10 years after NATO Membership – Defence Cooperation between Denmark and Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia

Speech by NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow at the Royal Danish Defence College in Copenhagen, Denmark

  • 10 Apr. 2014
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  • Last updated: 10 Apr. 2014 14:28

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me thank the Royal Danish Defence College and the Danish Atlantic Treaty Association for inviting me to today’s conference, which is very well timed. Let me start by conveying to you all Secretary General Rasmussen’s very best wishes.  He and I are invited to many meetings these days to reflect on NATO’s open door policy.  Of course, Anders gets to speak in Denmark all the time.  But it’s been a while since I was last here, and so I was very glad to accept your kind invitation – especially given the topic, NATO enlargement, which I was privileged to work on in the early days, 20 years ago, when I served on the National Security Council staff under President Clinton. He was one of the leaders who had the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace, and the determination to defy the skeptics mentioned earlier by one of the ministers and to make it a reality.

Ten years ago, with Denmark’s strong support, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were part of NATO’s “big bang” enlargement that brought in seven new Allies.  Five years earlier, we had already admitted three new Allies with the first post-Cold War round of NATO enlargement.  And in 2009, we took in two more countries to bring us to our current total of 28 Allies.

The admission of these 12 members over the past 15 years has been a great success – first of all, for the countries themselves.  They rejoined the family of Western nations from which they had been so tragically separated half a century before.  By choosing to adopt NATO’s standards and principles, they gave their democracies the strongest possible security anchor.  And by pledging to defend and protect NATO, they received the pledge that NATO would defend and protect them, based on the principle that an attack on one is an attack on all.

As an Alliance, we have been strengthened by the strong commitment of our 12 new members to our defining values – freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.  We have benefitted from their capabilities and their valuable contributions to our operations and exercises.  And we have benefited from the wealth of experience and insights that our new members have brought to the table.

Our three Baltic members were real providers of security even before they joined NATO 10 years ago.  As founding members of the Partnership for Peace in the 1990s, they made valuable contributions to our efforts to restore peace and stability in the Balkan region -- in some cases facilitated by Denmark.  They joined the International Security Assistance Force soon after NATO took command of the mission in 2003.  And they have continued to play a key role in making sure that Afghanistan will never again be a safe haven for terrorists, and in creating the conditions for the Afghan people to chart their own destiny on the basis of freedom and democracy.  All who have contributed to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan can take satisfaction at the successful first round of Presidential elections that took place last Saturday.

But it is not just in operations that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have demonstrated their commitment to NATO.  They are also taking an active part in our political discussions, and they help to find, and to foster, the consensus that lies at the heart of everything that we do in NATO.  They have pushed allies to take more seriously some of the non-military challenges to our societies – such as cyber threats and energy security.  In the North Atlantic Council, the Baltic Permanent Representatives definitely punch above their weight! 

The positive effects of NATO enlargement have also been visible well beyond the Alliance.  Alongside the enlargement of the European Union, the increase in our NATO membership has helped to spread freedom, democracy and stability across this continent.  And it has brought us a lot closer to a Europe whole, free and at peace, which has been a longstanding goal of our Alliance.

Today, the prospect of joining NATO continues to act as a strong incentive for aspirant nations to demonstrate responsibility and commitment, to stay on the path of democratic reform and reconciliation, and to find new solutions to old disputes.  And this process of individual nations working to meet the obligations and responsibilities of NATO membership is in itself contributing to greater stability.

It is deeply regrettable that all that progress has now been overshadowed by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its readiness to use force to redraw borders, to destabilize its neighbors, and to create new dividing lines that would deprive sovereign states of the right to chart their own future.  NATO Allies have condemned Russia’s actions in the strongest possible terms, including at our Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Brussels last week.  And we have also taken a number of concrete steps.

  • First, we have reaffirmed our full support for the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the inviolability of its internationally recognized borders.  In this regard, I’m confident that Allies will maintain a long-term “non-recognition” policy regarding Russia’s annexation of Crimea, just as Denmark (and my own country) did regarding the USSR's illegal incorporation of the Baltic States.
  • Second, we have agreed to strengthen our support for Ukraine through greater political and military cooperation.  At Ukraine’s request, we have already sent an expert team to provide advice on the protection of critical infrastructure.  We will also intensify our efforts to support Ukraine’s defence reforms, and to help the Ukrainian military transform into a more professional and effective force that can defend their country against external threats as well as contribute to NATO and other international operations. 
  • Third, we have suspended all practical civilian and military cooperation in the NATO-Russia Council framework, in tandem with the imposition of sanctions by our member states and the European Union.  We will maintain our political dialogue with the Russian Ambassador as necessary to allow us to exchange views on the current crisis and its resolution.  But business as usual is clearly not an option. 
  • Finally – and importantly given the Baltic focus of our meeting – we have underlined that NATO’s greatest responsibility is to protect and defend our territory and our people, and that the Alliance will come to the defence of any of its members, now and in the future.

