Lithuanians like conspiracy theories, writes political scientists Kestutis Girnius in his commentary in Alfa.lt web portal on 13 September. They rely on them in explaining domestic and foreign policy issues, especially if they can discern interests or intentions of Russia and its special services. Lithuania’s foreign partners are also criticized for allegedly disrespecting Lithuania, for violating the country’s interests, or for wanting to betray it.
Girnius assumes that due to his efforts to improve relations with Russia, President Barack Obama has been a target of conspiracy theorists for a long time. Attempts to improve the relations are seen as the first step towards the betrayal and sacrifice of Lithuania’s interests. They voice fears that the Molotov and Ribbentrop Pact may be repeated. However, they conveniently forget that Germany, not the United States, participated in the conspiracy with Moscow, and that the United States never recognized the incorporation of Lithuania into the USSR.
Usually, it is not worth paying attention to conspiracy theories. However, Girnius thinks that last week in the article called “Lithuania in the Grey Zone” in Atgimimas, Indre Makaraityte announced something that I see as a classical example of conspiracy theory. Allegedly, by offering the treaty on reducing conventional weapons to Russia, America was leaving the Baltic States demilitarized by calling it a sensitive zone. Russia, meanwhile, would withdraw its army from Kaliningrad region. It was not a fantasy of Makaraityte. The author merely repeated what she in private had heard from certain Lithuanian diplomats. This possible exchange explains why President Dalia Grybauskaite holds a pretty cold stance towards the United States and why she refused to go to Prague to meet with Obama. According to the diplomats, such a position is very welcome and is the only solution for Lithuania. A few days later in an interview with Makaraityte, the president mentioned that the disarmament talks between the United States and Russia “might not be in line with the interests of the region of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states.”
I do not know what the diplomats had in mind, when they were talking about demilitarization of the Baltic States, but it is impossible to imagine that the United States and Russia agreed on the militarization level of the Baltic States or that Russia would agree to withdraw its troops from Kaliningrad. I do not believe that the Baltic States would allow others to determine their defence policy, even if there was strong pressure. NATO would not approve such a deal. In the concord there is a veto right, and not only Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, but also many Eastern European states would strongly oppose such a proposal. Those countries understand that if the Baltic States were to become an object of negotiations, their fate would possibly be similar, too. A serious attempt to push through such an exchange would mean the end of NATO as an effective organization. Mutual trust among the members, upon which the unity is based, would be destroyed. More-vulnerable countries would immediately start looking for other ways to ensure their security.
America won the Cold War and pushed through NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe, and it will not to abandon these achievements for the sake of agreeing with Russia, which is much weaker today. The agreements on reducing weapons are useful to America, but not necessary. They are very important for Russia, which does not have financial resources to participate in the arms race with the West.
It is said that Obama is not successful in implementing his foreign policy goals and his popularity is decreasing. Therefore, the president’s team is feverishly trying to find at least one victory, and the agreement with Russia may become such an achievement. Those who say such things do not understand American politics. During the election campaign, the Republicans, who for more than 50 years have been claiming to be the only defenders of America’s security and military might, criticized Obama for being too yielding towards Russia. The accusations did not receive a wider response, because they were unfounded. If the US president tried to make a deal with Russia at the expense of the Baltic States, the Republicans would sound the alarm. Obama would be strongly criticized by his own party as well. The Americans would not see such an agreement as a victory, and the president’s popularity would sharply drop, not increase. Finally, agreements with foreign countries must be approved by the Senate, and no president would be able to push through an agreement that weakens NATO’s effectiveness. Obama and his team are not going to kill themselves politically.
The Lithuanian diplomats are saying that the US State Department and State Secretary Hillary Clinton understand the situation in Eastern Europe well, but Obama’s naive advisers do not understand these things.
In Lithuania, America’s gullibility is often criticized, and often it is thought that cunning and experienced Soviet diplomats can easily deceive Washington. Yet, the Cold War was won by the United States, not the Soviet Union. Washington was driving such a hard bargain with Russia that former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, who was friendly towards the West, complained to the Americans that it was “unpleasant to listen how you announce what you are going to do without considering whether it is acceptable to us. Yet, the line is crossed, when you tell us that it is useful for us to follow your orders.” The fact that many times Russia was forced to bow down to the actions that were done by the Americans partially explains why the Russians, who felt humiliated, supported the hard-line foreign policy of Vladimir Putin.
Perhaps there are disagreements between Obama’s team and the State Department, even though usually the talk about such disagreements, which has been going on for decades, is unfounded. Almost every president promises to change his predecessor’s policy, but the main guidelines of the American foreign policy are constant. It is hard to imagine two presidents whose foreign policy visions would differ more than the visions of Obama and George W. Bush. However, the US troops are still in Iraq, Washington has not ruled out the possibility of hitting Iran, the ties with Israel are improving, and the Guantanamo prison still has not been closed.
America’s policy on the Baltic States has been set a long time ago, and it is supported by both main political parties. Even if Obama’s aides wanted to change this (even though I do not believe this), they know that an unpopular president would not be able to do it. Therefore, they will not try to do it.
The scenario of the Lithuanian diplomats is unconvincing, but I have to admit that they are over there and I am over here and they have information and sources that are unavailable to me. Yet, the diplomats do not understand something. Therefore, I still think there was no reason for the president to miss the opportunity to have a glass of champagne in Prague.