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The Atlantic Council of the United States

Nordic-Baltic Security in the 21st Century:
Continued Transformation Toward a Larger Role in the World?

Lunch Keynote Speech

Welcome and Introduction:
Damon Wilson,
Executive Vice President,
Atlantic Council

Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Former President of Latvia 

Date: September 7, 2011

Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

DAMON WILSON: Welcome back to the conference after our casual lunch here.

My name is Damon Wilson. I’m the executive vice president here at the Atlantic Council. And thank you for remaining with us throughout the day for this conference.

The premise of our discussion, the premise of our writings, our considerations of the region, is that the Nordic-Baltic region has gone through a remarkable transformation over the last 20 years. It’s been a story of the United States working with our Nordic partners and our Baltic partners in helping to secure – this is the 20th anniversary of the Baltic states regaining their independence.

This outcome was not preordained. I think it’s important to remind ourselves that 20 years ago this was a precarious situation. It wasn’t obvious that we would be where we are today, 20 years later. The result – the product of this is really a product of both, I believe, vision and skillful execution of policy.

The vision was a Europe whole, free and at peace. But that wasn’t just a vision. It was backed up by a policy to deliver a Europe whole, free and at peace through the enlargement of our institutions, of NATO and the European Union.

There are very few leaders that were at the heart of this discussion, at the heart of this effort, of the stature of our guest today, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. She was at the heart of this effort. In fact, yesterday she mentioned, during one of your first official visits to the United States in 1999, when she was here as an advocate of the concept of the Baltic states’ membership in the institutions of Europe, met with a great deal of skepticism, except, as I’ll note, from Atlantic Council board director Julie Finley, who was involved with the committee to enlarge NATO at the time.

So today is not just a time for a conference to consider the next stages of Nordic-Baltic integration and cooperation. It’s also the Atlantic Council’s opportunity to celebrate with our friends 20 years of independence, 20 years of the regaining of independence of the Baltic states.

I can think of no better person to have with us to do this than President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Her life, in many ways, stands as a representation of the remarkable transformation that the region has undergone and the importance of the trans-Atlantic link.

Born in Riga in 1937, she and her family fled to Germany in early 1945 and then on to refugee camps in French Morocco. In the early 1950s, her family made the trek to Canada, where she started her higher education at the University of Toronto.

After earning a Ph.D. in psychology, she began work at the University of Montreal. But even while pursuing her career in psychology, she remained deeply involved in Baltic issues, focusing especially on preserving Latvia’s cultural and historic heritage through community service.

In 1998, she left Canada to return to her native Latvia and served as the first director of the Latvian Institute. In 1999 she was elected by Latvia’s parliament to serve as Latvia’s president, the first president to hold this – the first woman to hold the presidency. She was re-elected for a second term as president in 2003.

During her tenure as president of Latvia, she worked tirelessly to deepen Latvia’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic community, an effort that enabled Latvia to gain membership in NATO in 2004 and in the European Union the same year. In fact, it was the president’s remarks at the 2003 NATO Prague summit that in many respects catapulted the president to the top tier of global leaders.

At this summit, Latvia, along with six other nations, received invitations to join the alliance. At the time I was working for NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson, and I had a view just over his shoulder during a special session that was broadcast live at the summit in which the leaders of the seven nations invited to join the alliance had a chance to speak.

Madam President, your five minutes of remarks – and I watched it again on YouTube just two days ago – your five minutes of remarks gave me goose bumps then. They gave me goose bumps watching it years later.

Without once referring to a single note, the president spoke directly into the camera, applauded the other leaders’ courage to take the decision to enlarge the alliance, placed the decision in Latvia’s historical context, and welcomed Latvia’s gaining a home on the rock of political certainty, not the shifting sands of indecision.

You’ve been known as a decisive, strong leader of Latvia, but also of the trans-Atlantic community.

It was at this time that I had the pleasure to work with Latvia’s current ambassador to Washington, Ambassador Pildegovics, a great friend and a great advocate for Latvia, as well as, as I was watching the YouTube video, seeing – (inaudible) – behind the president’s shoulders at the NATO summit as he then served as Latvia’s ambassador to NATO.

The partnership that we’ve enjoyed personally, I think, is a testament to the importance of personalities and sustaining and building and maintaining the bonds of the trans-Atlantic link between the Nordic-Baltic community and the United States. That’s at the heart of why we led this project, why we worked on this project. It’s to create an enduring community.

Since leaving office in 2007, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga has remained active on the international stage with, among other things, an appointment as vice chairman of the reflection group on the long-term future of the European Union. And in my view, if I had been a decision maker, and perhaps if you had been a president of a nation a little bit larger, and maybe a little bit less close to a nation on the U.N. Security Council with a veto, I would have been advocating her as the U.N. secretary-general right now.

But I think you all would agree that Mrs. Vike-Freiberga embodies the success story of the Nordic-Baltic region and also represents in many – represents the way forward from the region. This is from a war-weary region after World War II, a contested space during and immediately after the Cold War, to the dynamic, progressive and internationalist region that we’ve been discussing today.

