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Release No: 560-96
September 28, 1996

Secretary of Defense William J. Perry Addresses Baltic NATO Membership

In an address on NATO membership to Northern European and Baltic defense ministers meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, September 24, 1996, Secretary of Defense William J. Perry said that the door is open to central and eastern European nations, including the Baltic states.

Speaking at a conference on The Future of Defense Cooperation Around the Baltic Sea, Dr. Perry said, Now the Baltic nations have applied for membership in NATO. That issue will be decided not by me nor by the groups here. It will be decided at a summit meeting by our leaders next year. I want to share with you my views on the factors that will determine that decision.

Perry went on to say, I want to borrow a phrase from the United States Declaration of Independence, and say that the Baltic nations are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent states.' Second, they ought to be brought into the security circle of Europe through a strengthened and enhanced Partnership for Peace, a Super Partnership for Peace. Third, in my judgment, they are not yet ready to take on the Article V responsibilities of NATO membership. Fourth, I believe they are making very good progress in that direction. And finally, we should all work to hasten the day that they will be ready for membership.

To those nations that are applying and not accepted, I say that NATO's reply is not no,' it is not yet.' It is very important to get that very critical distinction. The door remains open, Perry said.

Speaking to reporters after the event, Perry said that although the Baltic states do not have the kind of capability yet that each member of the military alliance has to have, they are working very hard to get it, and the Nordic nations (and) the United States are working with them to help make that happen.

The conference, organized by the Danish minister of Defense, was attended by defense ministers from Denmark, Finland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and the United States.

The text of the speech follows.


For more than fifty years of the Cold War, the United States refused to recognize the forcible incorporation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the Soviet Empire. Throughout those dark days, the Baltic fires of independence and freedom were suppressed. Today, the Baltic nations are again free, and they deserve the support of the entire world in preserving that freedom.

This conference is addressing the ways that concerned nations can best manifest that support. It is my belief that achieving security for the Baltic nations and the Baltic region is inseparable from the task of creating a new security architecture for all of Europe. It is only within that larger context that the unique security problems faced by the Baltic nations can be solved.

We must create a new circle within which European nations may find security and stability. To create this new circle of security, we have three tasks ahead of us: We must restructure NATO; we must enhance and strengthen the Partnership for Peace, which can serve as a foundation for this circle of security; and we must draw the circle so that Russia is inside it, not excluded from it. Today, I will discuss, in turn, each of these three daunting challenges.

We have had endless debates this last year on how to restructure NATO. NATO was created to protect Western Europe from an invasion from the East. Now that threat has passed, and we are trying to restructure NATO to deal with the new challenges of the post-Cold War era. Our debates to determine how best to restructure have been in continual danger of emphasizing form over substance. So I would like to talk a little bit today about what that substance is. What are the essential features that we are trying to create and preserve in NATO?

First of all, NATO is a military alliance. Therefore, NATO must be militarily strong so that it is always able to execute its Article V mission. If we are successful in that, we will automatically be in a much better position to deter, so that we will never have to execute an Article V mission.

Second, NATO must be flexible so that it can effectively perform out-of-area operations and peace-support operations, whenever and wherever they are necessary for the security and stability of Europe.

Besides those two very important military functions, NATO has two crucial political functions, and these two political functions sometimes stand in conflict with each other. One of them is that NATO must make coherent a viable European security identity. The second is that NATO, at the same time, must serve as a bridge across the Atlantic to bring America into Europe. This bridge we are talking about is not the like the London Bridge. It is not like the Brooklyn Bridge. That is, it is not like a fixed structure that you build and forget about. Think instead of the pontoon bridge that IFOR built over the Sava River in Bosnia. It was a bridge that had to be tended to every day, as it had to withstand the shifting currents and stormy weather. That is the kind of bridge that we need to connect America to Europe. We must work at sustaining that bridge every day.

Europeans should never take for granted American interest in participating in European security. There is a strong streak of isolationism in the United States. For the last fifty years, we have suppressed that streak and maintained a foreign policy that was outward-looking, and we fully participated in the security of Europe. We, as Americans, have to continue to work to suppress that isolationist streak. You, as Europeans, also have to work at maintaining our involvement in Europe.

