In the Baltic region, we are developing our defense system. Therefore, I would like to describe our current achievements, our priorities, and the difficulties that we must face. Five years ago, we started building our defense system from scratch. As a young democracy, we were impatient. Overnight, we wanted to cover 50 years of development. This was impossible, but we have proceeded as rapidly as we could in order to become a Partner, which will permit us to contribute to the joint efforts that are now advancing European stability.
Clearly, a small country such as Lithuania cannot guarantee its security alone. Therefore, Lithuania can only protect itself against internal and external sources of instability by looking to stable collective security institutions such as NATO. Every country, including Russia and Ukraine, must decide whether or not to join the security-promoting process that NATO represents in order to end the misunderstandings and other barriers that have arisen in past decades. Someday we may become a member of NATO or the WEU. As we build our own defense security systems, however, our greatest priority is to assure that every step is taken in parallel with regional confidence-building.
Since the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) are small, we must develop joint defense positions and structures. The three Baltic States recently signed a trilateral agreement on military cooperation in which we established ad hoc groups to develop programs of regional importance. We must determine what each country can do individually and identify where assistance is required.
In fact, regional cooperation is needed on an even wider scale. For this reason, I will stress the substantial contributions of our neighbor, Denmark, which have helped improve the dialogue between the West and the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. Because they share the same sense of independence, dignity, and values, smaller countries such as Denmark and Lithuania seem to understand each other more easily. Thus, our smaller countries are able to develop excellent programs together. In fact, some of these programs may serve as models that will help develop the political dialogue between East and West: the Baltic Battalion, for which we are training people and creating compatible structures, may serve as a framework for still larger projects.
When Western countries ask how they can help us, it is sometimes difficult to respond. Under the framework of Western assistance to the Baltic Battalion, which we have signed with Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Great Britain, Germany, and the United States, however, our responsibilities are clear. For instance, Nordic countries are providing training centers for use by United Nations peacekeepers; Great Britain is providing basic training for our soldiers as well as language training. Such well-defined programs are very helpful and should be established on a wider scale.
Over the last five years, we sent approximately 300 young people from our military institutions to train in Western countries. This investment is already paying off by infusing new blood into our system. And in addition to studying and training, our young people are taking part in all possible Partnership for Peace exercises. This year, we doubled both the number of our participants and the number of events in which we participated. We will continue to increase our participation, because the PFP activities provide excellent opportunities both to develop and to learn how we are doing.
Among the exercises in which we have recently participated, the 1995 trilateral naval exercises among the three Baltic countries were of special importance. This year, too, we participated in other important PFP peacekeeping exercises with Lithuanian, Polish, and Danish soldiers. Also, in August of 1994, Lithuania participated in peacekeeping exercises with United Nations Special Forces. By participating in these exercises, we are shaping a mutually beneficial political environment.
Lithuania is involved in two especially important programs: peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia and air-space control. In the former Yugoslavia, Lithuanian platoons have been working in peacekeeping missions in close cooperation with Danish battalions. One Lithuanian platoon has already returned. In order to fully utilize its experience, many of its members were assigned to positions in the Ministry of Defense or on the general staff. Another platoon has just left for the former Yugoslavia to continue this mission.
Our new air-space control system program will help us increase safety, integrate structures, and promote cooperation among countries. It is an excellent opportunity to cooperate with other countries, especially with our neighbor Poland.
Despite our successes, we still have problems. We must utilize other organizations, such as the WEU, and continue our work on peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and humanitarian rescue operations. In working together, we must coordinate our efforts so we can progress smoothly, while avoiding duplication. In particular, since the planning cells in both NATO and the WEU are active, we need to coordinate their activities to avoid duplication or competition. When the Baltic countries are involved, coordination is very important because we cannot take part in many programs.
We know that instability will not bring us closer to membership in NATO or the WEU. Poor relations with our neighbor Russia will not help either. So our first foreign policy priority is to continue our efforts to maintain normal relations and a fluent dialogue with our neighbors, especially the Nordic countries, Belarus, and Russia. And in conferences and seminars like the NATO Workshop, we hope to show that we are working with each other to end our isolation and to keep each other informed of our activities and future plans. We will solve our security problems only through communication and the respect of our Partners.
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