- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001

In his landmark speech to the recent regional defense conference in Bratislava, Czech President Vaclav Havel proposed that the order of priorities for NATO enlargement should be reversed. The Baltic states and Slovakia should be the first of the new states admitted, he argued, not the last.
Mr. Havel understands the Russian mentality. He knows that a painfully slow, gradual process of enlargement extended over many years would bring about a lingering and protracted conflict with Russia over the issue. He knows that the admission of the Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia would meet with strong rhetorical resistance from Moscow. But their admission to NATO would also bring closure. It would make possible a new era of improved relations between the Atlantic community and Russia; an improvement that is not possible as long as Russia continues to threaten the Baltics and other neighboring countries lying in what it calls its "near abroad."
Over the past year there has been an ominous escalation of Russias threats to its Baltic neighbors. Last June the Russian ministry of foreign affairs released to the press a statement that all three Baltic states were admitted to the Soviet Union in August 1940 "at their own request." It went on to argue that the use of such words as occupation or annexations in describing its occupation of the Baltic countries "ignores the political, historical and legal realities." Since Moscow claims the entire former territory of the Soviet Union as its exclusive sphere of influence, the release of such statements is clearly intended to threaten and intimidate.
Dimitri Rogozin, chairman of the Dumas foreign affairs committee, was even more explicit: "If Estonia is admitted to NATO, (Russian) non-strategic missiles and long-distance artillery would be targeted at all strategic NATO sites in that country. Bridges, airfields, power plants, ports and administrative buildings would become targets … Further, the Russian military would become more active and carry out reconnaissance missions in Estonian territory."
Hardly a month goes by without Russia accusing Latvia of discriminatory policies toward its Russian minority, which makes up one-third of Latvias population. Ironically, the Russians living in Latvia have shown no inclination to return to their native country. They clearly find Latvian "discrimination" preferable to living in Russia.
The Baltic nations, which historically have displayed extraordinary courage in facing the Russian giant, have every reason to seek their future security in Western defense structures such as NATO. For their unrestricted sovereignty may last only as long as the cost of expanding Russias influence by force or by blackmail is perceived in Moscow as too high. In this situation, any wrong move by the West could lead to miscalculations in the Kremlin with potentially disastrous consequences. In short, the admission of these small democracies into NATO offers the best chance to prevent an outbreak of a second Cold War.
The United States has only one year to develop a clear position on the next stage of NATO enlargement before the next summit meeting. The administration has little time, therefore, to formulate its own policy and to convince its allies to accept that policy.
It is no secret that Great Britain is the strongest opponent to any move which could offend Russia, a position which oddly conflicts with the lessons of its own past experience. Britains attempts to appease Hitler led to World War II, and the postwar appeasement of Stalin brought on the Cold War. Now, attempts to appease Mr. Putin may destroy the chance for lasting cooperation with Russia based on respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all nations, including Russias immediate neighbors.
In a few days, President Bush will have an opportunity to articulate his policies in Brussels and in Warsaw. It must be hoped that he will go beyond the repetition of old cliches about the doors to NATO being open, while nobody is invited inside, or that Russia has no right of veto but we have to respect Russian sensitivities. Or finally, that we want a free and united Europe, while declining to say where the borders of a united Europe will be drawn.

Jan Nowak is a former consultant to the National Security Council on Central and Eastern European Affairs. For 25 years he was director of the Polish service for Radio Free Europe.


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