Those are four essential features of NATO. The fifth is that NATO must be open to all qualified members, now and forever. I did not say NATO was going to expand or enlarge, I said it must be open. I do not like the term NATO expansion. It suggests that we are out promoting new countries to join us. Instead, it is a statement of principle that we are open to any nation that is qualified and interested.

As it turns out, qualified nations are seeking to join NATO, and therefore there will be expansion. Have no doubt about that. That expansion will have both pluses and minuses associated with it. The plus for a new member is obvious. NATO membership will be an enhancement of its security. The plus for NATO is equally obvious. New members will be a basis for revitalizing NATO. The negatives are also obvious. NATO accession will not only affect NATO and the new NATO members, it will affect many other nations. It will affect Russia, Sweden, Finland and Ukraine, and will certainly affect those nations who apply for membership and who are not accepted. So that is a very important negative.

Let me talk briefly about each of these negatives. To those nations that are applying and not accepted, I say that NATO's reply is not no, it is not yet. It is very important to get that very critical distinction. The door remains open.

Concerning those nations who are not applying -- Sweden, Finland, Ukraine -- my judgment in talking with leaders of each of those nations is that they are quite comfortable with their present decision to remain outside of NATO, and they are also quite comfortable with the plans of NATO to enlarge. But it is quite clear that Russia still fears NATO enlargement. I believe this will change in time, as Russia comes to understand that NATO enhances the security and stability of Europe, and, therefore, NATO indirectly enhances Russia's own security and stability. I will have more to say about that later in my talk.

For all three of these categories, the nations not yet accepted, the nations not applying, and for Russia, it is essential that NATO strengthen and enhance the Partnership for Peace. So I want to talk about that challenge.

In December 1993, I visited my counterparts in Sweden and Finland, and I had a primary mission on that visit. NATO had just conceived of something new called the Partnership for Peace. It was only a month away from formally approving the initiative, and I wanted to persuade Sweden and Finland that they ought to be charter members of this new Partnership for Peace. In the face of a tradition of neutrality and non-alignment with NATO, it seemed unlikely that they would join the Partnership for Peace, since they had no plans to join NATO and still do not. They pointed out to me, in December 1993, that they were already experienced peacekeepers. They did not need help, thank you, in learning how to do peacekeeping.

I told my colleagues that they might not need the Partnership for Peace, but that the Partnership for Peace needed them. This was an opportunity, without joining NATO, to participate in the new security structure being formed for all of Europe. Finland and Sweden did join as charter members and have since become two of the strongest members of the Partnership.

We have come a long way since December 1993. Today, Finland and Sweden, along with Poland, Norway and Denmark, form the Nordic Brigade in IFOR. They serve alongside not only U.S. troops, but also Russians and Turks. Who would have believed that three years ago? The Nordics have also incorporated Baltic troops into their peacekeeping forces in Bosnia.

What a success the Partnership for Peace has been! As the first solid step toward creating a new way of providing security and stability for Europe, the Partnership is now hitting its full stride. Just last month at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, I attended the closing ceremony for Cooperative Osprey 96, where 23 nations, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Denmark, all took part in the most sophisticated, most successful Partnership for Peace exercise ever undertaken. And the two years of experience in the Partnership for Peace was critical in the success of forming IFOR, which is not an exercise, but the real thing.

Partnership for Peace's progress has been spectacular and solid, but we must not rest on our laurels. We must create a new enhanced Partnership for Peace, what some have called a Super Partnership for Peace. What do people mean when they talk about a Super Partnership for Peace? I cannot tell you what everybody else means, but I can tell you what I mean when I discuss it. To me, it means that the Partnership for Peace should be able to perform all functions except the Article V function of NATO. That is, every member of the Super Partnership for Peace should have the possibility of performing any of the functions, or be involved in any of the activities that NATO members undertake, except the Article V responsibility.

Who should be able to join the Super Partnership for Peace? My answer to that is -- anybody that is willing and able. Some have argued that this should be reserved for those nations that applied for membership in NATO and did not get accepted. I think that would be a mistake. I asked my Baltic colleagues, for example, how does it help your security if Finland and Sweden are excluded? I think this would be a negative, not a positive. The test should be whether a nation is willing and able.

