Washington, April 5 (RFE/RL) -- Washington is currently grappling with the difficult question of how to deal with the Baltic states in the context of NATO's planned enlargement. There is general agreement that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will not be included in the first tranche of East European countries invited to join the alliance. There also is concern about the consequences for the Baltic states, their neighbors, and international security if they are not included.
As so often happens when American policy makers confront a difficult foreign policy question, they have turned to the RAND Corporation, a private research organization that has been doing research and making policy recommendations on issues for more than 40 years. Such studies and their recommendations do not necessarily lead to the definition of a new policy, but they often help to crystallize one.
RAND has just released a new study by two of its senior analysts, Ronald D. Asmus and Robert Nurick, on "NATO Enlargement and the Baltic States."
This 40-page study begins with an acknowlegement that the Baltic states are unlikely to be included among the first new members of NATO - as the authors note, these countries "do not have sufficient political support" to join now.
The study suggests that the reasons for that include a general Western view that these countries are not as central to Western security as Poland is, that Russia would react negatively to Baltic inclusion in NATO, that these countries still have unresolved minority and border issues, that they are not defensible, and that Kaliningrad - the non-contiguous portion of the Russian Federation - makes including them extremely problematic.
But the RAND study suggests that rather than reducing the significance, these factors increase the importance of articulating a security policy for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Specifically, the RAND study recommends an approach based on what it calls the five "pillars" of Baltic security.
- First, "strengthening Baltic reform." The study suggests that continued economic and political reforms in the three Baltic countries, the resolution of problems concerning their treatment of ethnic Russians living on their territories, and the expansion of both their individual and collective security efforts will serve to stabilize the Eastern Baltic region and make these countries more likely candidates for admission to Western institutions, including NATO.
- Second, "Baltic-Nordic cooperation." The study suggests that the Nordic countries are unlikely to grant formal security guarantees to the Baltic states but that expanded Noridc cooperation with the Baltic states will enhance the security of both groups of countries without provoking the Russians in the way that direct NATO or American involvement might.
- Third, "EU Enlargement." The RAND study calls this the "central pillar" of Baltic security and recommends that Estonia be included in the first group of East European countries to be offered EU membership. But the authors argue that Estonia's entrance - which would stimulate changes in Latvia and Lithuania - should be conditioned on Tallinn's agreement not to seek full membership in the West European Union (WEU), the EU's military arm. Such a restriction would thus keep Estonia from gaining the "backdoor" access to NATO that full WEU membership might imply.
- Fourth, "Keeping the Door Open for NATO Membership." RAND suggests that American and NATO officials should make it clear in public that failure to include the Baltic states in the first tranche of new members does not mean that they can't join later. Lack of clear public statements on this might leave the Baltics in a security vacuum.
- Fifth, "Dealing with Moscow." The study acknowledges that the basic challenge for NATO and the West is to "enmesh" the Baltic states in "a web of bilateral, multilateral and institutional ties with the West without provoking Moscow."
That goal, the authors say, will not be "easy to achieve." They advocate a strategy of quiet diplomacy, Western involvement in removing irritants between Moscow and the Baltic states, and inclusion "wherever possible" of Moscow in talks with the West and with the Baltic countries as well.
Pursuit of these five "pillars of Baltic security," the RAND study says, would have clear benefits. It would "elevate Estonia" to the status of Sweden and Finland by giving Tallinn full membership in the EU, partial membership in the WEU, and an expanded role in the Partnership for Peace.
It would give a "powerful impetus" to Latvia and Lithuania to make the changes that will allow them to achieve the same status. It would avoid the problems of full WEU membership. It would further Nordic security. And it would explicitly acknowledge NATO's need for a Northern strategy.
Such an approach, the authors suggest, would buy time for all concerned without increasing Baltic insecurity and would acknowlege Russian sensitivities without the appearance of "deals" that would compromise NATO's own purposes.
This report has already sparked discussions in Washington; it is certain to lead to more in Baltic capitals as well as more broadly.