took part in nearly 30 informational meetings in over 20 states.
Michigan Governor John Engler visited Latvia in September. The trip came on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the State Partnership Program signed between Michigan and Latvia. A strong friendship, developed to help Latvia to reach rigorous military qualification standards to qualify for NATO enlargement, contributed highly in helping Latvia to finish needed military reforms before the NATO Summit in Prague in November.
JBANC continued its series of online webcasts in 2002. Dr. Ronald Asmus was JBANC`s guest in its seventh interactive webcast on November 18, 2002. That week, NATO allies met in Prague to issue invitations to seven new potential members, including the Baltics. Asmus, whose book "Opening NATO`s Door" was published in November, was a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Previously, Asmus served at the State Department as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs. On August 8, JBANC featured Stephen J. Flanagan, who was then Director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. He served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Central and Eastern Europe at the National Security Council Staff from 1997 to 1999. On June 5, Ojārs Kalniņš, Director of the Latvian Institute spoke. And on February 12, 2002, JBANC`s webcast featured interviews with the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian ambassadors Sven Jürgenson, Aivars Ronis, and Vygaudas Usackas, respectively.
2002-2004 Part 3
A NATO Enlargement Daily Brief (NEDB) was launched, providing a constant flow of information about important news and updates on the NATO enlargement front. NEDB served as an information exchange tool for professionals interested in NATO enlargement and related issues. It was based on keyword searches of Internet news sources, as well as contributions from list members.
The decision to issue invitations to seven countries to join NATO was announced on November 21 at the beginning of a two-day Summit meeting of Heads of State and Government in Prague. Following the opening of the Summit at the Prague Congress Center, NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson made the long-awaited announcement: "This is a crucially important decision where consensus among Allies has emerged gradually over the past months. I believe that a consensus has now been reached. Therefore, I would like to ask that the Heads of State and Government agree to invite the following nations to the Accession talks with NATO: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia." President George W. Bush was among many world leaders participating at the Summit. Bush remarked that "by welcoming seven members, we will not only add to our military capabilities, we will refresh the spirit of this great democratic alliance." The U.S. delegation also included Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
Following the Prague Summit, President Bush visited Vilnius on November 23 to meet with the three Baltic presidents, and to lend words of congratulations and encouragement as the countries began to concentrate on the ratification process. He told those gathered in the Town Hall Square that there would be “No more Munichs. No more Yaltas. The long night of fear, uncertainty and loneliness is over. You`re joining the strong and growing family of NATO. Our Alliance has made a solemn pledge of protection, and anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America. In the face of aggression, the brave people of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia will never again stand alone.”
A delegation of “Friends of the Baltics” flew with Lithuanian President Adamkus to Vilnius to participate in events on November 22-23. Besides the highlight of President Bush`s address, events in the Lithuanian capital included a reception organized by Lithuanian business leaders and a luncheon with the three Baltic Presidents.
On March 6-8, 2003, JBANC held its Fifth Conference on Baltic Security in DC. The main message of the conference was clear - no obstacles were seen to impede the enlargement of NATO to include Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This message was also evident from the statements of high-ranking officials from the Baltic countries who participated at the conference.
On March 21, 2003, JBANC sent a letter to Members of Congress on the eve of the Senate hearings asking for support for enlargement and pointing out how far Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have come in their partnership with the United States. The letter was submitted for the Congressional Record at the time of the March 27 SFRC hearing, chaired by Sen. George Allen (R-VA). Two NATO member countries had by that time ratified the NATO Treaty: Canada and Norway. Following the vote of the U.S. Senate in May, the legislatures of the remaining 16 member countries had to do the same.
On March 26, 2003, foreign ministers of seven NATO invitees gathered in Brussels to sign the Protocols of Accession. The Protocols were then transmitted to the NATO member parliaments for ratification. President Bush formally sent the Protocols to the Senate on April 11.
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on the accession of the seven candidate countries on April 30.
