No. 5 - Sept. 1996
Vol. 44 - pp. 21-25

NATO enlargement and the
indivisibility of security in Europe:
A view from Lithuania

Ceslovas V. Stankevicius

Carl Bildt
Ambassador Stankevicius headed the Lithuanian State Delegation in negotiations with Russia during the period 1991-93.
(NATO Photo 46Kb)
Throughout the process of NATO enlargement, it is essential, the author argues, that the principle of non-separation of potential candidates be respected thereby ensuring that no country is left in an ambiguous position and all are treated on equal terms. Although the strongest candidates would obviously be the first to join, all countries of the Central and Eastern European unified region who seek membership should be considered as 'participating in negotiations' which would lead, without undue delay, to accession. The ideas expressed in this article are the author's own and have been further developed within the framework of the NATO Fellowships programme.

Following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, a real opportunity for European unification and transatlantic security arose. Once the states of Central and Eastern Europe (C&EE) have joined the main European and transatlantic institutions, the integrity of the Continent will be restored after half a century of division. In the meantime, there is a renewed danger of division in Europe. This danger does not arise, however, because of NATO's decision to enlarge. On the contrary, the division of Europe into two halves - Eastern and Western - which occurred after the Second World War, would continue to exist if NATO were not to enlarge.

After the withdrawal of Soviet armed forces from Central and Eastern Europe, some Russian strategists wanted to preserve a 'buffer zone' here - a group of states with weak defence capabilities. When a number of C&EE countries began to actively seek NATO membership in early 1994, Russia became alarmed. In the spring of 1994, then-Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev's plan was for the C&EE countries, including the Baltics, to be given so-called "cross security guarantees" by Russia and the West. (1)

This was, in effect, a proposal to manage jointly the security 'stock' of Central and Eastern Europe. Had such plans been successful, Europe would have been divided into three spheres: the Western sphere covered by NATO security guarantees; the CIS sphere with Russian security guarantees; and a NATO-Russian 'security condominium' covering much of Central and Eastern Europe.

The Chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the Russian Duma, Ambassador Vladimir Lukin, stated in February 1996 that Russia had to preserve the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and at least some Eastern European states within its sphere of influence, and to compete with determination with the United States for influence in Eastern Europe.

Many Central and East European countries are seeking to join NATO and in that way ensure their future development under conditions of security, peace and stability. If NATO did not enlarge, the C&EE states would remain separated from the safety of Western Europe in a 'security vacuum'. The resultant competition for influence on the countries of Central and Eastern Europe would increase tension not only between Russia and the countries left inside such a 'buffer zone', but also between Russia and the West. Only once the C&EE states join the key European and transatlantic institutions will there be a firm foundation for stable relations between an integrated Europe and the Eurasian commonwealth.

A unified region of Europe

In the natural course of development of the Central and Eastern European region, two clearly different orientations towards East and West have emerged. Some of the Eastern European states - Belarus, Moldova and even Ukraine - have strong economic and political links with Russia through the joint institutions of the CIS. At the same time, there is a like-minded group of Central and Eastern European countries which are seeking to integrate into the European Union, NATO and other Western structures. This group of C&EE countries can be regarded as a unified region of Europe.

The countries of the unified region have chosen to develop as an integral part of a united Europe. They share common features of institutional ties with the European Union (EU) and the Western European Union (WEU). Their affiliation with the EU dates back to June 1993, when it announced at the Copenhagen meeting of the European Council that the associated C&EE countries would eventually be invited to become fully-fledged members of the European Union. When Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia signed their Europe Agreements on 12 June 1995, that brought to nine the number of C&EE countries on the path to full membership.

Linkevicius & Creanga
Lithuanian Defence Minister Linas Linkevicius (right) with his counterpart from Moldova General Pavel Creanga at a NATO meeting of Defence Ministers with Cooperation Partners last June.
(NATO photo 24Kb)
The institutional integration of these countries into the WEU was initiated in June 1992, in Petersberg, Germany (near Bonn), at a special meeting between the WEU Council of Ministers and the representatives of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. This ministerial meeting established a special cooperative relationship between these countries and the WEU. On 9 May 1994, in Luxembourg, these nine Central and Eastern European countries (the Czech Republic and Slovakia having separated) became Associate Partners of the WEU. Slovenia became the tenth Associate Partner in June 1996.

All these states are active participants in Partnership for Peace and seek fully-fledged membership in NATO. They aspire to integrate into the EU and NATO simultaneously. While NATO has not yet answered the question of "who" will be invited to join the Alliance as new members, these ten states are the main candidates and, thus, the formula for the future of NATO should be "16+10".

