The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held the first three of four hearings called by Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN) on the admission of the Baltic countries and Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia as members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The meetings were held on March 27th and April 1st and 3rd. The purpose of the hearings was to determine which of the seven candidate countries should be invited to join the Alliance. The fourth and final hearing will be held on April 8, 2003.

Senator George Allen (R-VA), Chairman of the Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe and member of the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus, chaired the April 1st meeting. In his opening remarks, Senator Allen said that the Baltic countries and the other aspirants have “overcome serious political, economic and military challenges to get where they are today–on the way to joining the most important political military alliance in the world. NATO will benefit from the capabilities they offer the vitality they bring.”

Testifying before the Committee were the core members of the inter-agency NATO enlargement team from the State Department and the Defense Department headed by Robert Bradke, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Ian Brzezinzki, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Affairs. In his testimony, the Secretary emphasized that “The evidence clearly shows that all seven invitees have made an enduring commitment to the core values of NATO and that each is ready, both politically and militarily, to contribute to the defense of the NATO Alliance.” He then discussed in detail how each of the seven countries have met the criteria for membership.

Mr. Brzezinski in his presentation discussed the importance of NATO enlargement and analyzed the qualifications of each of the candidate states. He concluded with the recommendation that all seven candidate states be admitted to NATO. “We need to have their energy and enthusiasm at the table in the councils of NATO and we need their ideas and their capability too as we grapple with the issues and challenges yet to come,” concluded the Secretary.

The second hearing was chaired by Senator Lugar. In his opening statement, the Senator stated that the Baltic countries and the other candidate states are ready to assume full membership responsibilities and contribute to European stability and security. “I am fully confident that these countries have made an enduring commitment to the core values of NATO and that they will stand with those most committed to the Transatlantic relationships…I will urge the Senate to vote in favor of bringing the seven candidate nations into NATO,” said Committee’s Chairman Senator Lugar.

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas R. Burns testified that the “Baltic once viewed as long-shots, have emerged as the strongest candidates.” He pointed out that “from the very beginning it was the U.S. that championed the most robust possible enlargement – a fact that has not been lost on the invitees. They know that if not for U.S. leadership, NATO membership might not have happened for them. They can thank President Bush and his predecessors as well as the Senate for this achievement.”
The meeting also included testimony by Dr. Ronald Asmus, Senior Fellow at the German Marshall Fund and co-author of the 1996 Rand Corporation study on NATO Enlargement and the Baltic States and Bruce Jackson, head of Project on Transitional Democracies. Dr. Asmus testified that the candidate nations have earned their invitations through the combination of their domestic performances and their strategic cooperation. “They have acted as allies with us in conflicts ranging from Bosnia and Kosovo to the war against terrorism,” declared Dr. Asmus.

Mr. Jackson spoke of the qualifications of the seven invited countries regarding two of the criteria required for NATO membership: democratic principles and the willingness to contribute to security. He noted that the Baltic countries and others have well-trained self-defense forces, regional security arrangements, such as BALTBAT, and have achieved defense budgets of 2% of GDP. Regarding political development, he observed that although his observations are subjective, it seemed to him that the “credentials of the seven Vilnius states are superior to Greece, Turkey and West Germany at the time of their invitations and compare favorably to where Polish, Czech and Hungarian democracies were at the time of the Senate’s ratification in 1998”

Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), who chaired the third hearing, announced that the Baltic American Freedom League’s official statement on NATO enlargement would be accepted in the record and included in the proceedings that will be provided to the entire U.S. Senate in advance of a vote of NATO expansion. Senator Voinovich is a member of the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus. In his opening statement the Senator noted that the Baltic countries and the other candidate states “already make significant contributions that strengthen the trans-Atlantic relationship; have acted as de facto allies” and that he “believes that they will make important contribution as members of the NATO Alliance.”

Dr. F. Stephen Larrabee Senior Staff member at RAND covered the important contributions the Baltic countries will make to NATO, enhancing cooperation with Russia, promoting democracy in Belarus, and helping integrate Ukraine into the West.

Senator Allen (R-VA) and Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) raised questions abut the roles of the Baltic in reconstruction in Iraq and NATO’s plans in Afghanistan. In response to the questions, Ambassador Burns detailed the commitment of all three Baltic countries to humanitarian and peacekeeping missions of Iraq, and the contributions the countries are making in Afghanistan, including Latvia’s de-mining squad and Estonia’s bomb-sniffing dog teams.

Senator Lugar concluded the hearing by declaring the entire membership of the Committee is “enthusiastic about the candidate countries and the enlargement of NATO to include all seven and the contributions they will make to the Alliance.”

In preparation for the hearing the Baltic American Freedom League (BAFL) and the Joint American Baltic Committee and other Baltic organizations issued calls for action urging the Baltic American community to contact members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to urge them to support Baltic membership in NATO. BAFL sent out two waves of action letters, over one thousand in each, to individuals and organizations, while JBANC contacted it’s activists. BAFL and JBANC also worked with Senators and their staffs to ensure that the Committee’s final report recommends Baltic membership in NATO. Valdis Pavlovskis, President of the Baltic American Freedom League, noted that overall the testimony before the Committee and the comments by the Senators was overwhelmingly supportive of the Baltic countries. “We were one team. That’s why we succeeded,” declared Pavlovskis. He also observed that the Baltic community was by far the most active of all the ethnic groups in the enlargement campaign.

The fourth and final meeting will be held on April 8, 2003. The subject of the hearings will be the new members and the new mission for the future of NATO. Scheduled to testify before the Committee are Marc. I Grossman, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Department of State, General Wesley K. Clark (Ret.) former Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Mr. Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The hearing is open to the public.