Last June, when the NATO defense ministers met in Brussels, we sought to strengthen Partnership for Peace and ensure that it becomes a permanent pillar of Europe's security architecture. At that meeting, I suggested that NATO nations build mentor relationships with Partner nations. The Baltic Battalion is the model that we all look to -- and we can thank our host nation, Denmark, and their Defense Minister Hans Haekkerup for his personal leadership in this really magnificent effort. It is precisely this kind of mentoring that will bring countries like the Baltics into meaningful participation in the Partnership and ultimately it will make NATO membership a reality for them.

We must also take steps that will involve our Partners in the planning as well as the execution of NATO missions. The Atlantic Partnership Council proposed by Secretary Christopher would give them a stronger voice in NATO-Partnership activities. On the military side, NATO and our Partners should conduct more complex exercises and do contingency planning for, and participate in, Combined Joint Task Forces.

One of the purposes of my trip this week has been to seek out ideas on ways we can strengthen the Partnership and help it reach its full potential. I have been impressed with the widespread interest in doing this. All of the ideas that I have gathered on this trip I will add to those ideas being developed by NATO's Senior Level Group, which is being set up for just that purpose.

I have covered two challenges. Let me go to the third challenge, which is how we bring Russia into this security circle. This is crucial to the security of all of Europe, and, in particular, it is critical to the security of the Baltic region.

Russia has been a key player in Europe's security for over 300 years and it will remain so, for better or for worse. Our job is to make it for better. We want Russia to play a positive role in Europe's security. To accomplish this, we need to reach out both bilaterally and multilaterally.

I can describe to you briefly some of the things the United States is doing bilaterally. We are working together to reduce the Cold War nuclear arsenal through START I, START II and the Nunn-Lugar program. We are engaged in active dialogue in the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission talks, and we are participating in an extensive program of joint exercises, bilateral as well as multilateral exercises. In the last few years, we have conducted four bilateral exercises with Russia -- two on Russian soil and two on American soil.

Russia, while it is deeply interested in its US relationship, is also responsive to confidence-building efforts from its European neighbors. All the nations of Europe -- large and small -- must try to deepen their bilateral relationships with Russia. Of course, we must act on a multilateral basis as well.

Russia has taken the first step by joining the Partnership for Peace, but has been very hesitant at taking the follow-on steps so that it can get the full advantage of the Partnership. We need to work harder at that, but most importantly, they need to accept the Partnership for Peace as something that is in their security interest. We hope and we expect that Russia will assume a role in the Partnership for Peace commensurate with its status as a great power.

Russian participation in the Partnership for Peace is critically important in bringing Russia into this security circle, but the Russian participation in IFOR was truly the defining event.

Our experience in Bosnia with the Russians, from the beginning, was a gamble. It was a gamble to get them to agree to participate. It was a gamble that, once they did agree, we could make their participation work. It has worked, and it has worked far better than even the most optimistic of us assumed.

About two months ago, I went to Bosnia, and while visiting our troops and leaders there, I went over to visit the Russian brigade. I met with General Lentsov, who is the commander of that brigade. I met with our colonel who heads the American brigade that is serving side-by-side with the Russians. They told me several interesting stories, all of which added up to real cooperation and a really effective implementation of the peacekeeping mission that they were conducting.

For example, from the first week the Russian troops were in Bosnia, the two brigade commanders got together and observed that the Serbs thought the Americans were not going to implement our responsibilities in an even-handed fashion, and the Muslims thought the Russians would be biased against them. And so, the two brigade commanders said: tough problem, simple solution. The simple solution was that they send out joint squads. Americans and Russians joined together in all of their patrols. Wherever they went in Serb country, Muslim country, or Croat country, the patrols had representatives from both the US and Russia, and the even-handed issue disappeared.

When I met with General Lentsov, I surprised him by presenting him with the Legion of Merit, which is an American military medal we rarely give to foreign leaders. It was not meant as just a symbolic statement. It really was our judgment that this man had performed in an outstanding way as the brigade commander of the Russian troops in Bosnia.

By its participation in IFOR, Russia is demonstrating its commitment to participate in the future security architecture of Europe. Let me tell you one other story, which brings this home to me in a very vivid way. When I was in Pervomaysk, Ukraine with Minister Grachev earlier this year, we went out together to blow up an ICBM site, which was a very interesting event in and of itself. After that event, there was a press conference. At the press conference, Minister Grachev was asked the question that he was always asked at a press conference, which was: What do you think about NATO enlargement? And Grachev gave the same answer that he always gave to that question and that all of the other government officials in Russia gave. At the end of that answer he said, On the other hand, I am observing that NATO can provide some positive benefits to the security of Europe. I see what they are doing in Bosnia. I see a good Russian participation in IFOR. Maybe something different and important and positive is happening in NATO.