Despite 50 years of suppression, the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian nations have managed to preserve their affinity to Western European civilization and they are basing their development on the model of Western democracy. The integration of Lithuania and the other two Baltic States into the community of Western nations means a return to their natural places in the international community. In contrast, the Eurasian commonwealth represented by the CIS is foreign to most Lithuanians, as it is to Latvians and Estonians.

A hundred years of experience prompts Lithuania to exercise caution and the Lithuanian Constitution explicitly forbids the country from joining any post-Soviet Eastern military, political or economic alliances, commonwealths or areas. Lithuania has rejected the model of the so-called bridge between East and West or the role of any type of buffer state. Moreover, any form of mixed integration into both Eurasia and Europe would be unacceptable to Lithuania. Thus, Lithuania will only be a part of the Eurasian sphere as a result of direct or indirect force.

Throughout its history, Lithuania has been dominated three times by Russia: in 1795-1914, 1940-1941 and 1944-1990, when Russia and the West shared this part of Europe among themselves. If Russia's interests were satisfied once again and Lithuania were excluded from the NATO enlargement process, this would deal a serious blow to the Lithuanian nation.

No room for spheres of influence

Sometimes, in discussions on NATO enlargement, one hears voices in the West warning that the Baltic States are 'indefensible'. However, the concept of indefensible European states is in complete discord with modern principles of European democracy. This would imply that the realm of European democracy can be divided into 'defensible' and 'indefensible' democracies.

On this score, I would refer to President Bill Clinton's letter of 27 November 1994 to Estonia's President Lennart Meri, in which President Clinton wrote that the goal of the United States was to expand across all of Europe the area of democracy, stability and welfare that had been achieved in Western Europe after the Second World War. The US President emphasized that he believed in a "New Europe" united by common values, where there is no room for "spheres of influence." (2)

This position was confirmed by US Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Prague on 20 March 1996, when he said that "No nation in Europe should ever again be consigned to a buffer zone between great powers, or relegated to another nation's 'sphere of influence.'" Any exclusion of the Baltic States from the process of accession to NATO would not conform to these principles.

Each country has the right to decide freely which type of economic, political and security integration it finds more attractive. A nation that chooses freely, without coercion, its membership in a particular European or Eurasian integrative institution, will not incite tension. Tension and the risk of crisis arise as a result of artificial and forced divisions and attempts to hinder free choice.

The existing line between the European and Eurasian areas of political, economic and defence integration can hardly be regarded as a dangerous division of Europe. As the WEU Assembly stated, "The central challenge for European security is to make sure that this new and inevitable dividing line will not develop into a new line of confrontation." (3) What NATO enlargement will do, according to Mr. Christopher when speaking in Prague, is erase the outdated Cold War line of division and confrontation.

Under the principles of non-confrontation and cooperation, the boundaries between the two security and defence areas are not synonymous with the borders between the former Warsaw Pact and the countries of the Alliance. Due to the ideological nature of the former Soviet Union, those borders were turned into an "iron curtain" and a Cold War front line.

Under the conditions of partnership and transparency, the strategic and conventional defence systems of the CIS and NATO can be maintained at minimal levels, enhancing mutual confidence and reducing risks. The avoidance of confrontation can and must be guaranteed by cooperation, under the auspices of the NACC and the PfP programmes, between the states belonging to different integrative alliances. NATO's enhanced partnership relations with Russia and Ukraine can be particularly helpful in this regard.

Clinton, Ulmanis, Meri & Brazauskas
President Clinton with, to his left, Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis and, to his right, Estonian President Lennart Meri and Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas at the White House last June.
(AP 26Kb)
As the process of integrating the C&EE countries into European and transatlantic institutions advances, it will be essential to maintain the principle of non-separation of potential candidates otherwise there will be a danger of division in this unified European region itself. It is necessary to ensure that no country is left in an ambiguous position and that all are treated on equal terms.

In its recommendations at the 39th Session in 1993, the WEU Assembly noted that the division of the Central and Eastern European countries into two groups of states, whereby one group would benefit from membership in Western institutions and the other would be left out, would be an extremely dangerous scheme. (4) Such a division would place the countries of the region under differing conditions, with those left outside of NATO subject to discrimination and a sense of insecurity.

