100 Years of U.S.-Baltic Partnership: Reflecting on the Past and Looking to the Future

The Atlantic Council hosted a dinner at its headquarters in Washington on April 3 that featured US National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, and the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

“100 Years of U.S.-Baltic Partnership: Reflecting on the Past and Looking to the Future”
Opening Remarks and Panel Discussion


General James L. Jones, Jr. (USMC-Ret.),
Interim Chairman,
Atlantic Council

Damon Wilson,
Executive Vice President,
Atlantic Council


Raimonds Vejonis,
Republic of Latvia

Kersti Kaljulaid,
Republic of Estonia

Linas Linkevicius,
Foreign Minister,
Republic of Lithuania


Frederick Kempe,
President and CEO,
Atlantic Council

Location:  Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C.

Date:  Tuesday, April 3, 2018

GENERAL JAMES L. JONES, JR.:  Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.  Good evening to everyone and welcome, and welcome to the special Atlantic Council dinner to celebrate the U.S.-Baltic Partnership.

My name is Jim Jones.  I’m the chairman of the Atlantic Council.  And it is my immense pleasure to be here with all of you tonight to celebrate and mark this very special occasion.

This is a special evening to celebrate a century of partnership between the United States and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.  This dinner brings together the senior leadership of those three countries and the United States, along with the broader Washington community from government, industry, think tanks, the media, and former senior officials.  The attendees this evening all have a connection to the Baltic region.  They represent institutions who believe in, support, and advance the U.S.-Baltic Partnership.

I want to give an especially warm welcome to the foreign minister of Lithuania, the presidents of Estonia and Latvia for being with us this evening, and for their long friendship with the United States and the Atlantic Council.  And we thank them very much for that.

I also want to give a special welcome to the senior American government leaders who are here with us, especially National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Congressman John Shimkus, Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell, and the Chief of the National Guard Bureau Joseph Lengyel.  I would also like to recognize the government ministers from Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania who have traveled with their presidents to Washington, along with both the U.S. and Baltic ambassadors who are with us tonight.  And thanks to all of you for being here.

Finally, I want to thank Oshkosh, Thermo Fisher Scientific, the American-Lithuanian Business Council, Ambassador Catherine Todd Bailey, and the embassies of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania for providing support for this evening’s dinner.

The Atlantic Council is so pleased to host this dinner and to play a role in advancing this great partnership alongside the formal U.S.-Baltic Summit earlier today.  The U.S.-Baltic Summit is a major accomplishment and stands as a testament to the successful work Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have put in over many, many years to strengthen their relationship with the United States, advance their European and transatlantic integration, share the burden for defense and security, and to partner with the United States and other allies to tackle difficult security challenges around the world.

The Baltic region is close to our hearts here at the Atlantic Council, both for what Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania represent as close U.S. allies in NATO and due to the years of great work that the United States has done with and on the Baltic region over many, many years.  Indeed, one of my fondest memories as SACEUR was the Riga Summit in Latvia in 2006, which was a wonderful way to cap off my 40 years in uniform.  Many of you in this room played an important part in that important summit, which was historic both for symbolic and substantive reasons.

Over the years we at the Atlantic Council have partnered with the governments of all three states to tackle issues of common concern to them, to the United States, and to the broader transatlantic community.  We’ve also helped broaden the community in Washington who have an interest in commitment to the U.S.-Baltic Partnership in order to sustain and strengthen it for many years to come.  More recently, since 2014, right here at the Atlantic Council the concept of the Three Seas Initiative was developed, and we hope that the meeting this year in Romania with the support of our Baltic friends will lead to an operationalizing in some manner of this very important initiative, which was endorsed by President Trump last year at the summit in Warsaw.

So a few quick housekeeping notes, if I may.  We’re delighted to be streaming live to a broader audience.  You can engage with this conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #USBalticSummit.

Without further ado, I’d like to turn the floor over to Atlantic Council Executive Vice President Damon Wilson, who will provide a scene-setter for this evening.  Thank you very much.  Damon?  (Applause.)

DAMON WILSON:  Thank you very much, General Jones.  Good evening, everyone.

First, this is going to be an Atlantic Council evening, which means it’s a working dinner, so I want to go ahead and invite you/encourage you to begin eating.  And I’m going to do something that’s a little bit unusual:  I’m going to take a minute during this first course to help set the scene for tonight’s dinner, for our work that we see on the way ahead.

I want to add my warm welcome to all of you tonight to celebrate the U.S.-Baltic Partnership.

First let me say how proud we are to have someone like General Jones – Jim Jones back as our chairman, someone who is a former NATO commander, SACEUR, and a U.S. national security adviser, personifies the U.S. commitment to the Baltic states’ security and to our alliance.  And we’re so pleased to host the current national security adviser, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, as a sign of America’s abiding support to the Baltic states as well.

I’m going to echo General Jones’ particular welcome to our guests of honor, President Vejonis of Latvia, President Kaljulaid of Estonia.  And we regret that President Grybauskaite of Lithuania was not able to join us this evening at the last minute, and she’ll be represented ably by Lithuania’s foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius.  We welcome you.  We welcome your delegations.  You have brought so many folks to Washington who are friends in this room tonight.  We welcome all of our ambassador colleagues as well.

So tonight is about, yes, celebrating the Baltic nations’ transformation from captive nations to frontline allies.  Tonight is about celebrating the centennial of the birth of Estonia and Latvia, and the rebirth of Lithuania, as independent nations out of the ashes of World War I.  Tonight is about remembering how the United States for decades throughout the Cold War stood by these nations and their aspirations with the Welles Declaration committing us to our non-recognition policy, even as their states were illegally occupied and suppressed.

But perhaps most importantly, tonight is about advancing a stronger U.S. security and economic presence and commitment in the Baltic region today in the face of extraordinary Kremlin revanchism; or, as the joint statement that was issued at the White House today by the leaders refers to, to create a blueprint for expanding and strengthening our cooperation.  And that’s why all of you are here tonight.

