The Baltic States in the World

Heather Conley, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs

Remarks to the Baltic American Freedom League
Los Angeles, CA
April 24, 2004

Thank you for the warm welcome to California. I am pleased to be here in the company of the Honorary Consul Generals of Lithuania and Latvia, and Reverend Pallo, thank you for that invocation. I want to thank the Baltic American Freedom League and (BAFL) President Valdis Pavlovskis for inviting me to join you today. We are sometimes stuck to our desks in Washington, and when we do travel it is often to the east, to Europe, and not westward. I appreciate the opportunity to come here to talk with you about a part of the world that is very close to your hearts and is never far from our minds in Washington.

I will start, however, with other parts of the world, and then work my way to northern Europe and Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Everything we do in the Baltic Sea region is related to the overall foreign policy priorities set for us by President Bush and Secretary Powell. Winning the war on terrorism is our foremost objective. Winning on the battlefield is just one part of this effort. To eradicate terrorism altogether, the United States and like-minded nations must help stable governments and nations that once supported terrorism, like Iraq and Afghanistan, and we must go after terrorist support mechanisms as well as the terrorists themselves.

Despite the focus on the negative in the news headlines about Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the Iraqi Governing Council have in fact made great strides in a number of areas. Iraqi security forces now comprise more than half of the total security forces in the country. The CPA has issued a new currency, which is very stable, and refurbished and equipped schools and hospitals throughout the country.

But much more work needs to be done. Working with our coalition partners — including the Baltic States — we will continue to train Iraqi police, border guards, the civil defense corps and the army in order to ensure the country’s security as we effect a timely transition to democratic self-governance and to a stable future.

Afghanistan is another high priority for the Administration. The United States is committed to helping build a stable and democratic Afghanistan that is free from terror and no longer harbors threats to our security. Afghanistan adopted a constitution earlier this year, and is preparing for democratic national elections this September. The lives of women and girls are improving as women pursue economic and political opportunities and as girls return to school. Since 2001, the United States has rehabilitated 205 schools and 140 health clinics, and trained fifteen battalions of the Afghan National Army — battalions that are out now in action helping to secure the countryside.

Foreign policy applies to individuals as well as nations. In 2003 we freed thousands from oppression through our government’s program to combat human trafficking — whether for prostitution or forced labor or to turn children into soldiers. We have saved lives and redeemed the enslaved, and we will do more in 2004.

Also in 2004, the president’s plan for HIV and AIDS relief will help free millions worldwide from the devastation of this horrible disease. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief represents the single largest international public health initiative ever attempted to defeat a disease, a five-year, $15 billion initiative.

The list of foreign policy issues that we are dealing with goes on and on. I will not name everything we are trying to do. I chose to mention these four issues — Iraq and Afghanistan, trafficking in persons and HIV/AIDS — because they all relate in one or another back to the Baltic States and our relationship with those countries.

I think the key word in describing our relationship now is “partnership”. Of course, that is not a new word for this region. The Baltic Partnership Commission was a very successful mechanism for communication and coordination between Washington, Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius. In fact, when we were coming up with our renewed policy for the region, we found ourselves asking “what can you do that is more than a partnership?” This is why we unveiled, last fall, the Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe, e-PINE. The Baltic Charter remains valid, and the Baltic Partnership Commission can meet again if need be. However, we think it is time to devote most of our energies to a wider approach. We added the word enhanced to our policy because we do think that this goes beyond what we have done in the past, in objectives and in scope.

Looking at objectives, e-PINE encompasses our hopes for cooperation in three broad areas: political security; healthy societies and healthy neighbors; and vibrant economies. The first area includes cooperation to combat terrorism. “Healthy societies, healthy neighbors” is our term for not just cross-border health challenges like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, but other transnational threats such as corruption and crime. In the vibrant economies area we hope to continue to further U.S. business links to the region.

In terms of scope, e-PINE is bigger than just the Baltics and the U.S. We believe, and Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia themselves believe, that these three states are ready and able to deal with their Nordic neighbors and other European partners as equals. The policy consultation mechanism that we have created recognizes this. Approximately twice a year, at senior levels, U.S, Baltic and Nordic foreign policy officials will gather to discuss the issues that concern us the most. We’re calling this the “8+1” format, and we will meet next in Vilnius in May.

The Baltics are no longer recipients — of assistance, of security, of advice — but are now able to become donors, or contributors, to the common good. NATO and EU membership are recognition of the degree to which these three states have evolved. They have established themselves as members of Europe “whole, free, and at peace,” to quote from President Bush’s speech in Warsaw in 2001.

