Keeping Washington’s Focus on the Nordic Baltic Area

On 7th September the Atlantic Council of the USA hosted a conference on Nordic Baltic Security in the 21st Century. Latvia was particularly well represented. Former President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga gave a key note address, Dr Andris Sprūds and I spoke in panel discussions and Ambassador Andrejs Pildegovičs gave some concluding observations. The event co-incided with the publication of a compendium of policy papers on the same topic (http://www.acus.org/publication/nordic-baltic-security-21st-century). This is my brief summary of what I took back to Latvia from the conference.

Ten years after 9/11 and the new US administration entering the final stretch of its term in Office, the Nordic Baltic area has inevitably moved off the central part of Washington’s radar screen. As NATO begins to plan its agenda for the Chicago Summit next year, it is opportune to consider how to attract Washington’s attention to the region. Especially, as Atlantic Council President Fred Kempe pointed out in his opening remarks, given that the region is indeed a success story from the security perspective.

The crucial issue is whether enhanced regional cooperation amongst the eight countries could risk lessening Washington’s interest. No security problem – no interest. In fact the conclusions seemed to go in the opposite direction, namely, the more cost effective and successful the cooperation, the better chance of keeping our Transatlantic allies on board. Regional countries were praised for “walking the walk of smart defence” and not just “talking the talk”. The view that the countries in the region would be fine on their own without US/NATO engagement was dispelled.

At the same time it was assessed that with a reducing footprint in Europe, the US has no strategy into which the Nordic Baltic area fits. Hence the time is now right to start thinking about how the regional agenda can be driven forward in the run up to the Chicago Summit. There were ideas about not restricting the agenda to just regional issues, such as the Arctic or the Eastern Partnership, but broadening it to address global matters of concern. Likewise it would be appropriate to develop flexible military capabilities, with cyber and energy security in Estonia and Lithuania being offered as positive examples. I also mentioned the Joint Tactical Air Control expertise that Latvia has developed. The most focused and imaginative proposals are documented in the compendium’s final policy paper by Damon Wilson and Magnus Nordenman (p.67-71), which include specific suggestions such as inviting Secretary Clinton to a NB8 Foreign Ministers’ meeting.

The success of Nordic Baltic cooperation during the last two decades was compared by Vaira Vīķe - Freiberga with German-French cooperation in the aftermath of World War Two. That cooperation became the basis for establishing the European Union. Does Nordic Baltic cooperation risk making NATO and the presence of the US in Europe less relevant? Drawing on positive ideas from the Atlantic Council conference and compendium, the Chicago Summit should be used to obtain high level assurances that reject such a possibility.

Published 14 September 2011

Author Imants Lieģis