By this time, NATO enlargement ratification had almost become a foregone conclusion. Three years earlier, the prospects did not seem as obvious, but the changing world situation and the persistence of its believers fostered an almost natural evolution of the process, supplemented by supportive congressional legislation. In March and April, a series of hearings on NATO enlargement were held, as the Senate moved closer to a decisive vote. The Senate Foreign Relations committee held five hearings on NATO enlargement and the Armed Services committee two.
The minds of Baltic-Americans were made up a long time ago. A successful petition campaign, with 25,000 signatures collected by individuals and organizations around the country and in all 50 states and presented to the White House on September 10, 2001, only reinforced the public`s support and determination to see enlargement include Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
On May 6, the Wisconsin Senate passed a Baltic NATO Resolution. Many other U.S. states had also passed supportive resolutions during the enlargement process.
The U.S. Senate debate for Treaty Document 108-4 began on May 6 and lasted four hours. The debate in 1998, by comparison, went over a week. The strongest statements of support came from Senators Richard Lugar, Joe Biden, Richard Durbin, George Voinovich, George Allen, and Gordon Smith.
Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the committee`s lead Democrat, managed the debate.
There was strong support for the Baltics given by all those who spoke, perhaps most notably from Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL). While mentioning his Lithuanian roots, Sen. Durbin emphasized the importance of remembering just how long the Baltics suffered to get to where they were as nations, and that they were actively participating in many peacekeeping operations and acting as de-facto members of the Alliance.
The Protocols to the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 on the Accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia were ratified on May 8, 2003 in the U.S. Senate by a vote of 96-0. With this, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and four other countries from Central and Eastern Europe received conclusive support from the United States to join the Alliance.
On February 19, 2004, the World Federation of Free Latvians-sponsored internet domain ExpandNATO.org was discontinued after four years of operation; it was visited by 631,000 people.
It all became official in Washington on March 29, 2004 when the Prime Ministers of the seven new member states presented the protocols of accession to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. The seven prime ministers of the new member states attended a formal ceremony at the White House on March 29th where they were received by President George W. Bush, members of his Cabinet and Congress, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other officials and dignitaries. Among those participating was NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer who greeted some two thousand participants attending the White House ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House. The three Baltic countries were represented by their respective prime ministers Indulis Emsis of Latvia, Juhan Parts of Estonia, and Algirdas Brazauskas of Lithuania.
Noting that NATO is strengthened by the admission of the seven new member states, President Bush emphasized the historical significance of the admission of the seven new members to NATO: “As witness to some of the great crimes of the last century, our new members bring moral clarity to the purposes of the Alliance. They understand our cause in Afghanistan and in Iraq, because tyranny for them is still a fresh memory. These nations know that when great democracies fail to confront danger, far worse peril can follow.”
Other participants at the ceremony included Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, as well as Senators John Warner and Majority Leader Bill Frist. The prime ministers of Croatia, Macedonia and Albania also participated in the White House ceremony, representing countries awaiting admission to NATO at some future date. Following the White House event, a news conference with the Prime Ministers was held at the National Press Club.
Celebrations were concluded with a gala reception at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The Central and East European Coalition (CEEC), representing 18 national organizations and 13 ethnic communities in the U.S. cooperated with the embassies of the new NATO member states in organizing the event. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld delivered the keynote address at the reception, at which there were some 1000 participants. The premiers of the “Vilnius 10” countries, along with other delegation members and representatives of the CEEC joined Secretary Rumsfeld on the marble staircase in the grand hall of the Gallery. JBANC and Lithuanian American Council President Saulius Kuprys, American Latvian Association President Dace Copeland and Estonian American National Council President Mati Kõiva also joined in the program. Regina Narusis of the Lithuanian American Community was master of ceremonies, and Frank Koszorus of the Hungarian American Coalition spoke on behalf of the CEEC, emphasizing the need to further broaden the Transatlantic Alliance. The Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC), has supported NATO enlargement to the Baltic countries and warmly welcomed Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into NATO.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. John Shimkus (R- IL) met in their Washington offices with the group of about 15 constituents prominent Lithuanian Americans from the Midwest on March 30, 2004 to discuss issues vital to the Baltic–American community. Saulius Kuprys, President of the Lithuanian American Council, Inc. and JBANC; Stanley Balzekas, President of the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture in Chicago and Lithuanian Honorary Consul in Palm Beach; and Patricia Annette Streeter, President of the Lithuanian American Bar Association were among the group of primarily Chicago constituents participating in the meetings. The meetings took place a day after celebrations in Washington to mark the historic expansion of NATO to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, among seven countries of Central and Eastern Europe. As co-Chairs of the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus and House Baltic Caucus, Sen. Durbin and Rep. Shimkus have been strong supporters of efforts by the Baltics to join the Trans-Atlantic alliance.