Madam President, it’s so good to have you with us here at the Atlantic Council again. If I’m correct, I think this is the third time the council has had the privilege of hosting you – once at the Christopher Makins lecture with Ambassador Hafstrom, as well as at a discussion with our Young Atlanticists – a webcast live discussion with our Young Atlanticists group here in Washington.

We want to thank you for your service to the country, but also to the trans-Atlantic community. And we look forward to hearing from you today. Please, the podium is yours. (Applause.)

VAIRA VIKE-FREIBERGA: Thank you very much for this kind invitation.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be here for the third time at a forum where truly the issues of the day are being discussed, I think, in a frank manner and an in-depth manner, much more so than one occasionally hears from the media or from other fora of discussion.

Standing here before you, I, of course, now speak entirely in my own voice. I do not represent anybody’s official position. And it’s one of the great privileges of having abandoned office. Similarly, on the group on the future of Europe, we were given entire freedom to consult anybody, whomsoever we wished, and to come forward with a consensus of opinion about where the European Union should be going for the next decades.

Now, of course, the down side of having such great freedom is that you may have every opportunity of expressing your deep thoughts and your wonderful recommendations. But there’s absolutely no guarantee that there’s anybody out there ready to listen, and even less to do anything about it.

Nevertheless, opinions do matter. And I thought that on this occasion, where we are looking back on 20 years of very deep, profound, historical change in the world, just a few reminiscences to get our debate going.

Twenty years ago, when the putsch was announced, to the great surprise of everybody else, including the Russian public, who recognized that something was happening because Swan Lake was being played on television – any time that Swan Lake appears on television, people in the former Soviet Union, that something important was up. But just how important, it took a while for them to realize.

My husband and I had been in Latvia on the evening of the 18th of August and had left for Sweden, for a scholarly conference in Sweden, and were surprised at the number of tanks moving in towards the center of Riga from the polygon in Ardeje (ph), where they had been stationed, and also noticing armed soldiers appearing at every street corner, so that things did look somewhat ominous. But it wasn’t until the next morning that the actual putsch was announced.

Now, I do believe that occasions such as this change history. We had had, after all, a so-called bipolar world – bemoaned by more than a few, by the way; many have bemoaned the passing of this bipolar world, and especially bemoaned America becoming the single hegemon since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but nowadays hopefully we’re moving towards a multipolar world and we can do away with these sort of divisions, divisive divisions.

But at the time, the surprise was great, I think, both within the Soviet Union and elsewhere in the world, and an absolute state of uncertainty as to what could happen and what should happen.

I personally remain convinced that the best thing that happened to Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania is those few diehard hardliners getting together, including Pugo, a member of the politburo from Latvia, who decided to resist Gorbachev’s efforts to introduce perestroika, to introduce glasnost. Visibly the country was collapsing economically. They thought that they could save it in this way. And obviously, in my opinion, they did save it, but not from the fate they had in mind.

The foolishness of these men – on the other hand, their daring to trying to do it – was the best thing that ever happened to the captive nations in the former Soviet Union. And I’m not just talking about the Baltics. I think that this applies to all the Central Asian and Caucasus nations as well. I do not see how else we might have gotten out from under how we might have obtained our independence without this actual implosion, this collapse of the Soviet Union, that happened at the time.

After the recovery or independence, we noted a very differentiated approach on the behalf of the democratic countries in the rest of the world, including the United States of America, to the countries that had been formerly in the communist bloc.

The first ones – the first thing that happened was the reunification of Germany, so that was step number one. Then we had the Visegrad countries and the former satellites being absorbed. Central Asia and the Caucasus in many ways were felt to be so far away that there didn’t seem to be such keen interest as to their fate.

But in the case of the Baltics, I think there was a great deal of controversy about how to react to their independence and how far to go in fostering it. And there was a great deal of resistance in many quarters to being too supportive and too active, with the plainly stated fear that this would irritate Russia.

And I must admit that even throughout the eight years of my presidency, in my contacts with friendly Western European nations, the then 15 members of the existing European Union, with people like President Jacques Chirac, with whom I had an excellent and still do have an excellent personal relationship, the resistance to actually irritating Russia as the heir, as the obvious heir of the former Soviet Union, was palpable; not only palpable, but verbally expressed.

And on many an occasion, Jacques Chirac would tell to me, well, you know, you have to be about – for instance, NATO succession – you have to be very, very careful. After all, you do not wish to be pulling the mustache of the bear. In other words, you have this great big lying bear there, and you people from the Baltics are being provocative. You’re pulling him by the whiskers. And this is very dangerous. This is a dangerous beast. And when it becomes angry, it will not just possibly swallow you, but it could have nasty consequences for us as well.

And so I asked him, how do you consider us? Do you want to serve us to the bear for breakfast? Do you think of the Baltic countries as Andromeda chained to the rock and ready to be served up to the dragon any time he comes and asks for a favor? Or just exactly where do we stand on principle towards these former captive nations? And why are they so different from the others, such as Poland, Hungary, and at the time Czechoslovakia, that were quite readily accepted as coming down from under the Russian influence, the influence quite clearly that came from Moscow? Well, they had been occupied. They had been integrated. Therefore, they’re different.

