Cooperative Activities in the Baltic Sea Area
His Excellency Linas Linkevicius
Minister of Defense of Lithuania
The increasing number of cooperative activities in the Baltic Sea area are providing economic, social, and cultural benefits to all participants. Cooperation in this region as well as throughout Northern Europe has developed into a dense network involving different organizations and players in both the public and private domains.
THE BALTIC SEA AREA AND SECURITY
I would like to emphasize several characteristics of the area as they relate to security:
- The region represents an impressive mix of security identities and policies; it includes NATO and non-NATO countries, NATO candidates, and EU, non-EU, and EU candidate countries.
- The current state of security affairs in the region is arguably the best ever achieved in history. Our part of Europe enjoys peace, relative prosperity, sustained economic growth, mutual respect, and cooperation among its countries.
- The region as a whole and the individual countries by themselves have maintained long-standing security relationships with important partners outside the Baltic Sea area. This situation proves that the Baltic Sea area is not an isolated and self-sufficient balanced security system, but a regional sub-system of wider European, transatlantic, and Euro-Atlantic security networks. As further security-related steps are taken they should be guided by the need to stabilize and make permanent the area's historic achievements. We in Lithuania are convinced that the best way to ensure such stabilization is by enlarging EU and NATO to include all candidate countries.
Many regional and sub-regional cooperative efforts that involve Lithuania are currently under way:
- Together with Latvia and Estonia and with the generous assistance of Western partners, Lithuania has developed numerous multilateral projects. For example, more than 1,000 soldiers from BALTBAT (the Baltic Battalion) have participated in peacekeeping missions in the Balkans and Lebanon. Through this cooperative project, the Baltic States have learned and adopted in their national systems the key elements of Western military culture and received international defense-related assistance. In addition, BALTRON (a joint naval squadron) is operational and participates in mine-clearing operations. The Baltic Defense College (BALTDEFCOL) trains senior staff officers for the Baltic States based on high-quality Western principles and procedures. BALTNET connects national air space surveillance networks into one NATO-compatible system.
- Together with our partner Poland, Lithuania has created a common battalion called LITPOLBAT, which is being prepared to act as part of NATO forces in international peace operations. Our soldiers have been participating together in the NATO-led peace-support operation in Kosovo.
- Together with Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania is seeking increased involvement in the German-Danish-Polish defense cooperation triangle. For the last few years, we have been taking advantage of invitations to regular meetings with the Danish, German, and Polish Defense Ministers and their Baltic counterparts. Our armed forces also have developed cooperative activities with the Danish-German-Polish Multinational Corps Northeast. Such cooperation was very successful in assisting Poland to prepare for NATO membership. We expect such cooperation with and assistance to the Baltic States.
- We continue to emphasize the importance of BALTSEA (Baltic Security Assistance Management Group), which brings together nations ready and willing to contribute to our efforts to strengthen our defense capabilities. Involvement in BALTSEA activities not only by countries from the Baltic Sea region proper, but also from the U.S., the U.K., France, and others, is vital to our efforts to build stability in and around our region. As I said, we consider the enlargement of NATO a key element in strengthening security in our region. NATO enlargement to include the Baltic States cannot be separated from other integration processes in Europe, e.g., EU enlargement, the introduction of the Euro, development of the European security and defense policy, strengthening of the transatlantic link, non-governmental initiatives, and bilateral and multilateral projects. No matter how differently individual countries may evaluate the role of NATO in today's Europe, we believe that NATO enlargement provides value for all countries surrounding the Baltic Sea.
LITHUANIA AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY
In the past few years, Lithuania has greatly increased her contribution to international security. After receiving international support for a long time, we have started, in our turn, to share our accumulated experience with other new democracies.
- We contribute continuously to NATO-led peace-support operations. Today, our troops are in Bosnia (SFOR) together with Danes, and in Kosovo (KFOR) together with Poles. We have provided a transport aircraft in support of NATO-led SFOR and KFOR operations.
- By the end of the year 2002, Lithuania plans to prepare a completely NATO-interoperable infantry battalion potentially available for Article V deployments on Lithuanian soil; the battalion will also be capable of detaching company-size contingents for NATO-led peace-support operations.
