Estonia’s Place in the New Atlantic Order
Bob Frasure died on a lonely road in war-torn Bosnia, another victim of Slobodan Milosevic’s tyranny, in pursuit of his vision of a Europe whole and free. When the last of the "Forest Brothers" died in 1978 after decades of bravely resisting Soviet occupation, Baltic patriots around the world could not have anticipated our celebration tonight of your nations’ re-integration with the West, after the horrors of the last 60 years. The Euro-Atlantic agenda today is robust, thanks to Bob’s early vision and resolute NATO engagement on regional security challenges.
Bob Frasure did not live to see his vision of a Bosnia at peace realized, war criminals facing justice, its people spared of war’s horrors. The West’s intervention on their behalf, and in support of their neighbors in Kosovo years later, opened the door to a future of stability and freedom, challenging Balkan ghosts and serving justice to the leaders haunted by them. This peace was Bob Frasure’s ambition, and we honor him for it tonight.
Bob would agree that we have much work left to do in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. In concert with our allies, we should be prepared to do it. The possibility of full-fledged ethnic warfare in Macedonia must be of gravest concern to all members of the Atlantic Alliance, whose aspiration for a free and secure Europe cannot abide another civil war in the Balkans.
I am proud that the newest members of the Alliance support an active NATO role in Macedonia. The contributions of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to NATO’s victory over Serbian forces in Kosovo put to rest any misplaced delusions about their contribution to the Alliance’s mission, and reinforced their transformation from the Cold War’s victims to the new era’s guarantors of security and peace. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, formerly captive nations, have all sent forces to support ongoing NATO operations in Southeastern Europe, in a welcome display of regional security cooperation.
Our Alliance reflects Europe’s continuing and historic transition from hostile division to a continental zone of enlightened rule within secure borders. But that transition remains incomplete. NATO’s fate, and that of Europe, rests upon completing the job we started at the 1999 Washington summit, and which we will continue in Prague next October. As President Bush stated in Warsaw: all of Europe’s new democracies, from the Baltics to the Black Sea, should have a chance to join the North Atlantic Alliance.
It is my hope that you, Estonia’s leaders, shall preside over your nation’s full and final integration into the transatlantic community. In doing so, you will affirm the vision of the patriots who came before you, and ensure that your people never again serve a foreign master, but live in peace in a community of shared values, and shared security. This is not a vain hope for Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania; indeed, it is one that I expect to come to pass, and for which I pledge my support.
We hold both a moral and a strategic interest in the Baltic states’ membership in the NATO alliance. The moral imperative is to correct the division of Europe agreed to by the great powers at Yalta. The strategic imperative is to secure the Baltics’ relationship with the West, of which they are an integral part, and to secure their relationship with Russia, so that never again will there be any doubts about the Baltic nations’ independence.
Contrary to what some assert, NATO membership for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania would reduce the prospects and possibilities for conflict with Russia – which is good for them, good for us, and good for the Russians. As we have seen in the three newest members of the Alliance, NATO membership does not preclude a nation from having a healthy relationship with Russia. It can, in fact, encourage better relations, as we have witnessed, particularly in the dramatic turnaround of the historically troubled relationship between Warsaw and Moscow.
The last round of NATO enlargement demonstrated the importance of the Alliance as a living, vibrant institution, committed to meeting the security challenges of the new Euro-Atlantic region. Cold War-minded critics contended then that we were creating a new dividing line in Europe – but the result of enlargement was to extend the zone of stability and security eastwards, into lands in which the absence of these qualities has frequently led to armed conflict in the past.
Critics said NATO’s consensual decision-making process would become bogged down by the addition of new members. But to the extent that consensus over NATO’s response to Milosevic’s crimes in Kosovo was difficult to achieve, the newest members of the Alliance often provided the strongest support within our councils for joint military action. NATO’s newest members also made important human, material, and geographic contributions to the Alliance’s mission.
Leaders in Prague, Budapest, and Warsaw will be the first to tell you that their status within NATO has required enormous sacrifice – both to meet the terms of Alliance membership and to carry out their solemn obligations to it, in peace and in war. Their commitment was sorely tested when, just days after they formally joined NATO, we went to war to uphold the principles upon which it was founded. Their response left no doubt about their resolve to roll back armed aggression in Europe, from which they had suffered so terribly in another age.
