Enabling NATO Enlargement: Changing Constructions of the Baltic States

By Malksoo, Maria | Trames, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Enabling NATO Enlargement: Changing Constructions of the Baltic States


Malksoo, Maria, Trames


1. Introduction

Baltic membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was considered a 'mission impossible' throughout most of the post-Cold War debate over enlargement. Indeed, the question of the admission of the Baltic states has been the ultimate contentious issue in NATO enlargement discourse: Russia has opposed it most vehemently, the major European allies have supported it least enthusiastically and the Americans have had highly dissenting opinions on the matter. Only a few years before the Prague Summit in November 2002 where the three Baltic states were finally invited to begin the accession talks with the Alliance, the 'Baltic question' in NATO was still highly controversial and keenly debated. At the end of the day, Estonia's, Latvia's and Lithuania's jump over the 'barbed wire called the former Soviet Union' hanging in the consciousness of the traditional inhabitants of the transatlantic security community seems to have been rather abrupt and, therefore, begs for systemic study.

Why was the issue of Baltic membership in NATO commonly regarded as the most difficult piece of the puzzle throughout the enlargement debate? What constituted the shift from treating the Baltics as 'second tier' candidates in the NATO enlargement debate to speaking of them as 'normal' aspirant countries? To answer these questions, I will examine how the image of the Baltic states in the 'mental map' of the NATO allies has fundamentally changed over the last decade in order to enable their ultimate admission to the transatlantic security community. (1)

Thus, the premises of the study lie in the critical constructivist approach. The notion of the 'mental map' touches the crux of the problem. Milan Kundera (1984) once asked rhetorically, why Vienna is Western Europe when Prague 100 miles west from Vienna is Eastern Europe? Using that as an example we could ask--why Copenhagen is Northern Europe while Tallinn 600 km north is Eastern or Central Europe and Helsinki 80 km north of Tallinn is West or North? (2) Mental maps can be of considerably greater importance in determining a state's geopolitical identity than the actual geographical position of the country. In other words, the way a state is perceived by other states determines largely its position in the world. Belonging to a political community is neither a geographical nor an historical inevitability--the political communities themselves are essentially 'imagined' (Anderson 1991) and their memberships socially constructed. (3) In the context of this study, the point made here is simply that the similarities and dissimilarities of the traditional and aspiring members of the transatlantic security community (as institutionalised in the body of NATO) are processed politically by the builders of post-Cold War NATO. They decide which similarities shall and shall not be politically relevant. In fact, similarities do not exist as politically relevant givens before they are being communicated as politically relevant (Neumann 1992:64).

Hence, the Baltic states are considered here above all as an object of an array of intellectual operations practiced upon them by the West. (4) It is not, of course, that foreign policy actors or theorists sat down and consciously chose a particular construction or script that would best represent the Baltic case in NATO. (5) Rather, these categories preceded any consciously formulated opinion, or were constitutive of it (Fierke 1998:48). Indeed, governmental elites choose specific policies, strategies, and concrete interests because they (or their justifications) are consistent with more general, deeper, collectively held ideas or discourses (Moravscik 2001:177).

Critical constructivism is therefore a highly relevant approach to the current study since it denaturalises dominant constructions, offers guidelines for the transformation of common sense, and facilitates the imagining of alternative life-worlds (Weldes et al. …

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