From the CIAO Atlas Map of Europe 

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CIAO DATE: 07/02

Rethinking The Nature of Security: The U.S. Northern Europe Initiative

Edward Rhodes

Copenhagen Peace Research Institute
June 2002

That U.S. policy toward the Baltic region should merit discussion is in itself an indicator of how much has changed in the last decade. That U.S. policy toward the Baltic should have come to embody an intellectual revolution is nothing less than extraordinary. Nonetheless, this is in fact the case.

Traditionally, the most notable features of U.S. policy toward the Baltic region have been, on the one hand, deliberate ambiguity and, on the other hand, tension in the policy's internal logic. This is hardly surprising. The ambiguity and tension in America's relationship with the Baltic nations can be understood as reflecting the more fundamental unresolved dialectic in American foreign policy, which pits America's commitment to liberalism against its embrace of realpolitik. As historian David Foglesong has succinctly noted, 'Three times in the twentieth century the recession and reassertion of Russian and Soviet power along the Baltic Sea have weighed the balance between American idealistic principles and United States strategic interests, between devotion to the rights of small nations and attention to the needs of great powers. 1

Following the collapse of Soviet power, as on earlier occasions, the United States found itself caught between a moral commitment to the independence and self-determination of the Baltic nations and a pragmatic concern with developing a modus vivendi with Russia. This was painfully evident during the critical years of 1989-91, when the United States pursued what might be most charitably described as a cautious policy, responding reluctantly to events rather than attempting to direct them, and preferring to limit its involvement as much as possible. 2

During the second half of the 1990s, however, the United States moved decisively both to take a more active, constructive role in the region and to try to escape what it regarded as an unacceptable choice between, on the one hand, failing to support the legitimate aspirations of the Baltic states and, on the other hand, foregoing a constructive relationship with Russia. Undertaking a policy initiative separate from but parallel to the European Union's Northern Dimension, U.S. decision-makers sought to create the conditions under which the Baltic states could eventually join NATO without antagonizing Russia. American policy aimed at preventing the emergence of a short-term political-military vacuum in the region, encouraging regional economic integration, and making progress toward eliminating a scrap-bin of political, economic, environmental, social, and cultural problems that were seen as the tinder for some future conflagration.

In all this, American policy was arguably praiseworthy, but still hardly newsworthy. What, at least from an academic perspective, is newsworthy is the conceptual breakthrough that accompanied this policy development. U.S. policymakers stepped outside the traditional policy framework, abandoning 'modern' conceptions of security and security-building in favor of something identifiably post-modern in approach.


Note 1: David S. Foglesong, 'The United States, Self-Determination and the Struggle Against Bolshevism in the Eastern Baltic Region, 1918-1920,' Journal of Baltic Studies, volume 26, number 2 (Summer 1995), p. 107.Back

Note 2: For a thorough and extremely readable account, see Anatol Lieven, The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Path to Independence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).Back