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Nordic-Baltic Ministers Talk New NATO Memberships

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2001 – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania hope it's their turn to join NATO when the alliance starts its next round of expansion discussions.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld attended the annual Nordic-Baltic Defense Ministerial June 9 in Turku, Finland. During a post-meeting news conference, he sat at a table with counterpart defense ministers Jan-Erik Enestam of Finland, Juri Luik of Estonia, Girts Valdis Kristovskis of Latvia, Linas Linkevicius of Lithuania, Bjorn von Sydow of Sweden and Jan Trojborg of Denmark.

The talk turned to NATO expansion. Enestam noted that Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania have all "made consistent efforts to improve their defense systems" in recent years. Rumsfeld assented.

"There is no question that the three Baltic nations have made good progress and they have indicated a desire to be a part of NATO," Rumsfeld said. "The NATO process, as I understand it, … will begin soon with discussions and consultations.

"The policy of NATO is an open book and it is certainly encouraging that nations desire to be a part of NATO and it is done of their free choice," he continued. "The United States will be beginning that process along with the other nations in the period immediately ahead. We won't know what the outcome will be, obviously, until those consultations and discussions have taken place."

NATO was created in 1949 as a bulwark against Soviet expansion in Europe. Today's 19-member Atlantic Alliance is still Europe's premier cooperative security organization. In what at the time was said to be just the "first round," Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, became NATO's newest members in 1999. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have sought membership actively since the end of the Cold War a decade ago.

Denmark is a NATO member, as are Iceland and Norway, which also were represented at the ministerial. Sweden and Finland, while not in NATO, participate in cooperative defense planning with other nations in the region.

Asked by a reporter if the United States is concerned that Finland and Sweden are not NATO members, Rumsfeld replied that NATO "has served an enormously useful role in contributing to peace and stability over the decades. There is not a doubt in my mind that it will (continue to do so) in the coming decades.

"The wonderful thing about (NATO) is that nations that desire to become a member can become a member. Nations that desire not to be a member can do that as well," he added. A number of other European countries are not NATO members, he said.

Rumsfeld said he had a good meeting in Turku, adding that he appreciated the Nordic-Baltic nations' efforts to work together on security issues. He had briefed attendees on the Bush administration's security and defense policies. As he had throughout his weeklong Europe trip, he also discussed U.S. missile defense intentions and the need to meet new threats to world peace, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Finland was the last stop in Europe. The mission included visits to Turkey, Ukraine, Greece, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo and Belgium. Rumsfeld returned to Washington late June 9.

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