We have already reinforced NATO’s presence on the eastern borders of the Alliance.  We have begun surveillance flights over Poland and Romania.  We have more than doubled the number of fighter aircraft allocated to our air policing mission in the Baltic States.  Several European Allies have offered additional planes, air-to-air refueling tankers and other capabilities. In this regard, I welcome Minister Wammen's announcement about the provision of Danish F-16s to the mission.  And we will consider other short-term measures to strengthen deterrence and provide reassurance to our members on the front lines in the coming weeks.

Over and above these immediate steps, we are also considering the longer-term implications of Russia’s recent actions for our defence cooperation in NATO.  Over the past two decades, we have focused on being able to deploy our forces on missions and operations far away from our own borders.  While we must continue to be ready for expeditionary operations, it is clear now that we need to take a closer look at how we can develop and deploy the right forces for defence and deterrence.

That means, for example, that we need to review our defence posture and plans, so that we are fully prepared to respond quickly to the threat or use of force against any member or region of the Alliance , including scenarios where we have very little warning time..  We must review our threat assessments, intelligence-sharing arrangements, early-warning procedures, and crisis response planning, to take into account a more unpredictable security environment.  We should consider whether to bolster our Connected Forces Initiative through more frequent high-visibility exercises, including scenarios at the higher end of the military mission spectrum.  And we need to look at possible new deployments and other measures to provide reassurance to all our Allies.

The crisis also requires that all of our member nations intensify their efforts to increase our defence capabilities, because credible defence and deterrence will require credible capabilities.  Even before the Ukraine crisis, we were already looking at ways to encourage multinational solutions to fill the capability gaps that have been highlighted in recent operations, and to ensure that the European members of the Alliance can shoulder a greater responsibility.  Our Smart Defence initiatives have been closely coordinated with the Pooling and Sharing initiative of the European Union.  We should consider now how we can place greater emphasis on requirements for defence and deterrence in that ongoing effort, and how we can further stimulate the involvement of smaller nations.  

In this regard, the Framework Nations Concept could provide a way for the Baltic States to partner with Denmark, or with other larger allies, to address coherently and for the long-term, both capabilities and connectivity.  Our Baltic Allies already have a good record of working together and with other other countries in the Nordic region, for example the Brigade Project and some armaments cooperation projects..  This regional engagement is a pragmatic way to build greater security with limited means – and it strengthens both NATO and the EU. Building on what Minister Wammen said earlier, I would hope that, after the combined exercise now taking place among the Danish and Baltic brigades, our Baltic allies could take the next step: to commit a high-readiness land force division to one of the NATO multinational headquarters.

Multinational cooperation can help in multiplying individual efforts.  But at the end of the day, credible defence and deterrence will require credible defence spending.  In the wake of the crisis over Ukraine, it’s time to halt and reverse the downward slide in defence spending that has characterized most allies over the past ten years.  Among the Baltic States, Estonia has been a notable exception, one of just three allies who meet the NATO target of 2 percent of GDP.  I’m pleased that, in recent weeks, Latvia and Lithuania have announced that they will step up their spending and meet the 2 percent goal by the end of the decade.  I hope and expect other Allies will follow that example as we all recover from the economic crisis.

Finally, in the face of the challenge now posed by Russia, it is more important than ever that we remain committed to our vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace; that we uphold the principle that every nation is free to choose its own future; and that we keep our NATO door open for countries which decide that their future lies with our Alliance.

Our next NATO Summit in Wales in September will be an important opportunity to demonstrate that determination.  We will show solidarity, unity of purpose, and our unbreakable commitment to Article 5 of our founding Treaty.  But we must also show a similarly strong commitment to Article 10 that affirms that our Alliance is open to the inclusion of new members which share our values, which are able to assume the responsibilities of membership, and which can contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area.  We want to offer encouragement and assistance to the four aspirant countries that are seeking membership. And we shall make clear that any decisions on their inclusion in our Alliance are for NATO members alone to take.  No third nation has a veto over such decisions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

NATO will always protect and defend our territory and our people.  We will continue to support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and all our other partners.  We will continue to respect their security choices.  And we will keep working with those countries that wish to move from partnership with NATO to membership in NATO. 

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia set a very strong example ten years ago.  Since then, they have consistently demonstrated that our Open Door policy is the right policy.  And I am confident that, by pursuing new forms of multinational defence cooperation, the Baltic States will play a key role in contributing to our collective security as we continue to pursue that policy in the future.