Starting from Scratch: The Role or Leadership in the Foreign Policymaking of the Baltic States, 1991-1999

Article excerpt

Introduction

Small states as a unit of analysis have been presenting political science researchers with challenging research puzzles for several decades. While numerous investigations concerned with problems of modern statehood, sovereignty, and survival of small states were undertaken during the 1950s to the late 1970s, the motivation to study small states began to dissipate in the early 1980s. Eventually, efforts to learn more about small state behavior were given up, primarily due to the loss of interest in the subject by American political scientists who did and continue to define the interests of the political science discipline (Christmas-Moller 1983). As a result of this, research on small states has been largely neglected for a decade or so in the United States. However, with the disintegration of the USSR and the formation of numerous new states, the matter began to receive renewed attention from the scholars of contemporary international relations as new theoretical and substantive puzzles emerged.

One such area of small states' behavior relates to their foreign policy choices in the international environment: why do these states choose certain foreign policies over others, and what are the factors that influence and shape their choices? Within this context, this paper examines the foreign policy formulation and evolution in the Baltic States during the 1991-1999 period, revealing how the three countries' foreign policies have changed over a decade, and what role the leadership factor played in the process. The strength and significance of explanations derived from the conventional theoretical approaches on Baltic foreign policies (e.g., small state and domestic politics theories) are evaluated first. Then the study incorporates an alternative approach, which focuses on leaders and their personal characteristics, to complement the two conventional approaches, arguing that an individual-level perspective brings in new insights into analysis of Baltic States' foreign policymaking of the 1990s.

More specifically, the study attempts to assess how different individuals in key foreign policymaking positions have influenced the choice of foreign policy preferences. The central claim this paper advances is that Baltic States' foreign policies were not solely shaped by the external and domestic environments, but were also conditioned by the individuals in charge of foreign policymaking (Gricius 1994; Haab 1995; Gimius 1997; Bleiere 1998; Lejins 1999). In other words, it is argued that Baltic leaders were not just merely pawns in the process of conducting their states' foreign policies, but actually had personal preferences as to which policy options should be favored and thus left personal imprints in their states' foreign policy behavior.

Theoretical Perspectives

Conventional Approaches

Foreign policies of the Baltic States, as well as East European states in general, has been studied by applying a variety of theoretical approaches such as realism, interdependence, regionalism, small state theory, domestic-level theories, learning theory, and the like. Undoubtedly, these theories and approaches have contributed to the understanding of these states' foreign policy behavior. For a long time it has been assumed that the most persuasive explanation on this issue has been offered by the small state theory (sometimes also referred to as "weak-state theory") (Barston 1973). This is because the small state perspective not only specifically focuses on the analysis of small state behavior, but also helps identify the foreign policy options available for such states. Five major foreign policy options are highlighted in the small state literature: 1) military alliance, 2) economic union/alliance, 3) regional cooperation arrangements, 4) neutrality policy, and 5) membership in international organizations (Rosenau 1966; Rothstein 1968; Amstrup 1976; Schou and Bruntland 1971; Vital 1971; Rapoport 1971; Vayrynen 1971; Barston 1973; Holl 1983; Handel 1990). …