Center for Strategic Decision Research


NATO and Europe: An Agenda for the Coming Years

His Excellency Lennart Meri
President of Estonia

Recent developments in Europe have fundamentally changed the European security landscape. We are dealing now with a democratic Russia and a free and democratic Ukraine. Soon there will be an enlarged NATO and an enlarged European Union. With some exceptions, liberalized or even free trade prevails in Europe. As the majority of experts note, the classic security risks of the Cold War era are unlikely to emerge any time soon.

NATO has energetically built a community of institutions, including EAPC, the NATO-Russia Council, and the NATO-Ukraine consultation mechanism. It would like to be as fit and as energetic as possible. But granting full membership to countries in Central Europe should remain one of its major priorities, since this is an essential element of NATO’s quest for a more stable security environment.

NATO has also seriously redefined its missions in Europe and has been engaged in a combat situation in Bosnia and a possible combat situation in Kosovo. It has become a major vehicle in consulting the Russians and in mustering the Big Power consensus on the Western front. NATO has undeniably become the supporting pillar of the new European security structure.


In 1999, new members will be accepted into the Alliance. Some analysts would like to depict this enlargement as a one-time event, almost a lapse of history, that will occur because of internal political reasons in Germany and the United States. These analysts reason that no obvious rationale exists for further enlargement to include other Central-European aspirants. But such reasoning represents a fundamental misunderstanding of Europe today.

NATO’s new members will establish platforms of security and stability in regions that were formerly considered to be under Soviet influence. That is why issues such as economic well-being, development of the civilian society, and the rule of law are so important in deliberations over new members. It is crucial to look to both North and South when contemplating the next round of NATO enlargement. New members are ambassadors, whose positive records should reinforce changes in the region. They are “well connected” relatives who can act with greater authority in solving regional issues.

Therefore it is not surprising that their relationship with the European Union is deemed so important for NATO aspirants. I would certainly not connect NATO and EU, or make one a prerequisite of the other. Rather I would point out that the political fitness of potential new members of NATO is mostly judged on EU criteria, which that organization has worked out in much greater detail than the Alliance. NATO, of course, includes military criteria, but these are concerned with the structural and educational development of new-member armed forces rather than with hardware. As some analysts have put it, “NATO has enough tanks already.”

The unification of Europe is and will remain the key issue. NATO has a crucial role here, since it offers the highest form of interdependency in possible conflicts. Article 5 is the strongest statement of unity that the Western community can give, demanding in return only sensible, low-profile behavior, logical for a member of the defense union. This is what stability in Europe is all about.

Contributions of New Members

The Alliance is fairly justified in inquiring about the contributions small countries could make to its operations. Apart from adding political and symbolic value, there are practical issues with which we can help. Small countries are sometimes crucial in mustering political consensus by adding their voices to the chorus. It is well known how important the Benelux countries have been in keeping the European Union up and running. Today, it is important to have an alliance whose members’ security depends vitally on the alliance being strong, prestigious, and active. The presence of Slovenia, Estonia, or Lithuania in the Alliance could also help to prevent conflicts and internal divisions among the Big Powers by encouraging consensus.

Our recent experience with India and Pakistan shows how important it is that many countries be included in a wider system of security. The denationalization of defense, emphasizing the collective will rather than independent defense interests, plays an important part in providing security in the new Europe, where ferocious wars have often begun—wars that have expanded far beyond the borders of the continent.

Small member-countries could also play a crucial role in avoiding non-traditional risks such as the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and bacteriological materials and relevant expertise. Coupled with the resources of the Alliance, small countries might make a critical difference in solving these problems. Various forms of terrorism, including cyberterrorism, will also find powerful opponents in new members of the Alliance.

Many of these new aspects of security have not yet gained the attention of the public. However, I am happy to note that they were discussed at length between the U.S. and the Nordic and Baltic Defense Ministers when they met in early June in Copenhagen.


The security environment in the Baltic Sea region has improved considerably, which, according to the criteria set out in the Enlargement Study, should act as a good foundation for further enlargement in the North. There are colleagues who have changed the criteria, however, and state that since nothing threatens our region, there is really no rush to bring us into the Alliance. But we agree with the three invited countries that threat is not a reason for enlargement.

The peaceful, stable, and economically booming nature of the Nordic-Baltic region is playing an important part in building the new Europe. The well-being of the Baltic States is also a vital part of Europe’s stability. We have been actively pursuing the policy of positive engagement with Russia, and our relations with them, as well as our neighbors’ relations, have been steadily improving. The European Union has taken an important step towards our region by inviting Estonia to the accession negotiations and committing to inviting Latvia and Lithuania soon.

The Baltic States and the Nordic countries have also improved their security environment by actively participating in the debate for regional security and confidence-building measures. Russia, Germany, and a number of other countries have made proposals to facilitate that process. Estonia, together with its partners, has emphasized that we would not like to have a special framework for the Baltic region, but rather a general “menu” of CSBMs, agreed to by the whole of OSCE. Various subregions could then choose CSBMs for their own region without cutting themselves off from the generally agreed-to framework.

The strategic importance of the Nordic-Baltic region has been seriously enhanced since the end of the Cold War. In the geopolitical sense the region has become one of the major points of contact with Russia both for the European Union and for NATO. Additionally, the United States has signed the Baltic Charter with the Baltic countries, declaring its “real, profound, and enduring interest” in the security of the Baltic States. The United States has also promoted a Northern Initiative designed to include Russia in a wider web of economic cooperation. The European Union is promoting the Program of Northern Dimension, which is designed to erase economic differences between members and non-members in the region. All of this, coupled with the activities of the Council of Baltic Sea States, is creating an atmosphere of trust and cooperation.