In the room we’ve gathered a community that shares a deep commitment to your nations, to our partnership.  Everyone here has played or is playing a key role in developing these ties.  We have the full U.S. interagency team, former interagency teams, key actors in the business community, and from Capitol Hill.  And I take particular pride in the Council hosting you tonight as I myself had the opportunity to spend the summer of 1992 living outside Tallinn, traveling and visiting Riga and Vilnius, in what was your first year of regaining independence.  And at a formative time in my own career, I witnessed the historic transformations of your countries, met the extraordinary individuals who made it happen, and was inspired by their determination.

And everyone here tonight has their own story, their own tie.  And at the Atlantic Council we recognize that the relationships between nations are ultimately about relationships between people, the people in this room.  And so we believe we still have some work to do.

So tonight we’re not just celebrating the partnership, but tonight is part of our continuing efforts to think about how we safeguard the gains that we’ve made over the past 25 years in a very new security environment.  And I’d like to set the scene for that conversation tonight and some of our work in the coming weeks and months.

It is important to take stock and remember that the achievements of the Baltic states today were not a given.  Today we think of Northern Europe as one of the most successful regions of Europe and, indeed, the world.  In the 1990s, a historic window of opportunity opened in the Baltic.  The peoples of the Baltic states acted.  They inspired the world as they joined hands in peaceful protest, protest with the Baltic Chain stretching across the three nations, as they used their voices to convey unwavering determination in the singing revolutions, and they succeeded in gaining – regaining their independence.  They rebuilt their democracies, their economies, their institutions, overcoming the scars of nearly five decades of Soviet occupation and communism.

Working adroitly with us, our Nordic neighbors – your Nordic neighbors, and Moscow, the Baltic states – the Baltic states negotiated the withdrawal of the former Soviet forces from their territory in 1993 and 1994.  Their success at home transformed how we think about them as part of our own community.  And as the nations thrived, their own aspirations to join the institution of the West grew, and what was once inconceivable became compelling.

In Prague in 2002, NATO invited the Baltic nations to join the alliance.  And many of the people here in this room were present in the Cash Room at the State Department and then on the South Lawn of the White House on March 29th, 2004, when they formally became our allies.  I see smiles for some of you who were there and played a key part in that.

Thanks to my boss at the time – Ambassador Dan Fried, who is with us tonight – one of my first big tasks at the NSC was to organize that South Lawn ceremony.  And in essence, it was the Baltic states that brought to life the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.  Their success transformed what was a vulnerable area of potential insecurity into one of stability.  Indeed, their membership in NATO increased predictability on Russia’s western border and we avoided the emergence of a gray zone.  And thank goodness we acted; imagine if we had not.

So the Baltic achievement is truly remarkable. They’ve transformed themselves into some of the most dynamic economies, some of the fastest growth rates.  Societies are highly digitized and connected to the outside world.  Deeply committed to democratic values.

There have been bumps along the way, of course, as we’ve seen through the euro crisis that hit the region particularly hard, but they’ve overcome that very much.  And we see them becoming part of our alliance and working with us so incredibly as Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians have all fought and died beside us alongside American and other allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They’ve played their role in the counter-ISIS coalition.  The states took the leading roles in the efforts with the European Union on the Eastern Partnership to help other nations in Europe’s east.

But today all these accomplishments face a new test emerging from a Kremlin that’s intent on sowing division and mistrust, undermining our democratic societies, and intimidating our allies.  We see this new challenge through the conventional forces built up across the border, through the return of nuclear saber-rattling, through exercises like Zapad which simulate an attack across the NATO border, through the disregard of arms-control treaties like CFE or INF.  The Baltic region today is marred by some dangerous brinksmanship as Russian forces have taunted U.S. and allied militaries with provocative maneuvers.

And all of us are very focused on the latest provocation just last month, when Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were attacked with Russian-produced nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury in the United Kingdom.  We hear an eerie echo to the Cold War in the round for tit-for-tat expulsions.  And yet, we recognize that this attack is not unique.  Unfortunately, it’s becoming a little bit emblematic of outrageous behavior – behavior that we risk becoming immune to expecting outrageous behavior.  I saw that pattern develop in the leadup to Georgia, where we saw repeated outrageous Kremlin actions but failed to grasp where they may lead.

We don’t anticipate those actions in the Baltic states, but the point is we can’t rule out things today because of what’s happening in the Kremlin.  So we recognize that our Baltic allies are on the frontlines of freedom.  They represent the northern stretch of a frontline of freedom that extends from the Barents and Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.  And our country, our alliance, has responded.  NATO has mobilized.  Allies are increasing their defense investment.  They deployed as part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence in the region.  We have better contingency planning.  The administration and Congress have backed increased funding for the European Deterrence Initiative.  And today’s summit declaring a, quote, “ironclad commitment” to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty provided the kind of political resolve so crucial to our efforts to ensure that no Russian leader or military official can consider getting away with any assault on our allies.  We applaud this.

And yet, our decade-long body of work on the Baltic Sea region here at the Atlantic Council leads me to conclude that we can do more.  And I believe that we’re entering another window of opportunity in which we have the possibility and perhaps the responsibility to consolidate the U.S.-Baltic Partnership and the security of our alliance.

We enjoy this window of opportunity from several factors.  There’s a broad consensus that now recognizes the threat we face in the east.  We enjoy extraordinary bipartisan support for efforts to stand by our allies and stand up to their intimidation.  Our allies are increasingly doing their part, stepping up their own investment in Europe’s defense.  And we have significant resources on the table, as Congress has overwhelmingly approved a $700 billion defense spending bill, backing steep increases in defense even as it works on the next National Defense Authorization Act.

So, in our view, my view, the answer is not just another round of sanctions or tit-for-tat expulsions.  Our response needs to be more comprehensive, part of a strategy of how to check aggression.

So today’s joint statement, in that statement the leaders agreed to explore new ideas and opportunities, including air defense, bilaterally and in NATO, to enhance deterrence across the region.  To this end, we could take two additional steps:  to ensure continuous U.S. military presence in the Baltic states as part of NATO’s deployment and to invest more in our frontline allies to invest in their own defense.

