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Latvia: President Analyzes NATOs Influence On Security In Europe

Prague, 12 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The following is a final text of a speech made yesterday by Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis. President Ulmanis spoke at the close of an RFE/RL-organized, one-day conference on the future of NATO after the Washington summit on the subject of European security and NATO expansion. It was translated into English by Lolita Cigane.

Distinguished participants of the conference,

First of all I would like to thank Radio Free Europe for the invitation to participate in todays conference.

For me, this is a historic moment, because there have been times when RFE was the only source of truth, the only ray of hope, and we all were active listeners, although there were attempts to forbid this and there were attempts to overshadow it. However, our hope for Latvias future strengthened, and this is thanks to RFE, which has always been persistent and clear in its attitude toward freedom, in its opinions about the rights of any nation to independence.

For decades, Radio Free Europe has been giving hope to those who were keeping the fire of freedom alive on the other side of the Iron Curtain. And once again we can today thank RFE that this hope has found its fulfillment.

Europe is no longer divided by an ideological antagonism. In this respect as well, the contribution of Radio Free Europe is notable. I myself, as one of many to whom the radio has given a chance to experience the meaning of democratic values, would like to express my opinion about how Latvia feels today and also talk about some issues already raised in todays discussion.

However, I will not talk history today. First, because history is not the main theme of our discussion today. And second, I do not really think that I would be able to keep your attention with lengthy historical discourses, because most of you have an excellent knowledge of historical contexts.

Instead, I will talk about the influence of the NATO summit on the security situation in Europe, and I will give my opinion on how it might develop in the future. Next, I would like to discuss with you how the decisions of the NATO summit are perceived in Latvia. I will end my speech by outlining specific steps that are being taken to implement the results of the NATO summit. These are some questions that we can discuss later in the form of questions and answers.

If we look today at the security situation in Europe, we can conclude that the North Atlantic Alliance is establishing itself as a central element of the European security system. I would like to stress that we are talking about an organization that appears to be developing as the main guarantor of security to all sub-regions of Europe. The meeting of the NATO member states, candidates, partners and governments that took place during the NATO summit proves this conclusion.

Although we have stepped back from ideological antagonism, threats to European security have not disappeared. This is a situation that we realize every day. One of the gravest threats after the Cold War is local ethnic conflict. As the Kosovo experience shows, these conflicts tend to expand into a broader, sub-regional territory. We can also point out other parallels. As the alliance becomes more of a peacekeeping tool, close cooperation with NATO will, in the future, strengthen political security in potentially endangered European regions and will encourage the establishment of democratic values. The great unknown in the European security structure today and maybe in the future is Russia. We all know that in mathematical solutions the main objective is to find the unknown. A specific feature of this situation is that this unknown has to be looked for with a united effort, together with Russia. We have to consider what Russia is going to be in the future, how it sees itself in the future and what it is prepared to do today.

My experience through the years indicates that the time has passed when we should answer questions about Russia with statements like: "you know, there is chaos which is not possible to deal with this is hard to predict." We have to try to understand Russias character, Russias nature, its trends in development. On the other hand, we have to help Russia to manage its chaotic situation. We cannot stick to the usual rhetoric -- "this is something huge, unknown, not understandable."

I think that we cannot take the traditional approach to Russia -- that it will always create surprises. I think it is in the interests of all European states and also in the interests of Russia, to take advantage of the possibilities provided by the EU and by the possible cooperation with NATO.

I would also like to recall the meeting to mark NATO's 50th anniversary in Washington. There was a rather exclusive meeting and we sat at the table -- leaders of 40 countries. The meeting included leaders from former Soviet territories, now leaders of independent states. Many of those leaders formerly had been active participants in the system of Soviet ideology. Some of them had been members of the Politburo and Central Committee (of the Communist Party).

Some days ago at that roundtable were sitting representatives of NATO member states and among them were sitting former members of the Politburo. They were trying to understand, trying to comprehend, what should be done to ensure security in Europe and in the world.

One of the few countries not present at the table was Russia. There was a unanimous expression of regret that Russia was not participating in this opportunity to talk to the leaders of other countries in the world, which would have been, first of all, in Russias own interest.

And I really hope that this event and the determination of the NATO member states to strengthen peace will prompt Russia into future thinking about itself and also European countries.

If we talk about Latvias position regarding Russia, I can only say that Latvia is prepared for any dialogue with Russia. Any dialogue -- economic, political, cultural, scientific -- in all fields. I think that this dialogue has already started and is taking place. However, the Baltic countries are considered the most peaceful and stable region (of the former Soviet Union). Paradoxically, this creates a situation in which Russia is not willing to advance the dialogue. Instead, Russia reverts to a familiar theme, blaming Latvia for violating human rights.

And in this regard, Russia fails to see that the issue of human rights is no longer critical for the Baltic states. Those issues have been solved. When we regained our independence, there lived in Latvia -- and still live there --people comprising non-Latvian nationalities amounting to more than 40 percent of the population. (Upon regaining independence) whenever I met different foreign politicians, they warned that its not possible to integrate such a huge percentage (of non-Latvians) into the society. However, we have done this.

We have passed flexible legislation and we have been persistently moving towards our citizenship law for a long time. Thanks to the (outcome of) the referendum (last October), we accepted the only correct formulation (of the citizenship law) that is acceptable for all residents of Latvia.