An issue still under lively debate is Russia’s relationship with the Alliance. This relationship could be described as ambivalent. Events in Bosnia and in Kosovo have shown that the Alliance is an important partner for Russia, one with whom Russia can work in solving the difficult questions of our time. NATO and Russia are still trying to find the best procedures for pursuing their cooperation, but generally the situation is positive. I believe this positive atmosphere can only be enhanced by a larger, wider Alliance that includes Central-European countries.

The future members of the European Union will participate in formulating the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Thus it is only natural that they should also participate in transatlantic policy making and should have a say in the NATO-Russia Council. This, needless to say, is another argument for membership in the Alliance.

Russia never has elaborated on what actually makes them uncomfortable concerning continued enlargement. They have also never said why, in contradiction to their general policy of reinforcing OSCE institutions, they have gone against the principle of every country’s having the freedom of choice to decide its own security arrangements. NATO should not accept such a stand; it should explain again and again why enlargement will have a positive impact far beyond the borders of those countries that are accepted. Russian resistance must not be seen as a natural phenomenon unless we have lost faith in Russian democracy.

Zbigniew Brzezinski provided an excellent argument for enlargement when he said that NATO enlargement is reconciliation through security. The relationship between the once-dominated Central-European countries and Russia will change fundamentally. Countries such as Poland have no reason to evoke their historic memory; Russian nationalist forces, which are still visible in the Russian Duma, have no reason to wake theirs.

Let us be honest. Under President Yeltsin’s leadership, Russia’s democracy and economy have had the chance to develop. While I pray that those who come after him have a similar vision, as a pragmatist I acknowledge that they might have a different one. It will be our job in 1999 to design a system for European security that does not rely on the good will of any leader in the East or in the West, regardless of our personal sympathies.

If the Washington Summit of 1999 implies that spheres of influence still exist, those who really want them to reappear will have a good starting position. We must work to make that position absolutely hopeless.


When we get to the nuts and bolts of NATO membership, one key issue is the development of defense forces in Estonia and the other Baltic States. Balts are reliable allies when it comes to conflict solving. They have done well in training exercises, in Bosnia and other places, where they have been given a chance to show themselves. Granted, they cannot muster the defense forces of Poland. But there is no doubt that they would fiercely oppose any attempts to subject them to a foreign rule. If one were to believe that the task of occupying the Baltic States would be easy, one would be making a classic mistake of discounting a defense based on popular determination: “You can destroy us, but you can never conquer us.”

Problems with Baltic defense have been clearly worded in special studies undertaken by a number of Allied countries. It is positively surprising that, when military specialists are brought in and asked to make a hardheaded assessment of our problems and ways to solve them, they come up with reasonable plans and ideas. I am happy to note that the popular resistance-based defense model very similar to that of other Nordic states has gained appreciation among the military whose own equipment includes Tomahawks and radar-evading airplanes.

All three of the Baltic States are now in the process of adopting systematic plans that would guarantee the steady improvement of their defense forces for years to come. Our states will be part of the community of countries whose armed forces are transparent and democratically built. A number of joint projects already connect states with each other and with other countries of the Western community. The projects, including BALTNET, the Baltic Air Control and Surveillance system, and the joint Baltic Defense College, as well as the States’ integration into the Nordic-Polish Brigade in Bosnia, have proved the Balts to be viable partners for joint action.

As small countries, the Baltic States should boldly assess which branches of their armed forces could enhance NATO capabilities. While it would be difficult to use our popular army for NATO tasks beyond our borders, it would be equally difficult to keep large numbers of infantrymen in total readiness. In Estonia we might therefore think, for example, about Luxembourg’s experience in providing reconnaissance and Special Forces support for the Alliance. In these kinds of tasks, even a smaller force can make a considerable difference.


Let me remind you once again that the enlargement of the Alliance is one of the major tools for instituting change in Europe. And while other areas are important too, including the EAPC, relations with Russia, and relations with Ukraine, the strongest statement of Europe’s indivisibility will be conveyed by allowing aspirants to join the Alliance under Article 4 and Article 5. In Madrid, the Alliance committed itself to a strategy of continuous enlargement. Changing that strategy would send a number of wrong signals and act against the logic of contemporary Europe.

The Baltic States in particular stand out among those for whom the continuation of the declared policy is vital. And the importance of the Baltic States far exceeds their great mineral resources, their population, and the size of their territory. Richard Holbrooke put it well in his Wall Street Journal commentary titled “NATO’s Next Frontier: The Baltics.” There he said, “We should not shrink from their [the Baltics’] desire for membership in NATO. It is necessary that we stand up to the challenge and support them. The issue of Baltic security is perhaps the hardest piece in the NATO enlargement puzzle. It’s a political and moral litmus test of our strategy to build a peaceful, democratic and undivided Europe.”

Holbrooke recognizes that the Baltic countries have a special role in Western policy making. His own country, together with many others, never recognized the illegal annexation of the Baltic States to the Soviet Union. Many Western countries invested considerable political capital during the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties, before the fall of the Soviet Union, in the liberation of the Baltic States. Our independence has also been recognized by the Soviet Union as well as other countries.

I believe we are on the right path. When I signed with President Clinton the Baltic-U.S. Charter in Washington, Mr. Clinton said in his speech: “This [charter] underscores America’s commitment to help create conditions under which the Baltic States will one day walk through the open door.” I have reason to believe that other countries share this commitment.


Top of page | Home | ©2003 Center for Strategic Decision Research