There are many details behind this, and it’s not appropriate tonight to unpack them.  But in essence, I’m suggesting U.S. military forces maintain a continuous, if rotational, presence in the Baltic states.  It’s not about displacing other NATO allies or removing responsibility from the Baltic states themselves, but the U.S. flag matters with any NATO deployment.  What if we assured the Germans during the Cold War that we would defend Berlin from forces based in the Netherlands?

And second, on the security assistance, we recognize that the Baltic states have primary responsibility for their defense, and that indeed all are reaching 2 percent of GDP spending.  But by 2020, the Baltic states will be spending around 2 billion (dollars) collectively.  And the point is their best response is not commensurate with the challenge we face.  This is an issue of size and scale.  It’s time for us to actually think about what we can do here.

I recognize there are a lot of issues to address, but my point – my point in these is not decisions – these are not decisions of military planners or financial controllers.

(Event interrupted)

(Event resumes)

FREDERICK KEMPE:  We’re so honored to have with us today four people I want to introduce to you, and three will join me onstage now and one will speak later.

So, first of all, I want to salute one of the great public servants of our generation, who’s literally given his lifetime to service on behalf of our nation and our allies, U.S. National Security Adviser General McMaster.  (Applause.)

And then joining me shortly onstage, not just yet:  President Vejonis, the president of Latvia; President Kaljulaid, the president of Estonia; and then Foreign Minister Linkevicius of Lithuania.  These are three presidents – and think about this for a second – these are three presidents of countries whose independence was lost for the bulk of the 20th century; presidents of countries whose independence was re-won, restored.  I’m very happy that I spent time in all three of those countries in 1991-92.  But if there are any three countries in the world that tell the lesson of history not being preordained but being shaped by the most determined of actors, it is these three countries.  And I think we’re gathered here to show once again that we can be the most determined of actors, and that this re-won and this retaken independence will be permanent in nature.

History’s outcomes are not inevitable and they are shaped by this level of determination.  And the Atlantic Council will always be there with you, as will the United States.  And I think we were all delighted by President Trump’s White House statement today.  Quote:  “From the very beginning of your countries’ independence, the United States never – and this is, like, never” – I’m sorry, I didn’t give it the right intonation – (laughter) – “and I think you know that better than anybody never ceased to recognize the sovereignty of the three Baltic republics, even though throughout the years there’s been a lot of conflict, a lot of problems, a lot of difficulty.  And we never let you down, and we don’t let you down.”  Unquote, President Trump.  (Applause.)

So I can hardly imagine a better way to represent and celebrate the closeness of the U.S.-Baltic Partnership than to have all four of you with us here this evening.  It is of great significance, actually, to have two of the presidents and then one of the ministers with us this evening.  From what I’ve heard, it’s been a busy and exciting summit thus far, with the official declaration on U.S.-Baltic Partnership, the conversation at the Chamber of Commerce, and now with this conversation.

So, with that, it’s my true honor now to welcome to the stage the Estonian and Latvian presidents and the Lithuanian foreign minister.  If you’ll please join me.  (Applause.)

I just wanted to let you all know Damon’s fine, talking, and he seems to have recovered quite a bit.  We’re correcting a blood sugar level and we don’t think that he’ll require any emergency treatment that would require him to leave here.  So we’re relieved by that.

So I think I’d like to start with the Latvian president and the Estonian president, if you can assess for us what you felt was important today, what you felt was achieved today, and maybe a little bit of what yet has to be achieved in terms of our relationship with the Baltics.  But first of all, a little bit of an assessment.  We’ve seen the press reports.  Some people haven’t seen all of them.  But I’d love to have a little bit of your feeling of the – of the significance of the summit.

PRESIDENT RAIMONDS VEJONIS:  OK.  Good evening, everybody.

Of course, today was a very interesting day for all three Baltic presidents.  Today, it’s a really very, very important and historic day for us.  Why?  I think it’s we are very honored to celebrate our longstanding friendship and partnership together with our friends here in the U.S. and all countries.  Baltic countries and the U.S. are not only strategic partners, but we are friends.  I think it means a lot.

Today at the White House we discussed many, many issues.  But first of all, we discussed how and what we together have achieved.  Of course, it is already history, but the most important part was what we can do more in the future.

And of course, security issue for our region is very, very important, and though many reasons main reason is our unpredictable neighbor, Russia.  And we still have a lot of – a lot of rumors about Russia, how they can react in different situations.  And of course, Damon already mentioned it, this exercise last year, Zapad 2017, it was a really huge exercise.  They used a little bit different, maybe, scenario comparing with previous exercise, because it was – this exercise was very wide.  It started from White Sea and down to Black Sea.  It means that all border of the eastern border of NATO, Ukraine, and also Belorussia was involved in this exercise.  It means that they really make a huge exercise.  Number of participants, it’s not so easy to say how much, but it’s from 50(,000) to 100,000 soldiers during all period.  It’s a huge amount comparing with the number of our soldiers in our national armies.

But it is – it is the reason why it’s so important to have friends – friends within NATO, for example – because presence of NATO forces in our region are – is very crucial for us, very crucial for us and very important for us.  And of course, different countries are represented and the largest part of NATO countries are presented in our region under different leading countries like U.K., Canada, Germany, or U.S. in Poland.  But anyway, despite these locations, for all three Baltic countries the U.S. forces’ presence in our region – in this case I mean the Baltic states – is one of the key and most important factor(s) for us.

And during our meeting we also discussed this issue, and we hope that U.S. forces’ presence in the region will continue.  It will be long – a longstanding presence.  OK, we can find different words how we can call it.  But anyway, I think for us, for all three Baltic countries, the U.S. presence is very, very important.

Maybe I will be –

MR. KEMPE:  So just one quick follow-up question.


MR. KEMPE:  You said you want the forces longstanding in your country.  You said different words.  We could call that – would you rather it be called permanent presence rather than rotating – persistently rotating?

PRESIDENT VEJONIS:  It was the reason why I said that – (laughter) – because each country try to interpret this president’s different words.  And of course, it’s very politically sensitive question for all countries, especially for U.S. and even for others.  But from Baltic states’ point, for us, longstanding could be more right word.

MR. KEMPE:  Longstanding I like.  I think we can work with that.

