Center for Strategic Decision Research


The Case for Lithuanian Membership in NATO

His Excellency Algirdas Saudargas
Foreign Minister of Lithuania


Since NATO declared itself open to enlargement, giving Central and Eastern European countries hope of rejoining the family they truly belong to, Lithuania has gone through great transformations and witnessed some remarkable achievements. Our wish to join NATO and our willingness to become a well-prepared partner has driven the process of reform.

The present picture of the Baltic region differs dramatically from that of the Cold War period. Despite positive improvements in regional security, new risks and challenges have emerged, including illegal migration, international terrorism, and difficulties resulting from the transitional period Baltic countries are going through as they continue to advance their statehood. As security challenges emerge, the universal principles of the OSCE, the obligations of Council of Europe membership, regional cooperation among the Baltic Sea countries, and the work of the European Commission become increasingly important. Of equal importance to Eastern and Central European states, including Lithuania, as well as to NATO member-countries, is the North Atlantic Alliance.

NATO's decision to enlarge demonstrates the understanding of member-countries that their security is inseparably linked to the security of Eastern and Central Europe. As such, it is not relevant to discuss Baltic region security and Northern European security separately from pan-European security. The issue of security in the Baltic region, in my view, has been wrongly framed.

Lithuania is on an equal footing with other Central European countries and we seek recognition of this fact by our friends in the West. There is only one kind of security that matters--shared European security--just as there is only one direction for the Alliance--to consolidate the democratic reforms, stability, security, and prosperity of all Eastern and Central European countries, including those in the Baltic region.


When we reach the year 1999, it will be almost a decade after the restoration of the three Baltic States' independence and the beginning of the transformation process that dramatically changed the landscape of Central European security. I state now that the Baltic States aspire to join NATO and that ten years is enough time to get this started.

For Lithuania, joining NATO means taking part in the reunification of Europe, replacing instability with stability, ensuring the continuity of reforms, and becoming inseparably allied to countries that share the common values of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. But we do not seek to join NATO with empty arms. We are fully aware of the risks and obligations that come with membership in NATO. We have evaluated carefully the role that Lithuania could play. Our official application for Lithuanian membership in NATO, made on January 4, 1994, asserted that Lithuania adheres to the values and commitments of the Alliance and seeks to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area.

Lithuania wants to join the Alliance as a reliable partner, one able to defend its own territory as well as enrich the Alliance's stabilizing potential. The law passed on December 19, 1996, concerning the basis of national security, provides that Lithuania's national security system be developed as part of a common European security and transatlantic defense system. The law also states that Lithuanian national security, which is to be guaranteed through a total and unconditional defense, seeks to contribute to the stability of the region.


Since the restoration of independence in 1990, Lithuania has been steadily moving toward readiness to join NATO. We have become one of the most active participants in the PFP program. We are also ready to become even more active in an enhanced Partnership program. The participation of Lithuanian troops in IFOR and SFOR missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina illustrates our continuing efforts in ensuring security and stability in Europe.

Lithuania has also become aware of the obligations to the Alliance through Lithuania-NATO 16 + 1 meetings as well as through participation in Partnership for Peace, the Planning and Review Process (PARP), joint exercises, peacekeeping operations, and training. Lithuania joined PARP in 1995, and constantly fulfills its obligations in the sphere of interoperability. We have developed our armed forces in accordance with requirements identified jointly with NATO and follow NATO defense-planning standards.

Each month brings us more good news on the economic development front and on preparations for membership in another key European institution--the European Union. During the first half of 1997, Lithuania's new Conservative-Christian-Democrat government has provided us with good results through determination and commitment. Lithuania is one of the few Central European countries whose main macroeconomic indicators have been steadily growing since 1993.

In 1996, our GDP growth registered 3.6%; it is expected to grow 5% in 1997. Lithuania's inflation rate has been one of the lowest among Central European countries at 13.1%, and from May 1996 to May 1997 was only 7.3%. Our budget deficit has been 2.3% of GDP and is predicted to drop to 1.9% during 1997. Public debt was 15.2% of GDP, and foreign investments increased by 50% in 1996, amounting to almost $600 million. The second stage of privatization is underway, a period during which major communication, transport, and energy enterprises will be privatized. The 1997 Fraser Institute Annual Report on economic freedom worldwide noted Lithuania's significant achievements in developing a market economy and ranked Lithuania second highest among the countries of Central Eastern Europe.

Development of the Lithuanian legal system continues to be a vital component of our preaccession strategy and demonstrates that European integration involves issues of domestic politics. A National Harmonization Program is currently underway in Lithuania, and 40% of the EC directives contained in the White Book are covered by Lithuanian law as of May 1997.


All of these steps indicate that we are ready to start negotiations to accede into the European Union, in which membership is of the same importance to us as membership in NATO. Because we are aware of NATO's dedication to objectivity and to the enhancement of stability in Europe, we also anticipate that the Madrid decisions on enlargement will mitigate the uncertainty now prevailing in Europe. While making decisions is often difficult, and a frequent decision is to delay decisions, we know that NATO will decide in Madrid which countries will be invited to start accession negotiations.

We also count on decisions being made to provide an institutionally supported venue for the remaining applicant countries to ready themselves and, through continuing individual 16 + 1 dialogues, to prove their readiness for NATO membership. In that way the second round of enlargement could start either before or at the same time as the first new states are admitted into the Alliance. Continued internal and external NATO transformation without a clear route for applicant country membership would cause not only a major setback for the declared policy of "security for all" but would also have unpredictable consequences for the reform process in the Baltic States.


How NATO responds to the strong desire of Lithuania and other Eastern and Central European countries to become members will define developments in Europe for years to come. Difficult decisions, political courage, and generosity will be called for. At stake is not only our countries' destinies, but also an historic opportunity to end the uncertainty that for centuries has been so common throughout Europe.



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