The Baltic nations say they see the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as pivotal for their security and integration into the West. Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik says NATO membership is a strategic necessity. RFE/RL Senior Correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports from Washington.
Washington, 9 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik says NATO membership is a strategic necessity for the Baltics.
Luik says Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are coordinating their efforts to become members of the military alliance.
Luik made the comments Wednesday at a briefing in Washington sponsored by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He said Estonia is doing all it can to get into NATO.
"Estonia has taken serious steps over the past year to increase our defense expenditures. I am talking here about raising our spending to reach 2 percent of our GDP (Gross Domestic Product), a level prescribed for NATO membership. This has not been an easy goal to attain, in either a fiscal or a political sense."
NATO is expected to open another round of expansion next year. The Baltic countries are among several central and eastern European nations seeking membership.
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were admitted to NATO last year during its first round of expansion.
Luik said Estonia sees European defense as being tightly integrated with NATO.
The defense minister also said his country's other top priority is to gain admission into the European Union. He said the Baltic Rim may well spark the next boom in the European economy.
"From a defense perspective, the Baltic Rim is a part and parcel of continental security. Along with our Latvian and Lithuanian neighbors, the Baltic states are actively contributing to greater security in the region. We have built up a web of actual, not just declaratory, cooperation in the defense field."
Baltic security was also the theme sounded Wednesday by the chairman of the Lithuanian parliament, Vytautas Landsbergis. He said Russian action is cause for concern.
Landsbergis said the Baltic nations see the Chechen conflict as a real anachronistic colonial war and a potential lesson about Russia.
He told the Atlantic Council of the United States, a non-governmental think-tank, that his region is watching anxiously the signs in all of Russia's dealings with its neighbors.
Landsbergis said the Baltic nations would not like to see "popular radicalism" growing in Russia. He noted that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's armies occupied the three Baltic states and incorporated them into the Soviet Union. The Baltic nations regained their freedom and independence when communism collapsed in the USSR.
Landsbergis said only through joining NATO and the European Union can the Baltic countries ensure that history won't repeat itself.