Banquet for the Baltic Foreign Ministers
Address by the Prime Minister of Iceland, Mr. Davíð Oddsson,
at a banquet for the Baltic Foreign Ministers,
in The Culture House, August 25 2001
Just over ten years ago, Iceland quickly endorsed the growing demands by the Baltic nations for an end to the Soviet occupation of their countries and the restoration of their freedom. Iceland's policy irritated not only the Kremlin powers, but also some of our allies in NATO, who feared that the dissolution of the Soviet Union could have dangerous consequences.
Iceland had never recognized the Soviet annexation of the Baltic States and various people in Iceland during the Cold War had championed keeping the issue alive. But it must be admitted that few people thought it was realistic to expect that they would live to see the day when these nations reclaimed their freedom. The forces of oppression seemed to be firmly established. Then suddenly a window of bright light seemed to open in the cloud of oppression. Conceivably a chance was arising for freedom to be restored. A small nation could not remain silent over this issue in mere deference to superpower politics or cold logic.
When everything suggested that the attempted coup that began in Moscow on August 19 1991 was failing, it became clear that the Soviet Union was beginning to disintegrate. It seemed that Soviet communism was finally being smothered in its own web of lies, which it had woven for more than seventy years. The opportunity was at hand and the only option was to seize it at once, and it was highly appropriate that a freedom-loving small nation with no army of its own should become the first country to establish diplomatic relations with them.
After the Baltic nations regained their freedom, Iceland has watched their reforms and taken a delight in the great progress which has already been made. Ten years is a short time, but they have accomplished a gigantic task.
Part of the work that had to be launched after decades of military occupation and oppression involved re-establishing normal relations with the rest of the world. This includes aiming towards membership of NATO and the European Union.
The ideal underlying the European Union is a noble one and has its roots in the tragic events which the continent witnessed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It could be said that the main reason was to put the ghosts of Napoleon, Bismarck, Hitler and Stalin to rest. The EU has proved to be an enormous boost for Europe, and its enlargement to the East is crucial for prosperity and stability on the continent. Membership by the Baltic states and other candidate countries is an urgent economic and political necessity, because of the promises that the EU has given to them and because of what they have already undertaken in order to transform their economies and prepare for membership in other respects.
Thus we must have faith that the European Union's plans will hold good and its enlargement process will take place quickly in the next few years. Membership of the EU will give the Baltic countries access to the internal market and thereby make them Iceland's partners in the European Economic Area, which we welcome. Bilateral relations between Iceland and the Baltic countries can then be expected to flourish even more than at present, and our trade with each other to grow.
The enlargement of NATO has already begun and Iceland is trying to assist the Baltic countries in this respect. Ignoring the wishes of the newly independent countries to join the Alliance would have been in contradiction to its aims and ideals, and would have undermined stability in Europe. Enlargement of NATO represents a historic opportunity for the Alliance to play a major part in consolidating the great reforms which followed the collapse of communism, and to create a new Europe based on freedom and democracy. NATO's policy on expansion is clear and straightforward. Its doors remain open and no country outside it has a veto on new membership. NATO's history shows beyond any shadow of a doubt that its enlargement will benefit the whole of Europe, and no one has any grounds to fear this process or cast suspicion on it.
NATO's stated policy is that no European countries will be excluded from membership, regardless of their geographical location. This is a clear reference to the Baltic countries. The next phase of expansion will be decided at a NATO Summit Meeting scheduled to be held in Prague in November 2002. An important part of the preparations will be the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Reykjavík next May. At the same time a meeting will be held here with the NATO's partners, including the Baltic countries.
It is not known how NATO will address the enlargement issue at the Prague Summit, but it was gratifying for the Foreign Minister and myself to notice at the NATO Summit in Brussels in June how many leaders declared their unqualified support for further enlargement, and also that some of them made particular mention of the cause of the Baltic countries. For its part, Iceland stated that the process should continue in such a way at the Prague Summit that all applicants would be invited to join and become members as soon as they fulfil the terms of the plan NATO already has in place to guide the candidate countries towards membership.
Membership by the Baltic countries would transform them and Iceland from close friends into direct allies – within NATO itself. Who could have believed in the past that this would be possible?
The history of Europe was changed as soon as the Alliance was founded more than fifty years ago and it has played a key role in developments there ever since. The crucial factor has been the transatlantic link across to the United States of America, and as I understand it, it is precisely this link that makes NATO membership so attractive in the eyes of Central and Eastern European nations. For this reason, any attempts to undermine that link must be resisted.
We look forward to having the Baltic countries join us in NATO and to cooperating with them there on guarding the transatlantic link and strengthening the principles on which the Alliance is based.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I ask you to rise and drink a toast to the friendship between Iceland and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.