Defense Minister of Boznia and Herzegovina Dr. Selmo Cikotic
Security in the Baltic Region
Her Excellency Rasa Juknevičienė
A UNIQUE MOMENT IN HISTORY FOR PROSPERITY AND STABILITY
The fact that I meet my colleagues, Finland’s Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Security Policy Jaakko Laajava and Latvia’s Defense Minister Imants Liegis, more often than some of my colleague ministers from my own government is evidence of our excellent regional cooperation, and especially defense cooperation. Moreover, I would say that defense cooperation among our three Baltic countries offers an example to our own politicians for dealing with the many other kinds of issues that we must discuss in Latvia.
My main message for this very important conference and panel is that the Baltic Region and Northern Europe as well are now at a unique moment in their history. We are approaching the 70th anniversary of the occupation of the Baltic States in June 1940. This anniversary is a powerful symbol representing the extremely complex and challenging history of our countries. In comparison with the turmoil that we have experienced in the course of our history, the Baltic Region is currently more stable and secure than it ever was before, even when we look back more than a hundred years.
Our six year old membership in NATO and the EU opened a new window of opportunity. It is not the end of history that some people had foreseen at the time; it is only the beginning. These memberships are very important tools, but we now have to do a lot ourselves. And it is the right time to set some new strategic objectives for regional cooperation. Northern Europe—Nordic and Baltic States plus Poland—has the potential to become one of the most prosperous and stable regions in Europe. This is my message and it is what we want to achieve. The Baltic countries, Poland, and Nordic States have many similarities, including geography, as well as similar values and a common vision concerning the future of a Euro-Atlantic security system. I believe that the project of regional security cooperation requires further efforts. We would welcome any further deepening of the partnership of Sweden and Finland with NATO. This is a very pragmatic issue and very important for our interests. For example, the Swedish Parliament expressed a commitment some time ago not to be passive if other EU countries in the region are threatened or attacked—this is an important step in the right direction.
RUSSIA’S ROLE IN THE NORTHERN REGION
Russia is a very big neighbor, with an immense territory. And of course Russia has played, now plays, and will continue to play an important role in our region. I believe that the relations between the West and Russia can be improved on the basis of reciprocity from both sides. It is evident that we cannot ensure complete regional stability and security without Russia’s will and determination to support it. The fact that the Russian people consider Estonians to be the main threat to their country is clear propaganda and it is unwise to educate the very young generation in that way. Yet, I do think that Russia will acknowledge this mistake sooner or later on its own. So the ball is in Russia’s court now. Our aspirations are worthless unless there a real changes in Russia’s thinking and a real desire to improve relations.
A CRUCIAL STRONG TRANSATLANTIC LINK
As a result of this geopolitical environment, a strong transatlantic link remains in our view a crucial element of the regional security structure. The involvement and presence of the United States is fundamental as a strategic glue enabling further regional cooperation. We have recently noticed positive moves from the Russian side. At the same time, we are expecting strategic changes, not just small tactical steps. I strongly believe that one of the crucial reasons for the unification, peace and successful integration of Europe was the fundamental change in Germany’s strategic thinking after the war. Germany acknowledged its past problems and chose a course of intensive, open, and transparent integration with its neighbors, which permitted the success of the European Union. Today, practical military cooperation between Germany and Lithuania is among the best in NATO. I believe that a similar Russian openness in assessing its past history would have a fundamental, positive impact on the success of regional cooperation and security.
DOING OUR HOMEWORK
Now that we have arrived at this unique moment for the future of Northern Europe, one more precondition is required for the development of the region: It is the removal of certain stereotypes. The Baltic region is not a special case. Yet despite its membership in NATO and the EU, the Baltic region is still described from time to time as a special case, an exceptional and particularly sensitive region. I believe that this view, which is artificial, has to go. We should be seen as part of a wider geographical area from Norway to Turkey. For example, NATO exercises in the Baltic Region should not be seen as any different from the exercises in Southern Europe. It is not about escalating tension, it is about ensuring an equal sense of security in the whole Alliance.
Despite its tremendous importance, our participation in international organizations cannot and will not be a magic solution to all our problems. We should not forget Article 3 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Doing our homework and strengthening our national capacity to address the challenges remains one of the key preconditions of success. I will give a few examples of this homework: The Baltic Defense Cooperation; the Nordic Baltic “5 + 3” foreign ministers’ meetings every year; defense ministers’ meetings; our CHODs’ meetings—we have started to speak about common procurements in the near future; the successful affiliation of our brigade with a Danish division. As I speak, the Baltics are hosting a very important exercise based on Article 5. So we have to do our homework. It might be a paradox but I also believe that the current financial crisis can have a positive impact in terms of strengthening our national capacities. Financial challenges call for the optimization of our structures and the way we spend money. Our aim should be to exit the financial crisis with leaner, cheaper, and a more flexible structure on one hand and smarter spending on the other.