Lithuania Won't Turn From Its Road to NATO

The goal: full membership in the Western community, including the alliance and the European Union

Last week I had the honor of meeting with senior United States officials and congressional leaders. I have an immense amount of respect for this country. The Republic of Lithuania is seeking to be a partner of the US in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Lithuania is aspiring to integrate into the alliance as soon as possible and looks forward with anticipation to the July summit in Madrid during which first round candidates for NATO expansion will be announced.

Since its independence was restored in 1990, Lithuania has pursued an unwavering policy of westward integration. Specifically, we are seeking full membership in both NATO and the European Union (EU). If anybody is allowed to hinder Lithuania's coming closer to NATO, it means tomorrow there will be destabilizing impediments on our road to the European Union. This is why, from Lithuania's perspective, both roads are parallel and of equal importance.

Since January 1994, when Lithuania submitted its application to NATO, we have worked toward membership, and we will continue. We have been told that we were not ready yet for membership. We understood "not ready yet" to mean "yes, but not now." It was only necessary to get ready, to do our homework. Now, however, the time has come, and we believe we are ready to be full members of NATO.

As a nation which was occupied by the Soviet Union for about 50 years, Lithuania is anxious to enter into security arrangements that will ensure its status as a stable and independent nation within the Western community. Let it be understood that Lithuania does not perceive NATO as a threat to Russia. We believe in the future of a democratic and European Russia, and we wish to promote this as much as we can.

Lithuania was encouraged that the recent Helsinki summit meant a change in Russian foreign policy from confrontation to cooperation. This signals not only a continuation of our liberation, but also the liberation of Russia from the imperial thinking of a dominating country. When Russian president Boris Yeltsin said that Russia will in the future respect the security of the Baltic countries so that they do not fear Russia, and that Russia today offers a new friendly policy, I view this as a very important recognition. In this way, President Yeltsin stated that previous Russian policy toward the Baltics was neither very friendly nor very fair to us, and that it had to be changed. This idea may have been brewing for quite a while, but it was ultimately stated in Helsinki.

In recent days, the United States has expressed interest in negotiating a security charter with the Baltic states. Lithuania is encouraged by these overtures, and we will be holding further discussions on this subject in coming weeks, but such a pact can not be an alternative to NATO membership. This kind of agreement would have to be regarded by all parties as a path toward membership in the alliance.

Early membership in NATO for at least one of the Baltic countries is highly desirable. If one Baltic country is invited for early membership, the other two would also benefit. Early membership for any of the Baltic states would set a constructive precedent by breaking the existing blockade of pressure against Baltic membership and releasing tendencies toward region-wide liberalization.

I am sure that Lithuania will be admitted to NATO. If, however, Lithuania does not receive an invitation during the first round in Madrid, it must know what is planned for the near future. Exclusion of Lithuania from the agenda at Madrid would be a step back from the results achieved by the US and Russian presidents in Helsinki. A false signal would be sent to Moscow's "hawks."

With the restoration of its independence, Lithuania has freedom of choice again, and we have made our choice: Lithuania will seek and attain full membership in NATO and the European Union. This is beneficial for Lithuania, the West, and Russia. Lithuania is an integral part of Western, Christian civilization. The only guarantee for us that this can be preserved is through NATO and EU membership. Time and effort are the real open issues, and we know that a task performed well brings the goal closer and accelerates the time.

* Vytautas Landsbergis is president of the Republic of Lithuania's Parliament.

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