Madam President, your own assessment of today.

PRESIDENT KERSTI KALJULAID:  Well, first of all I would like to suggest that – my microphone is not working.

(Comes on mic.)  So this one has battery?  Now it does.

Well, for me the most important thing is that we could come together and synchronize and harmonize our thinking of the security risks.  We probably have a few things to tell about our eastern neighbor, but we also learned about the picture your president and your administration has of the general world situation.

This is important between the friends, that we come together.  Frank questions were asked.  We tried to answer as we could.  We also asked frank questions.  And this way we both know where we stand.  We stand together.

On the other hand, we always in Europe have to pay attention that we do more to make sure that Europe is able to protect itself.  Tough questions were asked and I sensed some impatience, and I have to say that it may be a deserved level of impatience.  So, indeed, Europe needs to do more.

We are always pushing, as well, for our partners and allies in Europe to do more, at the same time being extremely grateful for NATO’s enhanced forward presence in the Baltic states and Poland.  Lots of investment has gone into establishing EFP on the land, but now we need to make sure that these battalions are not left without the support.  They must feel that if something really went wrong, then the follow-on will be quick to come.  And this is something which we discussed and this is something we need to continue discussing with our other allies also in the – in the NATO summit coming up this summer.  This is becoming really, really seriously important, as also we discussed during our lunch meeting.

You have a country which is in economic decline, which is falling behind technologically because it doesn’t have access to our international technology development because of the sanctions, among other things.  But it knows it is ahead conventionally, at least in regions close to NATO’s territory.  It is already using different opportunities and hybrid possibilities to chip away at the feeling of security of people who live in NATO countries.  We must stop it, and we must see through this game.

And we must absolutely understand that we need to, first of all, stand firm, make sure we have a believable deterrence level, take steps which we need to take for that all together.  I think it would actually add value if we took these steps together at the NATO summit, not for example like some were maybe hoping today we will walk away from here with a bunch of Patriots.  Would have been nice, but on the other hand I think it’s much better if we have a wider circle of action in this case.

On the other hand, I learned quite a lot about how to keep going at the turbulent times, thinking forward in economic terms as well, because what I really enjoyed about this summit, it has the business-as-usual part – business, I mean; developing our economies together, doing together what we can do best in both countries.  Estonia is a tech hub and we know we can contribute.  We can contribute also in our understanding to cybersecurity, which we are doing anyway.

But there is more.  There is cyber hygiene.  That is a lot of safe use for internet sphere.  We know that lots of people are right now losing faith that technology can be safe to use.  We in Estonia have had a safe environment to use technology, to use internet for 17 years now.  And we hope that finally now other people in other countries can benefit of this kind of secure technology use.  And this is as-important outcome of this summit today as is our discussion on the security and defense.  We need to also go ahead with business as usual.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you, Madam President.

Let me build off your answer and turn to the minister, and this is really a question for all three of you.  And it’s the famous what keeps you awake at night question.  So you talked strongly about the issue of Russia and what’s next there.  So we’ve been surprised by Georgia, we’ve been surprised by Crimea, we’ve been surprised by Syria.

PRESIDENT VEJONIS:  We are not surprised.  (Laughter.)

MR. KEMPE:  Well, that’s the answer.  Why don’t you – why don’t you jump in first here?  So what should we not be surprised by next, I guess is the question?  Because this – the Baltics don’t exist in a vacuum.  Is it really the Baltics that’s threatened?  Is it the Balkans that’s threatened?  Is it our electoral systems that are threatened?  Or how do you – we’ve just had the reelection of Vladimir Putin.  What is – what do you see is potential the next move that we should be looking out for?

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  But, Fred – (inaudible) – in bringing geography into it.  I mean, yes, we are neighbors, technically, with Russia.  But if you look at where exactly we have seen this chipping away of security to come, it has been hybrid.  It has been strategic communication.  Now it was Salisbury.  Did any of this happen physically, geographically close?  And I think this is exactly what we need to be aware:  This can happen wherever.

What can happen?  I think, again, it’s frantically chipping away, trying to stay below the radar as if nothing serious is going on.

MR. KEMPE:  So, Mr. President and then Mr. Minister.

PRESIDENT VEJONIS:  I fully agree with my colleague Kersti, but of course here we don’t speak about maybe real military actions because I think for Russia military actions must be quite enough at present moment.  But of course, they would like to impact the countries – neighboring countries.  First of all, non-EU countries, non-NATO countries.  And this –

MR. KEMPE:  Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia.

PRESIDENT VEJONIS:  Yeah.  Any other –

MR. KEMPE:  Yeah, what we call the gray zone.

PRESIDENT VEJONIS:  Any other neighboring countries from post-Soviet territory because any way this Russian thinking and also Putin thinking is that they lose territories through collapsing of socialism, through collapsing the Soviet Union.  And of course, they are still maybe thinking that somehow to rejoin back some territories.  These are the reasons why they establish strange unions like Eurasian Union, where put together few countries who would like to work together, but in the same time Russia is always leading country in every issue.  It means that they show the force every time.

But for others, not only for Baltic states but for any other country, as Kersti mentioned, strategic communication is very important.  Cyber issues are very important because anyway Russia will use such instruments against us, try to split our societies at least in two parts, because in Latvia and in Estonia we have also Russian minority and Russia would like to impact them by sending right signals from Russia point of – to Russians in our – in our country and try to change thinking and minds of these persons.  And I think it is the future challenge how we can take countermeasures against this, what we will do for strengthening our societies.  So what we can do to rise, to make stronger resilience against such things, not only in the Baltic states but also in other countries, especially in European countries, because in many European countries are Russian minorities living, even in U.S.

MR. KEMPE:  Yeah.  So one thing before I turn to Minister Linkevicius is, as you know, Mr. President – I believe you know, and I know General McMaster is aware of this as well – the Atlantic Council has a forward presence in your country with our digital forensic research lab, and we’re doing 24/7 counter-disinformation work because we see that it isn’t just Patriot missiles that are needed.  So we understand that very well.

Mr. Minister.