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania recognize that terrorism is a threat to all of us. All three countries were early and strong supporters of our efforts to free Afghanistan from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The Baltics are contributing to the rebuilding of Afghanistan with troops on the ground, clearing mines and securing installations.

Troops from the Baltic States are also present in Iraq. They are working alongside U.S. forces, including patrolling in Baghdad, handling planeloads of cargo, and removing unexploded ordnance. While the situation in Iraq right now is unsettled, Baltic leaders have made it clear to us that they are honoring their commitments, doing what needs to be done. The Lithuanian Defense Minister put it very well in a recent statement he made: “We cannot change our decision as soon as we face first difficulties. It is not good to give up when somebody threatens, as tomorrow we might be threatened even more.” We are very grateful for the courage that the Baltic States and their men and women are showing in helping to defeat terrorism and establish a new and peaceful Iraq.

HIV/AIDS and trafficking represent different kinds of challenges than the war on terrorism, but they require the same international cooperation if we are to succeed. These problems cross boundaries. They can’t be solved in the context on one country alone.

The U.S. Government has been involved in the fight against HIV in the Baltic Sea region for a number of years. We participated in the early stages of the Council of Baltic Sea States Task Force on Public Health, supplying advisors and technical assistance. We then set up a regional program with a U.S. NGO to work directly with the three Baltic States, providing training to medical specialists and public health officials to ensure that the disease is controlled and the incidence of infection reduced. Now we are looking at cooperating to move this effort to neighboring countries, such as supporting exchanges between Lithuanian specialists and their counterparts in Kaliningrad.

In the area of trafficking in persons, we see a disturbing pattern. Victims of this horrible crime are brought from Russia and other states to the east, through the Baltic States, and into Scandinavia or Western Europe. The countries of the Baltic Sea region recognize this problem and are working together to address it. We are helping, financing programs that train authorities on how to recognize and assist trafficking victims, and raising awareness among potential victims. We also hope to work with our Nordic and Baltic partners on a region-wide project that will address the problem at three levels — prevention, prosecution, and protection of the victims.

I point out these areas not because trafficking or AIDS are worse in the Baltic Sea region than elsewhere. They are not. Indeed, the problems here are much less than in many countries. We believe, however, that to address these global problems we have to stop them wherever they occur. In the Baltic Sea area we are fortunate that there are strong, committed, relatively prosperous governments that see the problems and are working to end them. We are happy to be part of that effort.

Finally, I want to discuss the bigger neighborhood in which Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia find themselves. On one side, the Baltic Sea side, they have fellow NATO members, fellow EU members. They have a web of transportation, business and social ties, and of government links. On the other side, to the east, they see a host of challenges.

Belarus and Ukraine can represent the next wave of success in Europe. Latvia and Lithuania in particular want to be a part of the changes that these countries need to make to establish democratic, free-market economies. The Government of Latvia and the Latvian Transatlantic Organization recently hosted a conference on the topic “The Future of Democracy Beyond the Baltics” that featured regional leaders and prominent guests such as Senator John McCain. Earlier this week, the Lithuanian Ambassador to the U.S. testified to the House of Representatives International Relations Committee about Lithuania’s interest in helping its immediate neighbors.

Looking farther afield, while the Baltic States do not have borders with countries of Central Asia and the Caucuses, they have ties of history. Estonia in particular has expressed an interest in assisting Georgia make good on the promise of the “Revolution of the Roses,” the democratic change now sweeping that country.

The Baltic States want to share their experience. We want to help them do that. We are already in close agreement about what needs to happen in some of these evolving countries. We hope to develop modest project activity — support for free media, perhaps, or development of non-governmental structures that can cause democratic change — that will combine our resources and our expertise into evidence of common Nordic-Baltic-American resolve. I hope that Baltic-Americans and organizations such as BAFL will consider what role you can play in this effort.

Of course, the biggest neighbor to the east is Russia. The topic of Baltic-Russian relations is one that is of constant concern for us. We believe that improved relations will benefit all the parties involved. We are in regular contact with the Baltic governments, and with the Russian Government, encouraging them to talk with one another, to try to address issues constructively. We hope that the NATO-Russia Council and the European Union’s Partnership and Cooperation Agreement can, now that the Baltics participate in both, be a channel for improved relations.

This is an exciting time for the U.S. and northern Europe. NATO and EU membership for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania marks the end of one kind of relationship and the start of another. We have considered what we want to achieve with the good friends we have. Our conclusion is that we hope to work together to spread democracy, prosperity and stability even farther into Europe and Eurasia.