This was the first time I had ever heard him or any other Russian official make a statement like that. It is my belief that, with time and with patience, the understanding will grow in Russia that NATO, far from being a threat to them, is in a position to help contribute to their own security.

Now we have to build on the success of IFOR, and institutionalize the NATO-Russia relationship. At the last NATO Defense Ministers' meeting in Brussels, we agreed with then Russian Defense Minister Grachev to make permanent the ad hoc arrangements, which had been created for IFOR. The communication structure and the command structure we set up allowed NATO and the Russians to work together. We agreed that the Russians should establish a permanent office at NATO headquarters, and vice versa, that NATO should establish a permanent office at the General Staff headquarters in Russia. These offices would help promote transparency in defense planning on the part of both Russia and NATO, and certainly would help increase confidence and cooperation.

These offices are only one step toward the process that we should undertake in NATO to institutionalize this relationship and put it on a stronger and more permanent basis. Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Christopher called for a Russia - NATO charter that would give us a permanent mechanism for working together to meet new security challenges. This charter, as I see it, would spell out a formal way of communication between Russia and NATO. This is an important step that we need to take.

I have talked to you about three challenges that we face in NATO. They make up an ambitious agenda for the Baltic region, for Europe, and for the United States in the months and years ahead. The countries that are represented at this conference will play a pivotal role in successfully meeting these challenges.

The Nordic countries have already, and will continue to reach out in three directions. They have reached out to Poland and to the Baltics and developed special bilateral and regional relationships. They have reached out through the Partnership for Peace to all of Europe -- particularly the Balkans -- through their peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia and Macedonia. And they have also reached out to Russia.

Poland has, of course, made itself a leading candidate for NATO membership, but it is also taking on a creative role in Partnership for Peace, reaching out to Lithuania, as well as to their neighbors -- Belarus and Ukraine -- and Russia. And Germany, like the United States, is expected to and has played a leading role in making the Partnership for Peace a success, particularly in the Baltic region.

On our part, we must do all we can to promote the security of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The United States is working cooperatively with the Baltics and other nations on a Baltic Action Plan which sets forth steps that will: Embed the Baltics into the security and economic framework of Europe; promote positive relations with Russia; and support the political, economic and social progress of the Baltic states. We want to make the Baltics a region known for their possibilities, not their problems. To do this, the other nations of the region must continue to lend their support.

The Baltic nations have struggled to restore freedom and rebuild the institutions of a democratic society. They have maintained exemplary participation in Partnership for Peace, not only in exercises, but in the real work of peacekeeping in Bosnia and other places around the globe. They have made impressive commitments and have shown that we can count on them to do their part.

Now the Baltic nations have applied for membership in NATO. That issue will be decided not by me nor by the groups here. It will be decided at a summit meeting by our leaders next year. I want to share with you my views on the factors that will determine that decision.

First of all, I want to borrow a phrase from the United States Declaration of Independence, and say that the Baltic nations are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent states. Second, they ought to be brought into the security circle of Europe through a strengthened and enhanced Partnership for Peace, a Super Partnership for Peace. Third, in my judgment, they are not yet ready to take on the Article V responsibilities of NATO membership. Fourth, I believe they are making very good progress in that direction. And finally, we should all work to hasten the day that they will be ready for membership.

Last night, Hans Haekkerup quoted Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Hamlet observed that the times are out of joint, and he lamented that he was called upon to set them straight. Hamlet finally took action to do that, but by the time he took it, it was so late that the tragedy still occurred.

Thinking of the actions that we are going to be facing in the months ahead, I also wanted to quote from Shakespeare, but not from Hamlet. I will quote from his play Julius Caesar: There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. On such a full sea are we now afloat, and we must take the current when it serves. On such a full sea we are now afloat. The decisions that we make in the 12 months ahead are going to be critical. They need to be the right decisions, and conferences like this give us the opportunity to think through the important issues that we are facing. But they also must be timely decisions. We must take the current when it serves.

Thank you.

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