Europe as unfinished business: Lithuania's vision

Valdas Adamkus
President, Lithuania

I am delighted to address this honourable audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It is no less my pleasure to see Mr Zbygniew Brzezinski present here, a prominent political figure and a famous scholar, whose political writings have contributed to shaping our vision of the future European layout. I am glad to acknowledge that Lithuania has also found a place in this scenario and should, according to Mr Brzezinski, play a significant role in the second round of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) enlargement.

Europe is unfinished business. Appraising the recent political developments on the European continent, one has to admit that this statement particularly applies to Lithuania and the other Baltic States. During her post-Madrid trip to Vilnius in 1997, United States (US) Secretary of State Madeleine Albright clearly stated that Europe is not secure unless the Baltic States are secure. I do endorse a reciprocal link here, as those of us from the Baltic States can build our security only within a stable and open European environment.

Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt once labelled the Baltic States as a litmus test for European security, Western determination and Russian position. At that time it was very much related to Russian troops still present in Estonia and Latvia. Today, the situation is very much different. However, today we still find ourselves at the centre of political debate among major powers.

The ongoing NATO enlargement and invitation of the three applicant countries to join the Alliance have advanced the 'unfinished European business' closer to its completion. Yet the process should continue further and must not be exchanged for a tempting complacency with the current achievements. The case brings to mind the choice of a wise businessperson to invest instead of consuming his/her short-term profits. A series of summits planned for the next year will have much to do with running the European security business in a positive direction - NATO and the United States (US)-European Union (EU) summits, just to mention a few. Should they fix the agenda, it would guarantee an eventual return in terms of stability, prosperity and development.

On the other hand, we do acknowledge that the package of next year' summits and new treaties should map the Alliance's path towards the new century without depriving the organisation of its flexibility to move forward and to accommodate to present day realities. The enlargement has to affirm its process-prone nature which would be of benefit to all countries involved, including the Baltic States.

Regions and countries are diverse, and perhaps the Alliance's future decisions on NATO expansion will be driven by different arguments. We claim, therefore, that the two-dimensional northern-southern expansion balances out the differences. Lithuania and Slovenia, the two countries representing the northern and southern flanks of the enlargement area, share an important principal feature. They are two small, non-problematic applicants who would apparently make little difference to the Alliance should they be incorporated, but who would make an essential difference to the countries still on the waiting list to start negotiations on NATO membership.

You may possibly ask: how does Lithuania perceive itself in the current Euro-Atlantic context? What role will it play on the grand Euro-Atlantic chessboard? Lithuania faces the task of becoming part of a broader regional and international agenda, which I believe will determine our survival. Only the acquired quality of active and responsible participation in global community affairs will help us voice our problems. I believe there is little argument for NATO to exclude securing parts of Europe which, through practical preparation and good neighbourly relations, have coped with their problems.

[Neighbours] There is no doubt that the co-existence of nations and the effective co-operation among neighbouring countries has a great influence on the security and stability of our continent. Being fully aware of the importance of the successful development of bilateral relations, Lithuania pays particular attention to maintaining a constructive and continuous dialogue with all its neighbours.

Mr Brzezinski claims that 'European security is the basis for European reconciliation', and vice versa. I should stress that we feel very much the same way. The unprecedented Lithuanian-Polish rapprochement has actually established the basis for our security. We have also witnessed the impact of good Lithuanian-Polish relations on the increasing stabilisation of the general situation in the region.

Close relations between Lithuania and Poland have gradually transformed into a strategic partnership. Joint Lithuanian-Polish institutions were established at governmental and parliamentary level, allowing the representatives of the two countries to discuss all important matters on a regular basis. Both Lithuania and Poland expressed their readiness to contribute to the maintenance of peace and stability in Europe by establishing a joint peacekeeping unit LITPOLBAT. They are also co-operating closely in promoting democratic processes and stability in those countries neighbouring them.

There is, of course, a package of issues which still demand a comprehensive solution. Yet I always remind critics of the words of President Aleksander Kwasniewski spoken in Vilnius a couple of years ago: 'There will be no secure Lithuania without a secure Poland.' Likewise, Poland cannot be secure without a secure Lithuania. Therefore, we spare no effort to promote our partnership. I am pleased to tell you that my route to Washington went via Warsaw, where I had a short stop and dinner with my good friend President Kwasniewski to share our views on international issues and further co-operation. You may accept it as a good illustration of co-operative patterns being established between our nations, which I believe will positively influence current developments in our region and Europe.

You may place a follow-up question: what are your relations with Russia? All would agree that the invitation of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to join NATO has not worsened their relations with Russia. I believe our case will be a similar one. There is little reason to argue that good relations with Russia cannot be reconciled with our membership to the North Atlantic Alliance, and I personally always pursue this argument.

I have always maintained that present fears of Russia stem mostly from psychological background and outdated stereotypes. Stepping over such stereotypes would facilitate overcoming a number of problems. I do sincerely believe that the generation to come will be free of the stereotypes that for 50 years guided their predecessors. Then it will be firmly established that the Baltic States are an integral part of Europe.

The crisis in Russia has clearly demonstrated that Lithuania stands 'on the other bank of the river'. Although trade with Russia, which accounts for 20 per cent of the total turnover, was influenced by economic turmoil in Russia, our national economy has retained its vitality. Inflation has reached its lowest level since 1991 and will most probably remain under six per cent this year. Most importantly, Lithuania's financial system remains stable. This year alone, Lithuania received $500 million in foreign direct investments (FDIs). I think that these and other indicators demonstrate a healthy status of our economy and its good prospects.

There are many important factors by virtue of which we, Lithuanians, de facto belong to a different reality - the reality dominated by NATO and based on the unity of universal values. It is sufficient to mention our active participation in the PfP activities and numerous exercises on Lithuanian soil, such as the recent Baltic Challenge '98 exercise in Lithuania's seaport Klaipeda; our intensive dialogue with NATO on a variety of issues pertaining to future membership; the development defence structures tailored after the western model; the lead in the Planning and Review Process while seeking interoperability with the allied forces and our active participation in NATO-led peace operations in Europe. These small but concrete steps establish an underlying network that glues us back to the once broken European mosaic.

The 1999 US Triple Crown policy shall put forward the question of how to make Lithuania a jewel in it. I want to believe that the jewellers will perform their state-of-the-art work carefully and with precision. Making a European crown of security is a puzzling issue, and once you miss even a small piece, you will never be able to bring the picture to its completeness.

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