The flags of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovenia were raised on April 2 at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, marking the admission of these countries to NATO. The number of NATO members was thus increased to 26.
In June 2004, seven new NATO members (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Slovenia) participated in their first Summit in Istanbul as full-fledged members of the alliance. As Stephen D. Mull, U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania said during a June conference at the Lithuanian Parliament, “It is a proud day for NATO to accept new members.” The enlargement of NATO on March 29 was a landmark day in the history of Europe as the continent reshaped its geopolitical map. With security and stability now broadened, NATO brings new challenges for its fledgling Central and East European members.
Three new members joined the House Baltic Caucus in July: Representatives Roy Blunt (R-MO), Kay Granger (R-TX), and Roger Wicker (R-LA). All three visited Latvia in June. In August, additional delegations from both the House and Senate visited the Baltics. Members included Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and four other Senators: Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Sununu (R-NH), and Hillary Clinton (D-NY), plus a delegation of House members, led by Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman John Duncan (R-TN).
As stated in the NATO 2030 initiative, "NATO 2030 is about making sure our Alliance remains ready today to face tomorrow's challenges. And how NATO will continue to keep us safe in the next decade and beyond."
Since the Baltic countries joined NATO back in 2004, the world has seen a rapid increase in globalization and the importance of online networks, which meant the necessity to improve capabilities in dealing with hybrid threats, disinformation and increasing cyber and energy security capacity.
We have seen a very active Baltic role in dealing with these new threats and challenges. Each of the Baltic countries hosts a NATO Centre of Excellence. NATO’s StratCom Centre dedicated to strategic communication has been based in Riga, Latvia, since 2014. In 2008, the NATO-accredited cyber defense hub was established in Tallinn, Estonia. And in 2012, a NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence was opened in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Notably, the Baltic countries have also been a part of the biggest reinforcement of NATO’s collective defense in a generation. Following the Wales Summit in 2014, NATO enhanced its presence along its eastern borders again by establishing four rotational battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. These battlegroups, led by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and the United States, respectively, are multinational, and combat-ready, demonstrating the strength of the transatlantic bond. Their presence makes clear that an attack on one Ally will be considered an attack on the whole alliance.
1996 Part 1
1996 Part 2
2002-2004 Part 1
2002-2004 Part 2
2002-2004 Part 3
The Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) has launched an online platform The Baltic Journey to NATO: Exploring the role of civil society, diaspora, governments, and media, which takes a look at the milestones of the events that led to a successful NATO enlargement and membership for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The project is supported by the NATO Public Diplomacy Division grant.
The exhibit features a timeline of key dates and events that led to the Baltic inclusion into NATO in 2004, exploring a variety of decisions made by the Baltic and the U.S. governments. It also provides an in-depth look at the role of civil society and Baltic-American organizations such as JBANC, and how they played a vital part in the process of enlargement.
The goal of the platform is to promote and expand the knowledge of the NATO enlargement within the general public in the United States and other transatlantic community countries, promoting NATO as a cornerstone in ensuring the safety of the transatlantic community. The exhibit hopefully serves as a reflection of the importance of NATO and provides perspectives for moving forward.
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