NATO at 70 and Baltic states: strengthening the alliance in an age of non-linear threats

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After the centenary celebrations of 2018 in all three Baltic countries, the beginning of the year 2019 gives Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania the occasion to jointly celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Baltic Defence College – an institution of crucial importance for their common security.

Twenty years ago, membership in NATO was still only a hope and a dream, and the obstacles in our path to acceptance seemed insurmountable at times. Not only was the need for enlargement still hotly debated among the then 15-member nations of the Alliance, but some were seriously questioning the very need for NATO’s continued existence.

After all, the remarkably successful common security space that these countries had enjoyed for half a century had been created in response to the international tensions of the Cold War.  The demands made on the candidate countries were thus extremely exigent, and required not just the practical work of fulfilling them, but serious work in ensuring political consensus and support among their own citizens for such a massive effort. In this regard, Latvia and its neighbours had at least the advantage of very broad support from their populations, for the loss of their independence at the end of World War II and 50 years of Soviet occupation were still quite fresh in their collective memories.

            NATO had survived the Cold War because it stood for values that were still worth defending, whereas the Warsaw Pact had dissolved because the ideology on which it had been founded was bankrupt. In Russia, however, the transition to democracy was far from being accepted as an improvement.  The independence of the former captive nations was seen by Russian leaders not just as an irritant, but as an insult, and all that these nations had gained they begrudged as a loss to themselves. The time is neither for isolationism, protectionism or chauvinistic nationalism. The need is for an intelligent understanding of the sweep of history, a deep sense of the values of democracy, and a commitment to solidarity as a guarantee of sovereignty, not a threat to it.


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