- We have been sharing with interested partners in Eastern Europe a number of our experiences: in reforming and democratically controlling the armed forces, in cooperating with NATO, in contributing to international peace support and crisis management, and in having foreign troops withdrawn from our territory. Such countries as Ukraine and Georgia have explicitly supported Lithuania's NATO membership aspiration in the context of our bilateral defense cooperation agreements. Lithuania faces no immediate military threat. The main purpose of our integration with NATO is to prevent possible tensions from ever appearing. This purpose should be known by the countries involved as well as by all neighbors.
INTERACTION WITH RUSSIA
Our dialogue with our neighbor Russia is an important chapter in our overall security policy and, of course, part of our very open, honest, transparent, value-based, and non-confrontational NATO accession strategy. Through our dialogue we are demonstrating to our Russian partners that our course towards NATO membership and all other elements of our security and defense policy are in no way directed against Russia's legitimate security interests. On the contrary, NATO enlargement will benefit Russia by virtue of stabilizing security in the area. We all remember the days when people did not believe Russia would ever accept German unification or Polish membership in NATO. That was only a few years ago. Reality has proved the contrary. Like all of us, Russian politicians have drawn lessons from the most recent round of NATO enlargement. One such lesson is that in spite of her earlier rhetoric, Russia did not undertake any action in response to the Czech, Hungarian, and Polish NATO entries. The other important lesson is that following the NATO entries, the mutual relations between the new members and Russia did not deteriorate. On the contrary, they improved in certain respects. This may be the reason why, while still generally opposed to NATO enlargement, Russia has become softer in her anti-enlargement rhetoric. Instead of bluntly obstructing Alliance enlargement, including the Baltic area, Russia seems to be looking for optimal ways to live and behave once the present NATO candidates have become full-fledged members of NATO. We should encourage Russia along these lines. The dynamics of integration have already provided benefits to our countries. Enlargement fosters rapprochement between states with a history of tense relations. Our cooperation with the Russian Federation is now based on the principles of transparency, mutual trust, and openness, and we work with them in several ways:
- We continue to emphasize pragmatic cooperation with the Kaliningrad region, which we think should be further demilitarized and receive new economic impetus.
- We regularly invite Russian military observers to the biggest military exercises in Lithuania (in 2001, this is the international Amber Hope exercise in September).
- We have agreed with Russia bilaterally on additional CSBMs. We have exchanged extra quotas of information evaluation visits under the OSCE Vienna Document '99 and agreed to exchange information on military forces in Lithuania and Kaliningrad in the CFE Treaty format (without Lithuania being party to the treaty).
- In cooperation with Sweden, the U.S., Estonia, and Latvia, and with Russian participation, we conducted a training course on military environmental issues in Lithuania early in 2001. Another Lithuanian seminar in the summer of 2001 that also had Russian participation addressed civil-military emergency planning.
- Since the March 2001 visit by President Adamkus to Russia, we have increased our bilateral dialogue in the field of security and defense. The latest visit to Lithuania by Col. Gen. Valentin Bogdanchikov, deputy to Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, developed into an honest and mutually tolerant exchange of views on the entire spectrum of security issues, from Lithuania's upcoming NATO membership to practicalities of Russian military transit.
- On the military transit issue, we are generally satisfied with the way it proceeds and with Russia's overall compliance with the rules of transit through Lithuanian territory. Understandably, the amount of direct military cooperation with Russia that we can afford depends on how firmly Lithuania is anchored in Western security institutions. Thus, one of the benefits we expect from our future membership in NATO is a solid basis for full-value security cooperation with Russia, which then will be designed as cooperation between a NATO member and a PFP Partner.
Let me conclude by saying that the huge networks of cooperation that exist in the northern part of our continent constitute part of much wider European, transatlantic, and Euro-Atlantic security structures. Thus, the dynamically developing cooperation in the region is one of the pillars, but not a substitute for, our overall efforts to create stability in our region, and notably to the ongoing EU and NATO enlargement processes. Cooperation in the Baltic Sea area is in the interests of all countries within the region and beyond it. In the larger framework of transatlantic structures, we are obliged to use all existing mechanisms and create new ones in order to enhance peace, security, and stability in our part of the world.