House International Relations Subcommittee on Europe – Markup of HCR 116 – September 15, 2002

As a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and Chairman of the House Baltic Caucus, I have had many opportunities to interact with representatives from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and have never failed to be impressed. In the short time after reasserting their independence, these countries have developed constitutional democracies, the rule of law, and a respect for human rights. Immediately upon the breakout of hostilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, Lithuania [and Estonia and Latvia] deployed troops in support of both NATO missions. Not constrained by the old Soviet force structure, the Baltics are moving to light infantry for deployability and forest defense. The countries’ rapid ascent functioning democracies, tolerance for their Russian minority, and a willingness to put a painful 20th Century history behind them, make them deserving candidates for alliance membership.

For many years the Statue of Liberty has been a symbol of freedom, security, and economic opportunity for many immigrant families. The Statue faces east, welcoming immigrants to our shores. Now I think as she faces east, she also looks east toward Europe at these former captive nations who struggle as newly emerged democracies. Many of us multigenerational immigrants, after years of security and freedom, take our liberties for granted. Many of us are too young to have experienced the fresh air of newly found freedom. My trip to Vilnius revived my senses. Not only could I smell the sweet air of freedom; I could see it, touch it, and taste it. I am a better father, citizen, and representative for it.

This will be true for NATO. For NATO to be relevant, it must expand its current protective umbrella over these new emerging democracies. By expanding, NATO will experience heightened senses–seeing, feeling, touching, and tasting freedom. This will be essential as NATO counteracts the evil of global terrorism.

As President Clinton said, the goal of NATO is to “expand the frontier of freedom.” I hope this subcommittee will follow the vision of President Bush when he said: “from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, a Europe whole, free, and secure.”

I urge you to pass H.Con.Res. 116 and affirm the House of Representatives’ support for the Baltic; efforts to join NATO.