MINISTER LINAS LINKEVICIUS:  First of all, let me apologize on behalf of my president not being able to be here.  But also, on her behalf and for all of us, let me say first of all thank you to our American friends, Lithuanian friends, for deep-rooted, long-lasted, value-based partnership through all these years.  And when we are celebrating now centenary, half of that time was stolen because of occupations, but non-recognition policy especially by United States was very big backup to all of us.  So why we are here now, why we can talk/discuss.  So this is before answering the question.

Then what should be done in order to not be catched (sic; caught) by surprise, as you said?  So I would paraphrase that how many wakeup calls needed to wake up?  It depends on personality.  Also, how many times we can cross red lines?  Again, it depends on the patience and definition of these red lines, and depends on the rules, basically, which was set by us.  And basically, for us, it’s really not surprised because how many times lessons will not be learned?  If we’re talking about the war in the South Caucasus, for instance, 2008, you probably remember statements of all Baltic states represented how we assessed the situation, what were the cause, what Russia must do, what it’s expected to do, what we hope Russia will do.  Not a single – not a single item was implemented, and we got back to business as usual very quickly because there were voices for pragmatism, flexibility, whatever.  And there were lessons, but not learned by us – learned by Russia.

So answer to your question would be let’s be less naïve.  Let’s be more, so to say, pragmatic.  And let’s build our policies on the real events on the ground, not listening to statements, maybe some promises as well.

Really, we can contribute there.  If we were not listened sufficiently 10 years ago, let’s be frank.  Now we are really talking and we feel that our expertise, so to say – observations, proposals, assessments – are more interesting to our allies.  It’s also lessons learned.

So what we can do?  We are small countries.  We will not make big difference.  But by making right decisions, adding to the right coalitions, we can really add value to our collective efforts.  But by making the wrong decisions, the wrong things really can spoil.

So our take from this summit was also that we really can reconfirm strategic partnership with the United States, really looking at the future with optimism.  We really have much to do in the fight with terrorism.  We have much to do to make NATO more efficient and effective, I would say, also.

It’s really, really something what we are sharing together.  And we are coming here not only to ask something, right – because we are asking by stating our positions, we are asking by showing what we are going to do on the ground, be it operations or be it policy, or discussions on European Union and NATO relations, for instance – we are strong transatlanticists.  I don’t know, Damon maybe is not here, but we always, when we’re discussing with Damon, we’re talking about how neat the people who are really concerned about strong transatlantic ties.  We are playing this role in our European debates, and it’s also contribution.

So our take is very optimistic.  And we really, from now looking ahead next century or maybe even longer, we really can do a lot of things and very good, so to say, thoughts.

MR. KEMPE:  So we’re down to the last eight, 10 minutes, so I’d say two to three minutes from each of you on this question.  And then we’ll take a break for dinner, and then hear General McMaster after dinner.

So let’s get concrete.  If you could – if you need right now two or three things from the United States that you do not have now to face the situation that you’re in, or for that matter from Europe – we do represent the transatlantic community here at the Atlantic Council and there’s a NATO summit coming up – what would – what would those be?  In whatever order you would like to take this.


One is, indeed, technical, because if we think what we really lack then it is something which would be able to avoid an A2/AD situation.  I mean, if something is keeping me awake during the night, this is exactly this.  We need to solve this problem.

Second is a little bit more –

MR. KEMPE:  A2 –

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  A2/AD.  We need to be able to reach the Baltic states by airplanes in case there is a need to bring in additional equipment, people, et cetera.  So A2/AD bubble is something we need to prick.

And then something more holistic.  This is – if we look where things have gone wrong, it’s always gone wrong at the moment and at the place where Russia has thought that our unity is cracking.  Even Salisbury, they would not – have thought that Europe will not react because there is Brexit.  Of course, for us it doesn’t matter at all.  We all reacted.  And this was disappointment.  But it’s always this if we need to predict where and what goes wrong, let’s see where we give the image that we are not sticking together.  Hence, we must absolutely stick together, not to allow any cracks to appear to be there even if they are not.  This is the most important now.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you so much for that answer.

And why don’t we go to the minister first, and since you started we’ll let you also end, Mr. President.

MIN. LINKEVICIUS:  In short, help us to protect ourselves.  The best A2/AD is presence on our soil.  We can choose the terminology.  If you don’t like permanent, it could be permanently rotational.  It’s no problem.  (Laughter.)  We can be creative here.  (Laughter.)  But this is really the case.

Also I would like to have leadership here is in shaping, so to say, NATO agenda to make it, as I said, more and more efficient, decision-making forces more and more fast.

And also help us to fill capability gaps.  And to single out one of them, it would be defense just for instance, what we cannot afford ourselves nationally so we have to have this backup of United States.

So these are a few things I can mention.  Of course, could be many more, but we can deliver ourselves as well.


MR. KEMPE:  And in your answer, Mr. President, please also touch on what you touched on before, which is for the gray zone states.  So what do you need for yourselves, but what should – this is the toughest question – what should the U.S. and its allies be doing toward the states that are neither in NATO nor really part of Russia, but seeking to be closer to the West – Ukraine, Moldova, you know, and obviously Georgia?  And I could list one or two others.

PRESIDENT VEJONIS:  First of all – maybe at what we can do together, first of all, I think the NATO forces are represented on our soil, but we need a real NATO presence in air and in Baltic Sea.  It means it will be quite interesting discussions during the next NATO summit in Brussels about future NATO presence in our region, how they will be presented in our region.  I think it’s very, very important.

Secondly, I think we have to work more together with countermeasures against cyberattacks, against strategic communication measures from Russia and so on.  It means that we have to make our own measures better measures against these things.

About these other countries, first of all, I think it is very important to continue to support them in their work to implement measures against corruption, against different bureaucratic obstacles and many other things.  It means that we need to support different reforms in these countries because, anyway, if no reforms in these countries, the societies will be more weaker.  More weaker, it means Russia could easier touch such part of society.  It means that their influence on this part will be higher than after reforms.  It means we need to support them all the time, especially reforms.

