It could have just been international grand gesturing, but the declaration of non-recognition of the annexation of the Baltic states was important in several ways. First of all, it allowed for a Lithuanian diplomatic corps to operate abroad. Second, while the Soviet Union was already crumbling in the 1980s, it allowed Lithuania to manoeuvre in the international arena more easily. And lastly, Moscow’s interests in the country were never recognised, even though major powers always seek to find approval and legitimization for their actions.
Analyst of the Eastern Europe Studies Centre, Laurynas Kasčiūnas, says that the Lithuanian independence is a geopolitical miracle, made possible by only one factor – Washington’s interest in the region and intent to stop Russia‘s influence spreading in Europe. Which is why Lithuania’s consistently pro-Americanism, with all it’s faults and advantages, is the core pillar of the country’s international and safety policy.
“A good dozen years ago, geopolitical representatives formulated a thesis of the Baltic states being a geopolitical anomaly. According to the thesis, historically, our independence depended on the changes in the balance of power in the European safety system. When some big power envisioned a role of the Baltic states in the region, we would become independent. When there was no role for us, an alliance between Russia and a nautical power would be struck and we would be erased from the map. The matter of fact is that with the emergence of America as a global power, there appeared a factor which allowed us to become independent,“ the analyst said.
“For example, during our time of restoring independence in the 20th century, the US policy of containing Russia played a part. Constant pressure which led to the arms race, constraining through oil prices, and finally, during the times of Ronald Reagan, the giant with clay feet could no longer stand the pressure. This created opportunities for us to emerge, after which our national movement, the Sąjūdis, entered the scene. The Sąjūdis led the struggle for the Lithuanian independence in the late 1980s and early 1990s. So, without the American factor, which tipped the balance of power in the region, we wouldn’t have had a even a theoretical chance of becoming independent,“ Mr. Kasčiūnas continued.
How Lithuania stopped being an anomaly
In an article about Lithuania’s political possibilities and global geopolitical development, three scholars of Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Egidijus Motieka, Nortautas Statkus and Jonas Daniliauskas, discussed essential prerequisites that decide Lithuania’s status in the international arena.
The situation is mostly influenced by the relations among great powers – the USA, Russia and the EU – rather than Lithuania’s own actions. Geopolitically, Europe is the zone where interests of Russia and America clash. Because of this, when influence of the US grows, the Russian influence automatically decreases and vice versa. The great powers of Europe are not always geopolitically independent, because their actions are also often affected by the influence of America or Russia.
This is why the Baltic states have always felt that they must find a place in Washington’s geostrategy, in order to neutralise Russia’s influence. Oftentimes, small or medium-sized countries use the strategy of associating with a hegemon. This strategy involves carrying out various requirements and requests of the hegemon, aiding in specific functions, all in an effort to become an important country for the hegemon.
If not for the membership in NATO, Lithuania’s only strategy could have been associating with the USA and finding a function that could be useful to Washington.
“As a small nation, we would try and do something useful for the Americans. But imagine this: if the USA’s focus suddenly shifted towards Asia, and we would become irrelevant? We would lose our backing and the country would be taken over by the next biggest player – we all know what we’re talking about,” the political scientist says.
Following attacks of September 11, 2001, Washington’s geostrategy changed and, to Russia’s surprise, the Baltic states became part of NATO. In the eyes of Mr. Kasčiūnas, this greatly changed Lithuania’s position in the European safety system.
“We would not have become members of NATO if not for the support and lobbying by the USA. Let me remind you that from 1999 to 2000, Germany and France were saying that the Baltic countries were indefensible, which is what Russia is saying now. Some American politicians also held this position, but after the events of September 11, the USA needed more allies, which opened the doors for us to join NATO. It is likely that we would not have become members of NATO, if it weren’t for the USA, and our best-case scenario would be that of Moldova, where Lithuania would have been left in the ‘shatterbelt’,” the political scientist says.
A “shatterbelt” in geopolitics is a zone that has become a focus of unrest, where several powers compete for influence.
Mr. Kasčiūnas believes that in becoming a member of NATO, Lithuania withdrew from the paradigm of shifting powers, due to the fact that the country became part of a collective safety system.
“Even if America’s position were to change, its commitments remain the same. There are some nuances, of course, but at its core, NATO changed our security situation and relieved us of the status of an anomaly,” the political scientist says.