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Russia and Baltic States

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Toni Schönfelder
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Baltic States Membership in NATO Unlikely 30 April 2001 U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said April 23 that Russia would not be "given a veto over who is or who is not part of NATO," reported Reuters. Powell made the statement while meeting with the President of Latvia, whose country is a NATO aspirant. Powells statement, though confrontational, is simply the newest example of perennial political posturing between the governments of Russia and the United States. Despite political rhetoric supporting expansion of the alliance, next years NATO summit in Prague, Czech Republic, will not result in an invitation for the Baltic states to enter the alliance. The Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are candidates for a future round of NATO expansion. The republics hope to join the alliance just as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland did in 1999. These new aspirants also hope that NATO membership will enhance security and further integrate them into Europe. Russia, however, opposes NATO expansion for security reasons. Russia is concerned with NATOs aggressive stance as demonstrated in the 1999 NATO air attacks on Kosovo. Furthermore adding the Baltic states to the alliance isolates Russia from its Kaliningrad enclave. Besides the political rhetoric and security interests of the countries involved, some military factors do not support absorbing the Baltic states into NATO. Geographically, adding the Baltic states creates a vulnerable salient. Defending and reinforcing the region is difficult, because of the regions broad front, limited depth and restricted lines of communication. In the event of war, the Baltic states would need to be reinforced, as Russian forces would neutralize the Baltic states in their move to protect Kaliningrad and its port facilities. NATO would need to move reinforcements overland, because Kaliningrad would make air and sea resupply difficult. The road networks, developed over years of Soviet rule, favor Moscow. Limited ability to reinforce the region would allow Russia to secure the Baltic states, leaving a large number of NATO troops waiting on the beach for rescue. In addition to enhancing security and integration with Europe, the candidate states may view NATO membership much like membership in a gentlemans club. NATO membership, however, comes with a high price. Member states must meet a number of structural and doctrinal requirements to satisfy their NATO obligations. The government of Poland adopted a special law to finance the purchase of 60 new combat aircraft, a NATO requirement. The cost of the aircraft is estimated at $2.5 billion and should be paid for by 2015, reported AFP on April 24. In addition to member requirements, the alliance partners must provide infrastructure improvements and maintain bases. Not only is there an additional cost to member states, but also additional expenses for NATO as a whole. A NATO delegation began a three-day visit to Poland on April 25 to visit an airfield, air control center and a naval base that NATO plans to improve and take over. NATO is to spend $650 million to improve Polands military facilities over eight years, reported AFP on April 25. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are also attempting to enter the European Union. Here again are economic requirements. Largely though, the costs are a factor of reforming former communist economies and structures. Although Europe is helping the region with the transformation, the additional economic burden of NATO membership will place an additional strain on their economies. The topic of NATO expansion will result in Russia and the United States continuing their political rhetoric. The dialogue in this case appears meaningless. Limited military benefit, substantial military liability and the associated cost of NATO membership make expansion into the Baltic region unlikely. Furthermore, Moscow may realize that NATO wont expand for the reasons outlined. Should the allies stretch NATO into the Baltic states, Russias reaction would be serious. Barring a political motivation, the next round of NATO membership bids apparently will not go to the Baltic states.

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