About military issues, OK, it’s military experts will discuss which way – which support is better.  But anyway, we also need – we have to give quite strong signals to, for example, Ukraine/Georgia about future accession in NATO, joining NATO, because, anyway, they are waiting for next step in our relations between Georgia, for example, and NATO, between Ukraine and NATO.  It means that we need some concrete step what we will do in the future.

MR. KEMPE:  Actually, both of you, sort of reaching out for this gray zone question.  One minute for each of you, and then we’ll break for dinner.  So, Mr. Minister and Madam President.

MIN. LINKEVICIUS:  Very briefly – very briefly, just on Ukraine, countries like Ukraine, it’s not about that country; it’s about us, about our perception, ability to take decisions in time, not too late.  And this is regardless what they – not regardless of what they’re doing, but regardless this big progress what they’re doing.  So that would be a really important checkpoint for all of us:  Are we really ready to adequately assess the situation?  Because time is not on our side.  What’s going on in Ukraine is really very difficult.  And to make more gray zones, that would not mean more security for us.  So it’s really important to coordinate measures, to coordinate our steps in the future.

A minute is over, so I will stop here.  But I would like to mention that it’s not just their headache, it’s our task as well.

MR. KEMPE:  NATO membership course for these countries, Madam President?

MIN. LINKEVICIUS:  They’re not excluded, of course, when time comes.  Sorry.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  I would like to stress that there is also the European soft power which can and is reaching out now again a bit more stronger towards the countries which are outside of the European Union.  There is discussion of enlargement again, and I’m quite sure that out of the European eastern partners it is Georgia, which has shown that it now really has internalized the process of becoming a really free, democratic, rule-of-law-based country with really free media and pluralism also on the political scene.  So, first of all, there is room to reach out to Georgia in this way.  Europe is doing quite a lot in Georgia/Ukraine, but I think Georgia deserves also now a clear message that it will one day be welcomed as part of the EU.

Where NATO is concerned, we always stand for keeping the doors open for enlargement of NATO.  And it doesn’t only need to concern, of course, these countries you are mentioning.  There are other countries – I’m thinking of a couple up north – who might one day feel they want to be part of NATO.  If they are not feeling this way, we are happy to cooperate with these countries also in the framework we are right now cooperating.  But when you talk about open doors, I think you also should not forget north.

MR. KEMPE:  So just to translate that, Finland and Sweden, the door is open to you.  (Laughter.)

So just a couple of things in closing.  First of all, the – so you all know, Damon’s been checked out medically.  He’s cleared to go home, which he’s going to do, so all is fine with him.  So very happy about that.  (Applause.)

We didn’t get to talk about what change that made it possible for your countries to be where they are.  And clearly, there’s been so much internal work you’ve done with your own societies and countries.  But I do remember being at The Wall Street Journal Europe when we made an editorial decision to be in favor of NATO enlargement at a time when the U.S. government was not yet there.  And let’s not forget that this was a pretty important turning point for your countries, as well, that helped open up EU membership as well.  And can you imagine the situation we might be in right now with your three countries had all of that not happened?

So let’s take a dinner break now, and we look forward to hearing from General McMaster thereafter.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

(Dinner break)

(Event resumes)

General James L. Jones, Jr. (USMC-Ret.),
Interim Chairman,
Atlantic Council

Concluding Remarks:
Frederick Kempe,
President and CEO,
Atlantic Council

GENERAL JAMES L. JONES, JR.:  I really have a distinct honor and a personal pleasure of being able to introduce our keynote speaker tonight:  Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster of the United States Army.  As all of you know, General McMaster is the 26th national security adviser to the president of the United States.  And, as everyone knows, in the days ahead he will step down from his White House post and retire from a celebrated 30-plus-year career in the United States Army.  (Applause.)

We told General McMaster and Fred at the table that I was going to talk about the five or six best officers in the United States Army, and that would be General McMaster as a second lieutenant, General McMaster as a first lieutenant – (laughter) – General McMaster as a captain, and so on.  I won’t do that, but what a career he’s had, and aren’t we all the better for it?  H.R., thank you.  (Applause.)

I’m not finished.  (Laughter.)

For decades, he’s been identified as one of the Army’s most capable commanders and one of its sharpest intellects.  He is celebrated for his innovation and his courage both on and off the field of battle.  And he’s earned his stripes in the battle of Washington, I can tell you that.  (Laughter.)

He served with great distinction and valor in Desert Storm, where he was awarded a Silver Star for heroism, and in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and has contributed to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.  And he’s celebrated for his leadership and valor in both the First and Second Gulf Wars.

In addition to his reputation on the field of battle and his innovative tactics as a soldier, H.R. McMaster is recognized as one of the United States military’s foremost intellectual thinkers.  His scholarship helped to prepare the United States Army for threats of the future and shed new light on counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and military leadership theory.

In February of 2017, General McMaster was appointed as national security adviser by the president.  And during his tenure he has brought coherence and structure to the National Security Council in support of the administration’s reassessment of critical national security issues.  Under his leadership and in support of the president’s objectives, the National Security Council has produced a highly-regarded and globally-read National Security Strategy.

More importantly for the purposes of our dinner this evening, General McMaster has played an important role in supporting President Trump’s reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank.  During his tenure as national security adviser, President Trump has attended the Three Seas Summit in Warsaw and pledged support for U.S. energy exports to Europe, committed greater funds to the European Defense Initiative – Deterrence Initiative, excuse me – brought new military capabilities to exercises and rotations in Europe, and secured greater defense spending commitments from our allies.  For these accomplishments and his many other achievements in uniform, our country and our allies around the world owe General McMaster a debt of gratitude for his lifetime of service to our country and to its security.

It’s my pleasure to introduce to you a great American leader, a great American diplomat, and a great American soldier, General H.R. McMaster.  (Extended applause.)

LIEUTENANT GENERAL H.R. MCMASTER:  Thank you so much.  Thank you, General Jones.

And it’s really – it’s really me who owes all of you a debt of gratitude, General Jones in particular.  He was so gracious to me when I took over this position.  And on that line about, you know, the best officers in the Army, there are a lot of people who know better than that, especially General Lute, for – (laughter) – for whom I served as his plans officer when I was a captain in the 2nd Cavalry Regiment.  And then Rich – and Rich Clarke, who’s here, our great J5 on the Joint Staff who’s my West Point classmate, and who knows as a kid I was often misunderstood and a victim of circumstance.  I was.  (Laughter.)

