Nordic doubts upset Baltic NATO enthusiasts

Baltic countries are unhappy about Finland and Sweden’s negative attitude to their ambition to become NATO members. In an editorial, Helsingin Sanomat (8 May 2001) says that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania noticed early on that Finland and Sweden never warmed up to their aspiration to become members of the Atlantic alliance.

“Finland, Sweden and other Nordic countries have supported and even strongly advocated the access of the three Baltic countries to the European Union. As members of the EU, Finland as well as Sweden and Denmark have been able to influence EU decision-making from inside.

“At the same time, at least Finland and Sweden have implied that EU membership would be a sufficient security policy solution for the Baltic countries and would make their NATO aspirations unnecessary or at least secondary. This view has also wider support in the EU and also in NATO which sees the Baltic countries’ membership as a difficult issue.

“Estonia at least may become an EU member by the year 2005. For Latvia and Lithuania, membership is just a question of time. This has not made them to give up their NATO dreams. On the contrary, the change of President in the United States and the approaching NATO summit – which will make decisions about enlargement – have brought NATO hopes to the forefront of foreign policy issues in the Baltic countries.”

Helsingin Sanomat says that Bush’s government has to decide within the next year whether it will back the access of the Baltic countries – probably only one of them – to NATO, in addition to Slovakia and possibly Slovenia. Their chances are now seen as slightly better than was generally believed some time ago, the editorial states.

“Finland and Sweden’s reluctant attitude towards the Baltic countries’ NATO membership is one factor which may influence the United States’ and other NATO countries’ decision – this is at least something to worry about in the Baltic countries. This is why Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius want to put pressure on [Finland’s President] Tarja Halonen and other Nordic politicians in power.

“Finland should take care that we don’t directly or indirectly oppose the Baltic countries’ NATO aspirations. It is not enough that we admit that all countries have the right to choose their security arrangements, and then simultaneously express our doubts and reservations.

“The latter include references to Russia’s big power status and concern about destabilising of the Baltic Sea area. As small European states, the Baltic countries have the right to think about their own security before everything else. This is a right which Finland should not question.”

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