The Vilnius Nine and the Next Enlargement of NATO


Remarks by Vygaudas Usackas, Deputy Foreign Minister of Lithuania

at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Washington, D.C. November 14, 2000

Mr. Goble,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure and privilege to address this distinguished audience at the Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

I am embraced by a particular feeling being here at RFE/RL whose broadcasts to the captive nations like Lithuania during the years of Soviet occupation were listened to as the voice of truth and hope that one day we would regain our independence and would be able to join a community of like-minded nations.

In an invitation that was distributed by Radio Free Europe, you wrote that The Vilnius Statement adopted by Nine NATO candidate countries on 30 May 2000 offers a "united challenge" to NATO.

Let me be clear – first of all, I see it more as a "united opportunity", "a historical chance" to create Europe whole and free through integration of our countries into the central structures of the Euro-Atlantic community, NATO and the European Union, on the one hand, and buttressing relations with neighbors, including Russia, on the other.

Just over a year ago, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary became members of NATO. This was a major step towards a permanently stable, peaceful and prosperous Euro-Atlantic community.

The United States and other allies should not stop there. They should go further and lead the process of expansion of the area of stability and security to other Central European states.

On our part, we are making it easy for the United States and the other allies to do this step.

While recognizing the achievements of all Nine candidate countries, I would like to focus briefly on Lithuania’s case.

The most important, during the relatively short period of the last ten years, Lithuania achieved a breakthrough in state modernization, economic liberalization, and integration into the world economy.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Last week the European Commission issued a progress report about the EU candidate countries in which Lithuania was recognized as a "functioning market economy" which could withstand competitive pressures within the EU in the midterm perspective.

  • This year’s annual Index of Economic Freedom, published by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation, ranked Lithuania Number 42 in the list of almost 200 countries and called it "the most improved economy in the history of the Index", since it moved up 19 points in just one year.

  • Lithuania rapidly reoriented its economy towards the West while maintaining business links with Russia. Today Lithuania does not see itself as just a 3.7 million market but as part of the future 450 million European market. If ten years ago Lithuania was fully dependent on one market, today EU countries accounts for almost half of Lithuania’s exports and imports, and American and European companies alike found Lithuania as a good location to set up their regional operational networks for the region. Lithuania has developed into an attractive venue for foreign investors.

Second, Lithuania has achieved a level of European integration already where technical, not political ones, are the focus of negotiations. To date we have opened 16 negotiation chapters with the EU and closed 7 of them. Tomorrow I will be in Brussels and we will be discussing how to advance other issues.

Third, though a genuine desire to join NATO has not yet been fulfilled, the year 2000 has been a very positive year. Beginning with Lithuania’s recognition by the NATO Washington Summit in 1999, we are making ourselves ready for membership:

  • We are using the MAP as a tool to focus our resources and making valuable use of Alliance expertise and the "feed-back" approach to better prepare ourselves for membership.

  • We also contribute within our capabilities to the NATO led operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. While currently we have over 100 Lithuanian military personnel in SFOR and KFOR, altogether during the last 5 years, more than 600 served within NATO led contingencies.

  • As you know, we held elections in early October. A new government is now in place. It will continue the foreign policy priorities of the last Administration and joining NATO is on the top of the list. The new Prime Minister reaffirmed his commitment to spending 2% of the GDP on defense by 2002. It has been a smooth transition and yet another example of democracy being firmly in place in Lithuania.

Finally, our immediate strength lies within our ability to project confidence and stability across the Baltic Sea region. Lithuania’s experience of good relations in theory and practice with Russia will enrich the Alliance’s current efforts to promote a cooperative relationship with Russia.

We do not see the Kaliningrad enclave of the Russia Federation as a problem. We see it as a challenge – a challenge in transforming a potential problem into an opportunity for broad cooperation. New opportunities will be develop as Lithuania and Poland advance toward EU membership and Lithuania joins Poland in NATO.

Now, having considered developments in one of the Nine NATO candidates, can we conclude that everything is on track and there is no need for further American and European engagement in Central Europe?

This is the part in my presentation where I address the challenge].

I truly believe that the challenge that lies ahead of us is of a social and political nature.

There are also security and stability concerns in the long term.

There is a challenge to maintain the momentum, consistency, and predictability of both the EU and NATO enlargement process.

Moreover, there is a challenge of political imagination to counteract the inevitable inertia.

Each of us candidates can address these issues alone and we may be successful.

However, we can improve our chances of creating prosperity and security if the unification process which started with the fall of the Berlin wall continues with the enlargement of NATO in 2002 and the advancement of membership negotiations with the EU.

The Vilnius conference in May, 2000 brought together for the first time the foreign ministers of all the candidate countries. Statements or letters from both leading American Presidential candidates reaffirmed their personal commitment to NATO enlargement. The ministers from so called "Vilnius Nine" reaffirmed their commitment to the completion of a Europe whole and free, and to improve their specific individual qualifications.

While recognizing that each country should be considered on its own individual merits, it brought together a shared vision and called upon NATO to invite new members at its Summit in 2002.

The Vilnius Nine have continued to cooperate in this shared vision both at a bilateral and multi-lateral level:

-- From contributing to NATO operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, to greater regional cooperation.

-- From meetings of all defense ministers to discussions with our Allies on the MAP process, and planning major joint exercises in 2001.

During the recent American presidential campaign both candidates specifically addressed the issue of NATO enlargement and committed themselves to working towards issuing invitations in 2002. We believe the V9 process is positive. It is not a zero-sum game. It is about a shared vision for our future. One that is in the strategic interests of all members of the NATO Alliance.

We are doing our part to be ready and take responsibility and as all of you know, this is not always easy and requires hard decisions on the part of our governments. We look to the new American Administration as well as our European Allies to continue to work with us to fulfill the dream of a Europe whole and free – beginning in 2002.

Thank you