Center for Strategic Decision Research


Lithuania's NATO Membership: Preparation and Actual Contribution

His Excellency Valdas Adamkus
President of Lithuania

On 11 May, 2001, President Havel of the Czech Republic made an historic speech in Bratislava at a conference of NATO candidates. What President Havel said was not only visionary but revolutionary because he challenged the old way of thinking and urged us to think in a radically new way about the future of world order. Revolutionary thinking is not new to Lithuania. Eleven years ago we challenged old ways and chose our new future through a singing revolution. Some-both inside and outside my country-thought it was an unrealistic choice, impractical and outright dangerous. Yet I doubt that anyone today would call the reestablishment of our independence a mistake. Quite to the contrary, our revolution rectified a mistake of history. Lithuania took on far-reaching reforms, which have brought us more stability, security, and democracy and a clearer expression of our own identity and our relations with others. Our choice was certain then and remains certain today, as demonstrated by the agreement regarding our defense policy that was adopted by the parliamentary parties of Lithuania recently in Vilnius. Unequivocal support for Lithuania's membership in NATO and the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy was expressed by the representatives of both the ruling and opposition parties. This is another clear sign of our certainty about who we are and where we are going.


In politics, as in life in general, uncertainty can cause many problems: confusion, distrust, misconceptions, and incorrect conclusions. The biggest challenge we face concerning the European security agenda is not necessarily physical enlargement of NATO, but reaching a clearer and more certain understanding of our identity as a continent-whole and free and committed to moral-political principles, freedom, and decency, as well as to the best interests of our people. Our goal is to build a family of nations with shared values, and to refrain from keeping family members separated or isolated.

Following years of conflict and instability, the Euro-Atlantic family is now guided by a broad approach to security, one that rests on the principles of freedom, democracy, prosperity, and cooperation. This approach is an outcome of past and current integration efforts. To continue this process means to expand the coverage of stability and burden-sharing and thus to increase the overall security on the European continent.


Needless to say, the current enlargement debate contains many arguments that seek to slow down the enlargement process. This opposition is often driven by limited, domestically-shaped factors. But should we accept this situation as predestined? Should we stand idly by while opponents argue that enlargement is not an urgent issue and should be put on the Euro-Atlantic back burner?

Let me put it this way: limited enlargement means less integration. And less integration implies that more European nations will be left on their own to cope with the challenges of globalization and advancing technology. This means that at the end of the day, we will all be less secure. The accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland to the North Atlantic Alliance has increased stability and security on the European continent. Furthermore, the prospect of Euro-Atlantic membership has played a crucial role in consolidating the candidates' efforts to build democracy and advance free market reforms. Through its accession commitments, good-neighbor policy, and active participation in the Balkan peace operations, Lithuania, just like the other future NATO members, is contributing to the enhancement of stability and mutual trust in Europe. Enlargement is important and it is important now. I hope that in the ongoing debates on new members, the idea of building an integrated and free Europe will not be lost but will reinforce the determination of the Alliance to implement its open-door policy. At the moment, it is still unclear whether that "open door" has a threshold too high for small nations to enter.


It is argued more and more that Euro-Atlantic enlargement should not proceed because of imagined costs to the interests of the Alliance. On that same note, it is argued that good relations with Russia are central to future stability and cooperation on the continent. Indeed, Europe and America are clear about the importance of positive relations with Russia. I personally have no doubts that we must build the future of our continent together with Russia. That was exactly the message I brought to President Vladimir Putin during my recent state visit to Moscow.

However, what is the point in misleading Russia into believing that it can stop or slow down the enlargement process? Russian arguments against NATO enlargement are not convincing and are based on old stereotypes, not new realities. Are we being fair to Russia and to ourselves? After all, successful cooperation between equal partners is based on mutual respect. We prefer looking for friends rather than enemies and prefer building trust and openness rather than nurturing resentment and mistrust. We will continue to calm Russian fears and sensitivities and hope that others will do the same. A joint defense of shared values is, in our minds, the best defense.


The process of enlargement must continue. It must go on even if new issues currently take more and more space on our agenda. For example, we are following with great attention the accelerating debate on the Common European Security and Defense Policy and have already made our contribution to the evolving European crisis-management capacity.

However, Europe's cooperation with America is and will remain of fundamental importance to European security. During the last 50 years, many nations aspired to NATO membership, and no country has chosen, nor I am convinced, will choose to opt out. Today, we can state with confidence that NATO is the only collective mechanism that has proven its effectiveness in defending the democratic principles on the European continent. Moreover, it is the only time-tested mechanism that allows Lithuania and the other candidates to make concrete contributions to safeguarding the common values of the Euro-Atlantic family.


Let me conclude by saying that I am especially honored to speak in Denmark, which has always been a strong supporter of Lithuania's Euro-Atlantic aspirations. I believe that there are many other advocates of a wider membership in the EU and in NATO. Thus, I thank all who have contributed to ensuring the continuity of both enlargement processes, and wish us all success in achieving this goal. The next years will be fundamental for all of us. We hope that the European Union will welcome the first new members from Central and Eastern Europe. When NATO's Parliamentary Assembly begins in Vilnius, I hope the enlargement process will be given additional impetus. I also look forward to the critical decisions that will be made in Prague, where I expect invitations to join the Alliance will be extended. It is of the utmost importance that the open-door policy continue and be reinforced by real decisions, not by decisions to make decisions. We sincerely hope that the right decisions will be made in 2002.


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