- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2001

In the early 1990s, as democracy and freedom began to take shape in Central and Eastern Europe, President George H. W. Bush spoke in Warsaw about his vision of a "Europe Whole and Free." How fitting that the new President George W. Bush would return to this symbolic place and provide the American leadership necessary to help move this vision closer to reality.
The presidents trip to Europe was for the Baltic states a week of hope and trust that America will lead NATO toward further enlargement at its summit in Prague in 2002 and that no country would be excluded because of history or geography. From the U.S. presidents first comments as he addressed the leaders of the alliance in Brussels, we watched with pride. He urged them to "extend our hands and open our hearts" to former Soviet bloc nations that aspire to join the alliance to Secretary-General George Robertsons characterization that "we agreed that NATO must prepare for further enlargement of the alliance. All aspiring members have work to do, yet, if they continue to make the progress they are making, well be able to launch the next round of enlargement when we meet in Prague. We agreed that all European democracies that seek to join our ranks and meet our standards should have the opportunity to do so without red lines or outside vetoes."
And we knew that the United States would provide the leadership necessary for the next expansion of the alliance when President Bush said in Warsaw: "Poland and America share a vision. As we plan the Prague summit, we should not calculate how little we can get away with, but how much we can do to advance the cause of freedom." It was a firm step forward by not only the United States but by all members of the alliance. This decision gives us even stronger incentives and self-confidence while pursuing our further membership preparations. We also agree with the president that "Russia is part of Europe and, therefore, does not need a buffer zone of insecure states separating it from Europe."
We have already been acting and contributing as if we were members of the alliance. All three of our countries have sent troops to peacekeeping operations under the auspices of NATO, the United Nations, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. (OSCE). All three countries are committed to increasing their defense spending to 2 percent of GDP in order to set their force structures right, and further develop their defense capabilities. To maximize our regional effectiveness, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have been cooperating through joint trilateral frameworks such as a peacekeeping battalion, a joint naval squadron, a joint airspace control center, and a joint defense college. Recently all three have decided to closely cooperate in the area of military procurement and discussions with Poland about joint procurements have also begun. Lithuania is a party to the joint Polish-Lithuanian military unit. We have spared no effort in actively implementing our Membership Action Plans while using them as the most comprehensive and candid NATO-candidate feedback mechanisms.
We have been engaged in all these efforts because we believe in cooperation as the primary driving force of todays Atlantic alliance. We have been acting as future allies because we think it is the right thing to do for each of our countries and for our neighbors. The progress achieved to date was recently recognized by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who in a meeting with Nordic and Baltic ministers said that "there is no question that the three Baltic nations have made good progress and they have indicated a desire to be a part of NATO."
We wholeheartedly share Mr. Bushs view of a Europe whole and free, where all of Europes democracies can freely choose their defense and security alliances and their future. The people of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have firmly chosen the path of democracy, prosperity and credible security through membership in the Euro-Atlantic institutions.
We could not agree more that with NATO enlargement, stability and security in Europe will be further extended. Indeed, we know that an enlarged NATO is not a threat to anybody. Moreover, we are fully convinced that membership of the Baltic states is going to be the most telling proof of the alliances non-threatening nature and, therefore, is going to help build greater cooperation with all of our neighbors. This is exactly what happened with Poland in the last round of enlargement. We thank the president for his leadership during his first visit to Europe. We look forward to working with this administration as well the continuing bipartisan leadership shown by the U.S. Congress on this issue and finally to the Prague summit next year, and what we still hope will be a "rendezvous with history."

Sven Jurgenson is the ambassador of Estonia, Aivis Ronis is the ambassador of Latvia and Vygaudas Usackas is the ambassador of Lithuania.

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