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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Releases > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Remarks > 2003 > July

Baltic Regional Security Challenges

Judith Cefkin, Director, Office of Nordic and Baltic Affairs
Remarks to Women in International Security School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
Washington, DC
July 24, 2003

Thank you Gale, Ambassador Kionka, my esteemed colleagues from the Latvian and Lithuanian embassies, guests. I am pleased to be here making my public debut as Director of the Office of Nordic and Baltic Affairs. I have already met some of you, and look forward to getting to know others.

In presenting the U.S. Government's perspective on "Baltic Regional Security Challenges," the first observation I would make is that the Baltic nations are embarking on an exciting new era. The U.S., together with our Nordic friends, will be a full partner in this adventure. With their upcoming accession to NATO and the EU, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are helping to build a Europe that is "whole, free, and at peace."

The United States is sometimes accused of being overly focused on the short term. But I would like to note, that when it comes to our policy toward the Baltic region, the State Department should actually be credited with being quite visionary. The name and composition of my office -- Nordic and Baltic Affairs – is no accident. Several years ago, a conscious decision was made to put Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania together with the Scandinavian states and Iceland. Shared interests as well as geography made this logical, but it was also a political statement. In our view, the Baltics were “western.” With the expansion of NATO in 1999 to include Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic, distinctions between east and west in Europe began to crumble. When the three Baltic nations and others formally join NATO and EU in 2004, those terms will become truly meaningless. The regional cohesiveness for which the region is known will however remain strong, bolstered by shared membership in those two organizations.

For the U.S., NATO of course remains the guarantor of security in Europe, and therefore in the Baltic Sea. When the decision was made to invite seven new partners – including Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – to join NATO, at last November's NATO Prague Summit, President Bush said, "By welcoming seven new members we will not only add to our military capabilities. We will refresh the spirit of this great democratic alliance." I believe the President's statement is very important. Not only will Baltic membership in NATO contribute to Baltic security, the Baltic members will also contribute to NATO's vitality.

Just under two years ago, America's sense of security was shaken to its core by the attacks of 9/11. Speaking in Warsaw last year, President Bush noted that the key mission of our alliance is "…to fight against those who would try to defeat freedom." Defeating freedom is, of course, the terrorists' aim. Accordingly, counterterrorism cooperation will remain a key security priority for U.S. engagement with the Nordic Baltic region. Our experience thus far has been good. The regional representative of the Department of Homeland Security, based in Copenhagen, is working with his counterparts to identify and contain threats. We continue to negotiate extradition treaties, agreements on law enforcement cooperation, and other tools that will help us defeat this common enemy.

Security is of course much more than strictly military and police affairs. A number of global challenges also pose a threat. An issue that is an increasing focus of our government – a problem the Nordic-Baltic region shares -- is the problem of "trafficking in persons." Secretary of State Colin Powell has observed that trafficking is "about modern day slavery and slave trading. Our Embassy in Helsinki, with the close cooperation of the Finnish and Swedish governments, recently organized a very successful conference on combating trafficking in children. All the governments of the region are working on trafficking, through national programs as well as within the CBSS and the Nordic Council of Ministers.

President Bush has made fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic a priority of U.S. foreign policy. HIV/AIDS and TB have unfortunately not yet been checked in the Baltic Sea region. U.S. assistance funds helped start anti-AIDS efforts within the CBSS. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta is our principle contractor for work on multiple-drug-resistant tuberculosis. Through these efforts and continued cooperation with the CBSS Task Force on Infectious Diseases, we will work with the region to defeat these plagues.

Corruption represents a different kind of threat to national and international society. Transparency International’s annual survey of the perception of corruption is not the definitive assessment of this problem, but it does show a great disparity in the rankings between the Baltic Sea states that suffered Soviet rule and those that did not. Closing this gap will help increase the already strong commercial and political ties that bind the region.

All the issues I have mentioned involve Russia, and solving trafficking or HIV/AIDS in the Baltic can only be achieved if Russia is part of the solution. By virtue of its geography, history, and demographics, Russia casts a long shadow in the region. There are many channels for addressing shared concerns, from the CBSS to the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Arctic Council to the NATO-Russia Council. EU and NATO membership for Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia add new dimensions to the relationship between those countries and Russia, offering more possibilities for cooperation

I recently read a speech by Lithuanian President Paksas in which he noted that "Over the past 10-15 years the Baltic Sea region has changed beyond recognition." He stated, "Today we consider the Baltic Sea Region as one of the most stable in Europe, marked by a very high level of regional cooperation.…At the same time, we are facing new challenges. Threats posed by international crime and terrorism, illegal migration, smuggling, corruption, trafficking in people and narcotic substances…"

President Pakasas's comments sum it up well. The security challenges in the Baltic Region are not substantially different from those in other regions. What is different is the degree of cooperation and community that can be used to address these issues. The U.S. has been and will remain a full partner in these efforts. And together we must work to extend peace, prosperity and freedom to new regions of Europe and to other corners of the globe.

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