Partnership with Russia and Ukraine

Solana & Udovenko
Secretary General Solana, on a visit to Ukraine, is greeted by Foreign Minister Gennadi Udovenko.
(NATO photo 33Kb)
During the process of enlarging the Alliance, it would be useful for NATO to establish closer partnership relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Not only would the principles and contents of such relations be of significance to the security of the countries of the C&EE region, but so would the circumstances of their establishment. It is important that these relations be established after a clear answer has been given to the question "who" will join NATO. It is also important that they be established in a transparent manner and without any reservations made behind the backs of the states aspiring to NATO membership. The Baltic States, more than any other countries, want to make sure that NATO does not recognize them, directly or indirectly, as part of the sphere of interest of another state and does not treat them differently from other C&EE countries.

In addition, the establishment of enhanced partnership relations between NATO and Russia, as well as between NATO and Ukraine, should not interfere with the process of NATO enlargement. On the contrary, such relations should serve to avoid tension during the process of NATO enlargement.

Secretary of State Christopher stated in his Prague speech that the enlargement of Western institutions will naturally begin with the strongest candidates for membership. Therefore the issue of how to avoid a dangerous division of the unifying region of Central and Eastern Europe at a time when individual countries of the region begin their accession process becomes particularly imperative. To this end, it is important to ensure that those countries whose defence capabilities are relatively weaker do not become even more insecure due to the accession of stronger countries. NATO enlargement should not become, in the words of Henry Kissinger, a formula for "two categories of frontier in Europe: those that are guaranteed are not threatened, and those that are threatened are not guaranteed." (5)

Thus, to avoid making the border between Lithuania and Poland an external NATO border, it is necessary to pursue a policy of non-differentiation and equal opportunity. To this end, it is important that all the countries of the region enter simultaneously the first stage of the process leading to membership.

If, in the first stage, when the "strongest candidates" begin their accession process, other countries are left in limbo, they will fear that their prospects for future NATO membership may be unduly influenced by outside forces. Therefore, in the first instance, all the C&EE states of the unified region that are candidates for NATO membership should be invited to begin direct discussions on membership. They should all be invited simultaneously to enter into talks according to Article 10 of the Washington Treaty, which states that "any European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area" may be invited to accede to the Treaty.

Negotiations with each country would obviously take place according to an individualized scenario. Negotiations with the "strongest candidates" would, understandably, end in an invitation to become a member earlier than with the other candidates. Nevertheless, from the outset of the negotiating process, all the countries of the C&EE unified region seeking membership should be considered in the same perspective of "participating in negotiations". Thus, from the start of the process, there would be no differentiation between stronger and weaker candidates or between those who had already entered negotiations and those who were still awaiting an invitation to do so.

Keeping the door open

Secretary of State Warren Christopher gives a Press conference in Prague on 20 March flanked by his counterparts (left to right) Josef Zieleniec (Czech Republic), Teodor Melescanu (Romania), Povilas Gylys (Lithuania) and László Kovács (Hungary).
(EPA/Belga 34Kb)
The next critical stage in preserving the indivisibility of the C&EE region will begin when the first new members are accepted into NATO. Speaking in Prague about the early membership of the "strongest candidates", Warren Christopher stressed that those who are first have an obligation to ensure their membership keeps the door open for others. It is very important that after the "strongest candidates" become fully-fledged NATO members, all the rest should be granted official NATO guarantees for eventual membership.

In this way, the first stage of negotiations would end in a positive manner for all the states of the region, with some becoming full members and others receiving explicit guarantees of accession as soon as possible. The invitation to become a member would depend on compliance with established criteria for acceptance, readiness for Alliance membership and on external circumstances. It should also be made clear to such countries that this will not take long and that NATO may decide at any time to accept other countries.

Therefore, NATO's decision to give guarantees for eventual membership would be an important factor for maintaining the indivisibility of the C&EE region and enhancing its security during the transition period. However, it should not become a compromise on full membership or a substitute for it.

In conclusion, it should be stressed once again that it is important to ensure the integrity of the unified Central and Eastern European region from the very beginning and throughout the whole process of NATO enlargement. The indivisibility of the region can be protected by providing a single start time for all the countries of the region and guaranteeing that they will all reach the same finishing line. The racing time of each participant may vary, but none should take too long on the course to full membership or be left without support. None should be abandoned at the starting line and, what is most important, no one should hinder their way to the finish.


  1. A. Kozyrev, "Common European Partnership", Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 2 February 1995.

  2. Baltic News Service and Estonian Telegraph Agency, 30 November 1994.

  3. See, "European defence policy", Assembly of WEU, Fortieth Ordinary Session, document No. 1445, item 142, p. 16.

  4. "Recommendation on WEU's relations with Central and Eastern European Countries", Assembly of WEU, 39th ordinary session, document 1387, point (v), 8 November 1993.

  5. Henry Kissinger, "It's an Alliance, not a relic", The Washington Post, 16 August 1994.

Back to Index Back to Homepage