Today, Latvian residents (who are ethnic minorities) no longer think about how to emigrate to Russia, Belarus or other countries. Today they think about how to find their right place, how to find their place in Latvian society and they are trying to identify themselves with the notion of Latvian citizenship.

I forgive Russia for not seeing (Latvias reform efforts), because they have much more serious problems. However, I really hope that once they turn towards Latvia, they will see that Latvia has become one of the most progressive places (of the former Soviet Union). It served a different role in 1991, when the Soviet Union broke down, thanks in part to the activities of the Baltic states.

The Baltic countries are turning into a positive and progressive example for all of Europe.

Briefly, I would like to refer to the phenomenon that in foreign policy theory is called a unipolar world order. Despite what has been widely heard about unipolar dominance in the world, I believe that such a structure cannot be achieved in practice. It also contradicts present global development trends. NATO expansion does not suggest that the world is becoming unipolar. This is what we in Latvia believe and I think that other countries would agree. To the contrary, an expanded alliance will have to exert much greater effort in the decision-making process and its interests will more precisely correspond to the security interests of the European states.

I would also like to say some words about the impact of the Washington summit on the accession of the Baltic States, including Latvia, to NATO. By naming Latvia as a candidate of the alliance, as well as by providing a NATO Membership Action Plan, a clear signal has been given that NATO is opposed to the so-called red line security policy. It once again stresses that the question is not whether the Baltic States will join NATO, but rather when it will happen. The Baltic states regard the Washington decision as a final and irreversible move towards NATO expansion. I think that the accession to NATO of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland is historic. And we sincerely congratulate our good friends and neighbors. Those countries joining NATO serve as an example for us in two respects.

First, the further expansion of NATO will depend on what results the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland achieve, and I hope they will be positive.

Second, our close military cooperation with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland will let us simultaneously learn to be real members, not only candidates, whenever we look in the nearest future (to achieving membership).

I would also like to agree with the opinion of Mr. Goble, which was widely published in Latvia, that if in the nearest two to three years NATO expansion will be impeded in some way or other, this might be a serious threat to the security of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

In this respect, I think, if not in this conference, then in some other event, we should analyze the security policy of the Baltic Sea region states and see what role the Baltic states could play.

NATO has politically expressed its determination to prepare individual membership action plans that will allow each state to achieve NATO standards. However, the accession decision is a political one. I believe that we should avoid a situation where the main criteria for NATO membership is a candidates compliance with certain technical standards. In reality, technical criteria often serve as a shield for clear political aims.

I would like to once again stress that for Latvia the accession is mainly dependent upon public sentiment. The technical problems are a question of some minutes or, at least, some hours. But public opinion and public support, not only in the Baltic states but also in the world, is a crucial issue.

I think Russia today is a country where the majority of the people think that NATO is aggressor, an ogre, and so forth.

European society has to insure that Russian society gets a clearer view of NATO objections, tasks and policy. I think so far this question has been insufficiently explained and emphasized.

I would also like to draw your attention to a question that has been widely discussed of late in connection with the efforts of the three Baltic states to join NATO. I hope you discussed in this conference whether the three Baltic states can be considered to be a unified group of NATO candidate states. The individual Membership Action Plans also lead us to such an approach.

I believe, if only one or two Baltic countries are invited to join NATO, it will diminish the will of the Baltic states to cooperate in the field of defense. This opinion is not based on a conviction that one of the Baltic states is better than the others. Believe me, Latvia is ready to work seriously with NATO structures and talk about the accession process.

The number of cannons, planes or war machines is not a deciding issue that should be considered by NATO in evaluating the readiness of one or more to participate in NATO structures. The political will and the opinion of the society is what matters and Latvia, in my opinion, is more ready then other Baltic countries, in this context.

If we reject the perception of the Baltic states as a united candidate group, it would contradict the existing approach -- that by gradually integrating their defense structures, the Baltic states would lead to the increased security of the Baltic Sea Region. If the Baltic states are divided, Baltic cooperation will suffer and the security of Baltic states left outside of the enlargement process would diminish.

When the Membership Action Plan was adopted at the Washington summit, the alliance demonstrated the political determination to help NATO candidates reach the standards that are necessary for membership. This is a good tool for those who want to help themselves. We do not expect that somebody should come and take care of our security instead of us.

I would also like to point out that last year a detailed plan for Latvias integration was prepared. The aim is to make Latvias preparation for NATO membership more systematic. Our aim is to make this plan a full part of the NATO Membership Action Plan. This is a foundation on which further integration of Latvia into NATO processes must be based.

The assurance of Latvia, that it along with other Baltic countries can contribute to European security, has fostered concrete activities.

Our soldiers participate in SFOR activities in Bosnia. The Latvian parliament has supported the decision of the Latvian government to send a field medical unit to support the NATO humanitarian mission for Kosovo. We have expressed our readiness in case of need to temporarily re-settle Kosovo refugees in Latvia. This year Latvia increased its defense budget by 40 percent and our aim is to reach 2 percent of GDP in the next few years.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the accession of the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary to the North Atlantic Alliance, as well as the spirit of the decisions made in Washington, makes us believe in NATO's ability to respond to any new challenges to European security. Latvias belief is that this is one of the security pillars. NATO is gradually becoming the core of a European security system for the next century. Therefore, the expansion process of NATO must continue. With a united effort we must facilitate the accession of new members during the next summit. And I am certain, when we talk about further expansion, we talk about the Baltic states.

I thank you for your attention and I hope for your understanding and support.