As we approach the Prague summit next year, let us reflect not only upon the successes of the last round of enlargement, but upon the virtues of a new round, and the qualities NATO aspirants would bring to the Alliance. We do not seek to expand NATO for expansion’s sake alone; proponents of enlargement, of which I am an enthusiastic one, occasionally fall into the
rhetorical trap of arguing that we must keep adding new members to NATO to sustain its dynamism, in the same way that you must keep moving on a bicycle to avoid falling off it.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, history’s most successful military alliance, is not so fragile. We do not require the mere ceremonies of enlargement, and the new faces it brings to our councils, for fear of institutional failure, or for simple lack of some higher purpose. We must enlarge this Alliance to complete the task we started in 1948: to create an impregnable zone of stability, security, and peace in Europe that is upheld by our joint military power, rooted in our resolve to defend this territory against aggression, and inspired by our commitment to the principles of liberty, to which we pledge our sacred honor.
In doing so, we replace the containment strategy of the Cold War era with the enlargement of our community of values. We relegate Yalta’s division of Europe to the history books. We forge a new Euro-Atlantic community, transformed by the values we fought the Cold War to protect. And we celebrate the freedom that almost all European peoples enjoy today as a consequence of our mutual sacrifice.
Our values once served usefully to differentiate us from the Soviet system, and the oppression and fear that were its servants. Brave dissidents behind the Iron Curtain – far braver than we in the West who held these same convictions, but who did not risk death in advocating them – reminded us, like stars in the infinite black of the night sky, that light and hope existed in the midst of utter darkness.
Today, those values are triumphant. No human power, no matter how strong or malevolent, can extinguish them. Freedom’s flame, roaring through the captive nations of Europe, destroyed the bonds of oppression, which proved no match for the common idea of liberty. Prime Minister Mart Laar, who is here tonight, captures this spirit in his wonderful book on the Forest Brothers’ unyielding resistance to their Soviet occupiers. In the Prime Minister’s words,
Nobody believed that Estonia would, for decades and decades, be left in the hands of the Soviets. That wasn’t even a possibility. It’s only a question of time, everybody thought. But after decades went by, the idea about the West coming to their aid disappeared. The fight in the forest became a personal thing. These people fought because they simply wanted to die as free men.
You now live as free men, and women, in testament to the values for which the Forest Brothers lived, and died.
We must secure these values for all the people of Europe who share in them, and whose democratic governments are ready to make the solemn commitment to defend them wherever they may be threatened. Our task is to invigorate our Alliance with this premise: that the Atlantic community is not a group of Cold War-era military allies looking for new missions to stay relevant, but a political community of like-minded nations, challenging the cruel dictates of history and geography, that is dedicated to the principles of democracy, and to fostering a continent where war is unimaginable, security is guaranteed, and prosperity unbounded.
Here, our common values flourish, and serve as an example to others. Here, we consign Europe’s bitter and war-torn past to history’s dustbin and replace it with a promise: that the people of our nations shall never again take up arms against each other in this place, but shall in concert vigilantly defend freedom against threats from without. With this promise comes a pledge: that this is no fortified and self-contained bastion of freedom, but a dynamic and expanding Alliance to which we invite friends and neighbors, when they are ready, to join. This pledge reflects our common values, which are universal, and whose potency is multiplied, not diluted, as more and more people share in them.
We speak of these values as universal, but of course their origin is in the West. We see the West as a community of nations culturally distinct from friends and allies elsewhere. NATO is an alliance of Western nations. In discussing NATO enlargement, then, we must ask, in Vaclav Havel’s words: where is the eastern end of the West? By virtue of their history and culture, the Baltic states clearly fall within this shared community of values.
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are each individual countries with individual histories – but they have suffered the shared horrors of Nazi domination and Soviet occupation. Their status as “captive nations” during the Cold War captured this reality. The United States never recognized their annexation by the Soviet Union. We would be doing so now if we argued that the Baltic nations were somehow different from other aspiring European candidates for membership in the Alliance by virtue of their previous, and involuntary, relationship with Russia.
We would also be acknowledging the right of foreign powers to control the destinies of other nations. We fought the Cold War because we oppose this principle, resolutely. As President Havel has said, we call the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov pact criminal because we did not then and do not now acknowledge the right of great powers to speak for sovereign nations in their neighborhoods. We will not abide the argument that Russian sensitivities today should preclude Baltic nations’ aspirations for NATO admission, because we believe the Baltic states speak for themselves.