But – (laughs) – but thank you.  Thank you, General Jones.  Thank you for your work with Fred Kempe and Damon Wilson – I’m so glad he’s OK – to organize this wonderful event and host all of us for dinner.  The Atlantic Council is a special place, and the Atlantic Council does special work that is increasingly important to all of our – all of our security.

But President Kaljulaid and President Vejonis, what an honor to be here with two great leaders who have been so strong – so strong for their own nations, but really so strong for the West and all of us.  And, Minister Linkevicius, it is great – it is great to be here with you and all of our delegations.

And what a great – what a great idea to be – to pull together this group here – thank you, Atlantic Council – on this historic occasion of the U.S.-Baltic Centennial Summit.  So I want to just begin by congratulating Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania once again on their 100th anniversary of independence.  (Applause.)  We are thrilled to have the opportunity to celebrate this important milestone with you in Washington, D.C.  And so what we’ll think, though, more – even more so than the history – about the history is that we’re beginning 100 years of renewed partnership among our nations.

As President Trump said earlier today, the United States has never ceased to recognize the independence of the Baltic republics.  In 1940, when the Soviet Union invaded your nations, U.S. Acting Secretary of State Sumner Welles issued the famous Welles Declaration.  In that declaration, Welles confidently wrote that the American people opposed any form of intervention on the part of one state, however powerful, in the domestic concerns of any other sovereign state, however weak.  In the absence of respect for sovereignty, Welles continued, the basis of modern civilization itself cannot be preserved.

After Welles’ bold and historic declaration, through the decades of Soviet occupation that followed, the United States continued to affirm the sovereignty of the Baltic republics.  Throughout that entire period, we confidently displayed the flags of independent Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania alongside our own.

Tonight we celebrate this proud history at a critical moment for our nations and the world – critical because we are now engaged in a fundamental contest between our free and open societies and closed and repressive systems.  Revisionist and repressive powers are attempting to undermine our values, our institutions, and our way of life.  To preserve our sovereignty and prevail, we must renew the same confidence that inspired Welles and empowered the people of the Baltic nations through decades of Soviet occupation.  Armed with this confidence, we will triumph over new threats, including those posed by Russia’s increased aggression around the world.

Since the denial-of-service attacks on Estonia in 2007 and the invasion of Georgia in 2008, Russia has used old and new forms of aggression to undermine our open societies and the foundations of international peace and stability.  Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have all been targeted by Russia’s so-called hybrid warfare, a pernicious form of aggression that combines political, economic, informational, and cyber assaults against sovereign nations.  Russia employs sophisticated strategies deliberately designed to achieve objectives while falling below the target state’s threshold for a military response.  Tactics include infiltrating social media, spreading propaganda, weaponizing information, and using other forms of subversion and espionage.

So for too long some nations have looked the other way in the face of these threats.  Russia brazenly and implausibly denies its actions.  And we have failed to impose sufficient costs.

The Kremlin’s confidence is growing as its agents conduct their sustained campaigns to undermine our confidence in ourselves and in one another.  Last month, Russia used a military-grade nerve agent in an attempted murder that endangered the lives of over 130 people, including many children.  This attack was the first offensive use of nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War.  It was an assault on the United Kingdom’s sovereignty.  And any use of chemical weapons by a state party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Russia has also conducted numerous cyberattacks against free nations.  On March 15th, the Trump administration released a report condemning the Russian government for malicious cyber intrusions that targeted U.S. critical infrastructure, including our energy sector.  And we also know that Russia was behind the recent NotPetya cyberattack that caused billions of dollars in damage around the world.

Further, over the past year Russia has conducted numerous intercepts of U.S., allied, and partner aircraft and vessels, including in the Nordic-Baltic region, threatening freedom of navigation and endangering our personnel.

Mr. Putin may believe that he is winning in this new form of warfare.  He may believe that his aggressive actions in the parks of Salisbury and cyberspace, in the air and on the high seas can undermine our confidence, our institutions, and our values.  Perhaps he believes that our free nations are weak and will not respond – will not respond to his provocations.

He is wrong.  Russian aggression is strengthening our resolve and our confidence.  We might all help Mr. Putin understand his grave error.  We might show him the beaches of Normandy, where lingering craters and bullet holes demonstrate the West’s will to sacrifice to preserve our freedom.  We might bring him to our concert halls and theaters, where the music and art of our people reveal our freedom to create, imagine, and to dream.  We might take him to our universities, where the free exchange of ideas among young men and women displays our freedom to learn, to speak, and to achieve our highest aims.  We might lead him to the stately buildings here in Washington, where inscriptions carved deep into stone proclaim that we are free to worship, equal under the law, and opposed to every form of tyranny over the mind of man.  We might introduce him to the people – the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, who endured the devastation of the Second World War, decades of Soviet occupation and communism, and emerged proud, strong, sovereign, free, and prosperous.  These are three of the most creative and innovative nations on Earth.  And Mr. Putin might also then consider how the Russian people’s aspirations connect his own population to us, despite the Kremlin’s efforts to sow dissention abroad and repress freedom at home.

In the room tonight are elected officials, public servants, intellectuals, and leaders from the private sector.  We converse without fearing that our opinions will lead to imprisonment, torture, or the death of a loved one.  We might ask others around the world a simple question:  Would you rather be part of a small club of autocrats that might rotate their meetings between Moscow, Tehran, Damascus, Havana, Caracas, and Pyongyang, or would you rather be a club of free peoples who respect sovereignty, individual rights, and the rule of law?  I think our club is better, and I think our club’s more fun for sure – (laughter) – than that club.

It is – it is time that we expose those who glamorize and apologize in the service of communist, authoritarian, and repressive governments, regimes who torture, enslave, oppress, and murder their people.  Even in the United States and in other free nations, some journalists, academics, public officials, and saddest of all young people have developed and promulgated idealized, warped views of tyrannical regimes.

