Danute and their family just returned from three weeks in the Baltic
countries, where they met with political leaders in all three countries
and with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and former President
Vytautas Landsbergis, now leader of the parliament. I had a long
lunch with Tony this week and pored over the written material he
WAY TO GO?
The Baltic countries are interesting
in part because they could provide a model for other countries emerging
from communist domination. They also could pose a problem in some
ways in that, for reasons not all that difficult to understand,
their leaders (and probably most of their citizens) want to join
NATO and it's difficult not to sympathize with them. If NATO is
not expanded in the next few years or if, as I dream in my more
utopian moments, it is disbanded or reshaped the Baltic countries
will still have fairly legitimate security concerns.
All three countries seem energized by enthusiasm for democracy and
entrepreneurial activity. All have gone a long way toward establishing
democratic institutions and growing their economies. But numerous
hard decisions lie ahead.
Most observers agree that if NATO and the European Union expand
further the Baltic countries are likely to be among the next admitted.
But you might wonder why the Baltic countries are so eager to join
unions of countries that believe they have "matured'' past
freewheeling capitalism and are encrusted with bureaucracy and inclined
to want new members to impose the same kind of social-welfare programs
that to keep most Western European countries economically stagnant,
with relatively high levels of unemployment and social discontent.
The main reason lies in geography.
For centuries Lithuania and Poland and to a slightly lesser
extent the other Baltic countries which lie in relatively
flat coastal plains, have been dominated and victimized by Russian
and German expansionism. Armies from these two contending imperial
powers have marched through the Baltic countries repeatedly, often
leaving death and devastation in their wake.
Most Balts look eastward to a Russia that has replaced communism
with gangsterism, where neo-imperialist nationalism is becoming
more popular in the wake of economic failure and domestic strife,
and believe they have reason to continue to worry. Russia might
be economically and socially devastated and its armies may be demoralized.
But it still is a huge country with significant resources and nuclear
weapons. If new leadership decided to distract attention from domestic
political failure with foreign adventures, it would hardly be the
first time, either in Russia's history or the world's.
So it's not difficult to understand why the Baltic countries would
like to be included in a NATO an-attack-on-one-is-an-attack-on all
defense treaty. And insofar as they look to Europe and the West
as their economic future and for the most part they do they'll
have to deal with the continental bureaucracies that largely determine
the terms of trade between Western Europe and other countries.
TO THE WEST
said, all the Baltic countries are setting an independent and largely
market-oriented course and have made serious progress. Tony showed
me photos not only of ornate castles and cathedrals being restored,
but of new industrial and housing development in all three countries.
With relatively high levels of education, they are on the verge
of becoming high-tech meccas with the western orientation they have
preferred through most of their histories.
Valdas Adamkus, Lithuania's president, is of Lithuanian heritage
but lived in Michigan until not long ago. His "outsider'' status,
according to Tony, is a political asset rather than a liability.
He is viewed as somebody who can view problems objectively, not
being tied to any of the older factions. Since being elected in
1998 he has cut government spending. The head of the Lithuanian
armed forces is a former colonel in the US Army and a Vietnam veteran.
Estonia, which has the lowest taxes in the region, has become a
shopping mecca for Finns who can be in Estonia in a half hour
by ferry because of its low prices.
According to a November 1 Reuters story, the London-based brokerage
Williams de Broe said three have stabilized since the Russian economic
crisis (which affected them deleteriously) of last year. The three
currencies are all stable because of low inflation, 100 percent
backing by foreign currencies and relatively low government debts.
Williams de Broe forecasts flat GDP growth this year and improvement
So the Baltic countries have reason for some nervousness over Russia,
but seem well on the road to building relatively peaceful and prosperous
countries on the fringes of the former Soviet Empire. If they are
to prosper over the long haul, however, they will need to come up
with an approach other than joining NATO to protect them from the
possibility of a takeover sometime in the future.
NATO's recent adventures in imperialism
in Kosovo have caused some Balts to develop reservations, Tony told
me. The offensive campaign outside NATO borders, followed by the
exercise in failed "nation-building" have some wondering
whether NATO will be a reliable defensive alliance any more or a
New World Order institution interested in everything but defense.
There are other reasons to be concerned. If a piece by foreign correspondent
Anna Husarska in the October 25 issue of The New Republic
is accurate (and whatever her leanings, she's usually a pretty good
reporter) the NATO war against Kosovo and Yugoslavia is turning
out to be valuable to other aggressors as a model of how to do it
and get away with it.
As Ms. Husarska puts it, after a visit in Moscow following several
years absence, Moscow's war against Chechnya is being sold the same
way the NATO war was sold: "The message Yeltsin's team is trying
to convey is that what they're doing in Grozny is analogous to what
the Western alliance did in Yugoslavia. The list of targets given
was almost precisely parallel to those presented during the Kosovo
strikes, including everything from the Chechen TV station and radar
installations to Chechnya's air fleet. (One plane was destroyed,
the other spared.)
there are the video clips showing these targets first framed in
crosshairs, then obliterated by the blast. The main difference between
this presentation and the ones that were done in Brussels is that
NATO's video clips were accompanied by running commentary from Jamie
Shea (or occasionally that Luftwaffe officer with the heavy accent),
while in Moscow the clips are narrated by a velvety female voice
that sounds more like a receptionist for an escort agency than a
briefer on a military operation."
WORSE THAN MOSCOW?
Ms. Husarska feels obligated to conclude
that the analogy doesn't work because "the Kremlin is playing
the part not of NATO but of Slobodan Milosevic." But the analogy
works all too well. The aggression by the Russian military into
Chechnya is an unjustified and brutal campaign that (by all accounts)
is hitting plenty of civilian targets and causing thousands of civilian
casualties. So was the NATO aggression against Kosovo.
If anything, the NATO aggression was less justified. To be sure,
most decent people sympathize with the Chechnyans, who have been
colonized first by imperial Russia, then by Soviet Russia, then
by Gangster Russia. But Chechnya is within the borders at least
of the Commonwealth of Independent States. If Moscow had a shred
of decency it would grant Chechnya independence, of course. But
while it probably should be, Chechnya is not an internationally
recognized sovereign state outside the borders of the alliance it
has peeved. Yugoslavia was and is a sovereign state outside what
had previously been viewed as the defensive perimeters of the NATO
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