I would suggest four principles for our policy toward Russia: realism, reform, reciprocity, and resolve. Our policy must be predicated upon Russian actions. Moscow’s motives remain, in many respects, opaque. U.S. and European views of Russia should also be shaped by the extent to which it carries out genuine economic and political reform. Economic and political corruption remain pervasive in Russia, and until reforms are implemented, Russia’s neighbors cannot be faulted for questioning its intentions. Reciprocity refers to development of a relationship wherein mutual interests are manifested in concrete action. Finally, we should feel no reluctance to stand up to Russian leaders when they challenge our interests and values.
As you and other leaders in Central and Eastern Europe well know, Russia is still grappling with its post-Cold War identity, and exploring its relationship with the West. Much good can come from this exploration: a new strategic relationship with the United States not premised on mutual enmity and mutually assured destruction; a greater willingness to act as a responsible member of the international community; a renewed push for Russian reform. But we should not allow Russia the temptation to pursue old habits, for its sake and for our own. The days of spheres of influence and internal subversion of sovereign nations are over. Russia can have a better future than its past, and it should aspire to this, again, for its own sake.
President Havel put it well in Bratislava last May:
It is my profound conviction that Russia does not deserve that we behave towards it as we would towards a leper, an invalid, or a child who requires special treatment and whose whims, no matter how dangerous, must be understood and tolerated.... The Prague summit could not only help the Alliance to attain a yet deeper level of self-understanding, and a yet clearer expression of its identity, but also inspire Russia to seek a clearer understanding of its character, its identity, and its relations with others, in order that Russia’s policy may be governed by a dispassionate and objective self-confidence of someone who, not being troubled by doubts about itself, sees no reason to look for illusory enemies as substitute culprits to bear the blame for its own uncertainty.
My friends, some Russian leaders still have not come to terms with Baltic independence. They do not accept what we in the West have never doubted: that the Baltic nations were captives of Soviet imperialism from 1944 to 1991, and that their status today is no different from that of other aspirant countries, despite this history of illegitimate occupation.
We are not here to re-live the Cold War. But we can affirm, with certainty and pride, that Baltic membership in the North Atlantic Alliance would move Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from the gray area of Europe, where some would relegate them, to a firm anchoring in the Atlantic community, where they have historically belonged. From your tragic past, let us build together a future of peace and security that is inviolable, and that affirms the values of the new Europe in which you live. In this new Europe, you have the sovereign right to determine freely how you wish to protect your freedom, including membership in NATO. When you are ready – and I believe you will be – we in the Alliance should welcome you with invitations to join NATO at the Prague summit.
With opportunity comes responsibility. The Prague summit is approaching, and Estonia’s candidacy, like that of Latvia and Lithuania, is very much on the minds of Alliance leaders. This makes it all the more important for you to continue and accelerate the reforms you are undertaking, including military reform. We are watching with interest, and we wish you well in this undertaking.
Tonight, as we gather in this free nation to pay tribute to Bob Frasure’s life, I would also like to pay tribute to all the Estonian patriots who kept your nation’s dream of freedom alive in her darkest hours, the brave Estonians who resisted Soviet occupation with the moral authority that would ultimately bring down the Soviet empire.
The entire Red Army, the Soviet security services, and the leaders of a police state steeped in the language of brute force simply could not contain the call of the common man in the Baltic nations and throughout Central and Eastern Europe for freedom – an appeal impervious to intimidation, bullets, or the voice of a state authority that had corrupted itself beyond repair.
As Western Europe rose from the ashes of World War II to build a better, more just, more prosperous order, we in the West have dedicated ourselves to creating a new Atlantic order, one in which our relations with each other are transformed within a sphere of shared security -- even as we bring our values, and the stability they provide, closer to Russia, and encourage her to share in them.
The new Europe will still face challenges to its security. We shall meet them. We will do so confident that our unity, and the resolution we bring to the defense of our shared values, will deter and, if necessary, overcome any adversary, even as our principles are affirmed by the challenge of defending them.
It is my fond hope that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are able to join us in this historic endeavor. When you do, the old order, the old fears, and the old ambitions will have no future. The future belongs to us, my friends – to all of you who suffered your country’s occupation, to all of us dedicated to a Europe whole and free.
Alfred Eerik was one of the Estonian Forest Brothers. He suffered through a long imprisonment but lived to tell about his experience. In a 1996 magazine interview, he shared his one wish: that he could rouse from the grave his former KGB interrogator, who had confidently assured him that Estonia would never again be free. In Eerik’s words, "I’d want to give him a message. I’d tell him, ‘Look, look around you, the time of independence did come back, and I am – once again – a free man.’"
Thank you for the honor of addressing you tonight, in memory of Bob Frasure, and in tribute to your nation’s hard-earned freedom. May your people ever enjoy its blessings.