A clear-eyed view of the brutal nature of repressive governments and ideologies is central to the president’s National Security Strategy.  And I appreciate the – I appreciate the comments about the National Security Strategy, but I should just say that it was really Dr. Nadia Schadlow who ran that effort and did a wonderful job for the president and led a great team to do that.  So – great job.  (Applause.)

Since taking office, the president has repeatedly told the truth about these murderous regimes and oppressive doctrines.  I’d like to ask you to refer to some of the previous speeches.  I mean, we heard this truth from the president at the United Nations.  We heard this truth in Riyadh.  We heard this truth in Warsaw.  We heard this truth in Seoul.  And we heard this truth in the seat of our democracy as Mr. Ji Seong-ho raised his crutches above the chamber in defiance.

The history of repression and authoritarianism is one of theft, torture, murder, and immense human suffering, and it is not – sadly, it is not a phenomenon of the past.  We are presently engaged in competitions with repressive and authoritarian systems to defend our way of life, to preserve our free and open societies.  We must be confident.  We must be active.  We cannot be passive and hope that others will defend our freedom.  The call to compete, to cooperate with others who share our principles, and to catalyze positive change is central to the president’s National Security Strategy.  And over the past year, the United States, our allies, and our partners have acted to defend our institutions and our liberty.

Last week, in response to Russia’s nerve-agent attack, nations around the world, including the United States and the Baltic republics, announced the coordinated expulsion of Russian officials from their countries.  The United States played a supporting role in catalyzing a response by NATO and like-minded nations.  The number of expelled officials is growing.  As of last Friday, nearly 30 countries had acted to expel more than 150 Russian officials.  These actions represent the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.

In the United States, President Trump ordered the removal of dozens of Russian intelligence officers and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle.  This action will also help protect our democratic institutions and processes, as these Russian officers orchestrate Russia’s sustained campaign of propaganda, disinformation, and political subversion.

In April of last year, the United States joined eight other nations in establishing the new European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats.  To defend against new forms of aggression and subversion, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – nations that experienced the first blows from Russia in cyberspace and on social media – all are lending their invaluable expertise to that center.

The Trump administration also continues to impose sanctions and other penalties on Russian entities for targeting our cybersecurity, attacking our infrastructure, and otherwise infringing on the sovereign rights of the United States and our allies.  And the United States, as has already been mentioned, is substantially increasing funding for the European Deterrence Initiative, or EDI, which provides billions of dollars to U.S. military and allied forces in Europe to deter Russian aggression and prevent conflict.

So we are acting, but we must recognize the need for all of us to do more to respond to and deter Russian aggression, especially in four critical areas.

First, we must compete across all arenas to counter so-called hybrid warfare, this new form of Soviet-era active measures and maskirovka.  We must reform and integrate our military, political, economic, law enforcement, and informational instruments of power to deter and defeat threats to our sovereignty.

Second, we must catalyze change.  We must invest in our cyber infrastructure to ensure that we protect our data, our innovation base, and infrastructure against espionage and theft and attack.  To deter adversaries, we must be prepared to impose a high cost in response to cyber aggression.

Third, we must all cooperate to share responsibility in these and other security efforts.  Even as the United States has committed nearly $10 billion to EDI, many NATO countries, unlike the Baltic nations we are – who are here tonight, are still not honoring the Wales pledge to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense.  Our mutual security requires everyone to contribute.

Finally, we must realize that all of our actions depend on preserving our strategic confidence, our will to advance our values and defend our way of life.  In that 1940 declaration that affirmed the Baltic nations’ independence, Sumner Welles was clear:  “The people of the United States are opposed to predatory activities no matter whether they are carried on by the use of force or by the threat of force.”  Welles’ noble text forever bound Americans to our Baltic brothers and sisters in a partnership based on respect for sovereignty, freedom, and the rule of law.  As President Kaljulaid said earlier today, as long as we remain confident in these foundational principles, proud of our history, and faithful to our values, our nations will remain strong, secure, and free.

It has been a privilege – great privilege to serve the United States for 34 years.  Tonight, at my last public engagement, it is an honor to address an audience that fundamentally understands what is at stake for our free and open societies.

Early in my career I had a change, with General Lute, to patrol the East-West German border and to see – to see that artificial boundary collapse – collapse suddenly one day, and to go from staring down East German border guards across the border to our soldiers being flocked with East Germans carrying bouquets of flowers and bottles of wine.  And so we ought to be confident.  We ought to be confident that freedom will triumph over repression.

But we must strengthen our resolve, cooperate to share responsibility, catalyze positive change, and compete effectively in new arenas.  The victory of free societies is not predestined, and I think that point was made earlier as well.  There’s nothing inevitable about the course of human events and history.  And there is no arc of history, there is no so-called end of history, that will ensure our success.

Brave men and women have fought for our liberty.  They’ve fought with their pens, as Sumner Welles did in 1940.  They’ve fought with their swords, as your brave independence fighters did in 1918 from these Baltic republics.  And today the survival of our free and open societies and our way of life continues to depend on our confidence in our values, on our pride in our heritage, and on our will to defend our freedom.

Thank you for the great privilege of being – of being with you this evening.  It’s truly been an honor.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)

FREDERICK KEMPE:  General McMaster, what an amazing speech in your last public engagement as the national security adviser of the United States.  Thank you for that ringing voice of clarity.  This will go down in the Atlantic Council’s storied 60-year history as one of the great statements at one of the most crucial moments in our country’s decision-making process for the future.

Let me just quote one statement, but we’ll have all of this as soon as we can on our website:  “We are presently engaged in a competition with regimes of authoritarian systems to defend our way of life.”  And the rest of it, and the historic context in the rest of it, as you can see by this standing ovation, we applaud not only you and your service, but the statement you delivered tonight in honor of this 100th anniversary.

And let’s not forget it’s the 100th anniversary of an independence that at first failed and again has come to rise.  And so I think that has to inspire us doubly to recommit ourselves to this cause.  Thank you for inspiring us tonight.

LT. GEN. MCMASTER:  Thank you, sir.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  And thank you all for attending.  (Applause.)