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Indiana University expert: Baltic states would welcome NATO bases

Released: 3-Sep-2014 2:00 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Indiana University
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Newswise — Toivo Raun, a professor of Central Eurasian Studies and an adjunct professor of history at Indiana University Bloomington, took note of the symbolic importance of Obama's Estonian visit and interest by the Baltic states to host NATO troops.

"President Obama’s one-day visit to Estonia is clearly meant to reassure the central and east European states in the alliance, who have now been members for about 10 years, that Article 5 of the original North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 is still fully in force, especially in the current tense atmosphere created by the crisis in Ukraine," said Raun, who teaches a course about the history of the Baltic states since 1918. "Estonia was likely chosen as the site of the visit because it has come very close to serving as a poster child for exemplary behavior by a NATO member, including being one of the few states that spends the recommended 2 percent of GDP on defense and its willingness to participate in dangerous NATO missions such as bomb disposal service in Afghanistan.

"The Estonian government is delighted that the visit is taking place, and public opinion also appears to be highly positive," added Raun, who has taught courses on the role of ethnicity in modern Russian history. "The inevitable traffic jams and additional security measures that will need to be implemented are seen as nothing more than minor inconveniences. The Estonian authorities have done all they can to put their best foot forward in organizing the visit and demonstrate to the outside world that Estonia is a worthy member of NATO and the Western alliance.

"Estonia was chosen as the site for the visit, but clearly the message of reassurance is especially intended for all three Baltic states. The presidents of Latvia and Lithuania will be in attendance and will also meet with President Obama. The recent history of the Baltic states and peoples has increasingly converged, and they engaged in important cooperation in what became known as the Singing Revolution, highlighting a strictly nonviolent approach, as the Soviet Union was disintegrating. Just over a week ago, on Aug. 23, the three countries marked the 25th anniversary of the Baltic Way in 1989 when some 1 to 2 million Balts joined hands in a massive human chain from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius to protest the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939.

"Regarding most NATO issues, Estonia and the United States are on the same page and generally in strong agreement on policy matters. However, given the uncertainty of the current situation and Vladimir Putin’s unpredictable behavior, Estonia clearly would like to see the establishment of permanent NATO bases in the Baltic states, a step the United States is reluctant to take in large because of the continued existence of the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997. Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s recent floating of the concept of a NATO rapid reaction force can be seen as an attempt to bridge the disagreement that exists on this issue."

Raun can be reached at 812-855-4907 or raunt@indiana.edu. Top

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