This difference – mind you, there are traces of it still, I must admit, in parts of Europe and, of course, in parts of the European left. It’s been fading away gradually. Old soldiers fade away, but old leftists fade away more slowly. (Laughter.) And therefore, we still have some of that attitude, I think, floating about in Europe.

At the same time, there has been a remarkable wave of support, I think notably from the northern countries, the Scandinavian five, who at first admitted the three Baltic countries as sort of taking them under their wing in these five-plus-three kind of formats. And when we eventually graduated to taking that little plus away, a plus that was meant to be additive but really was more like a minus sign in terms of saying these are really two different worlds that don’t belong together, when the time came when truly it was accepted that there were eight nations together, I think great progress was made.

And from that point of view, I truly congratulate everybody here today and the Atlantic Council and the Swedish embassy for taking this initiative. I think that this is a wonderful step forward, both for Europe and for America, to think of this region as truly now free and reasonably united in its political and economic goals, and I would say rather successful in overcoming the various challenges, economic and otherwise and political, that they have had to face up to, and that they truly have become a worthwhile partner to the United States.

And hopefully the better they integrate and the more they’re able to speak with one voice, the better they will be able to overcome the sense, I think, sometimes on this side of the ocean that to remind us of the phrase – I think it was Henry Kissinger who complained that when you want to call Europe, you don’t know what number to call.

After the Lisbon treaty was adopted, there was a joke in Europe that when the call comes from America to Europe, there’s a delay in answering because Barroso, Van Rompuy and Ashton are tripping all over each other’s feet as to who will get to the telephone first and who will be the one to answer it.

Hopefully it’s not quite the case, and hopefully America does have – the American president does have on his Rolodex, or whatever the modern technical equivalent is, a separate number for each of these personalities, and so that we do know whom we’re talking to when we are addressing Europe.

But Europe, yes, alas, even if it did have one single telephone number or even three, is not a united entity, as well you know. It is not so even in the north, and even less so in the other areas.

Looking at the rain downpour today, I was reminded of another day here in Washington with a fantastic snowfall, a storm that brought nearly a meter of snow all over the city, but which gave me the opportunity of a great long talk with the president of the United States on President’s Day at the Oval Office. And that was February 17th, 2003.

And coming out of that meeting and seeing the press there, what was I greeted with? I was in many ways attacked by the press there in saying, you are part – your country is part of those candidate members of NATO who have issued a common statement to the effect that they support the American intervention in Iraq, that they will stand behind it. How could you? What about President Chirac having said that you surely, Eastern Europeans, passed up an occasion to keep silent? How do you react to that?

And then, of course, we had the famous phrase by Secretary Rumsfeld, who said, well, old Europe is against America and doesn’t support it, but new Europe is supporting us. And you may remember, these were tense days. These were tense days when you couldn’t buy French fries; you had to buy liberties fries. (Laughter.) And you couldn’t – it wasn’t really the thing to do to be drinking French wines for a while. And things have quieted down since then, and I think France and the rest of Europe have been quite good partners to America in taking on what is really a global and common threat, which is that of terrorism.

But at the time, I remember after the second election, the second term of President Bush, there was a summit between the United States and Europe at which somebody rather aggressively asked Secretary Rumsfeld, well, how about this assertion of yours about old Europe and new? Do you still think this is a meaningful division for our continent? And he just laughed and he says, oh, no, that was the old Rumsfeld who thought so. The new Rumsfeld doesn’t think so. (Laughter.)

And I think that even more so with the new administration in place, of course, I think that many of the old – well, let’s face it – moments of bitterness and misunderstanding have been left behind us. New challenges have arisen, and heaven knows they’re serious enough, especially on the economic plain.

Divisions remain in the sense that, on this side of the ocean, newspaper headlines tend to underline the severe economic problems that Europe is facing, whereas on the other side of the ocean, the headlines will emphasize the truly dire straits in which the American economy has fallen.

But all in all, I think both sides would agree that, yes, they do face fairly serious difficulties and that something will have to be done. In Europe, the path is clear that the common currency has not been a sufficient basis for establishing a common economic policy. And we now see the rather disastrous results of that.

And we have now a new division in Europe, by the way. Instead of the old east-west division, the one between old Europe and new Europe, now increasingly a north-south division is being established. In other words, we have the – shall I say the serious, hard-working Protestant ethic – money, saving, long hours working, Northern Europeans – and then the happy-go-lucky wine-drinking Southern Europeans having their long vacations and early retirements in the south. And how are those twain to meet and how are they to find a common path?

And so that new stereotypes, if you like, are being put in place. And, of course, we will have to continue working to try and erase and overcome these stereotypes, as we have had to hopefully start erasing the stereotypes between east and west.

When I took office in 1999, just about every journalist who came to Latvia came from Moscow as its place of sort of being stationed in Moscow, a few of them in St. Petersburg. And they would come to me and say, well, you in Latvia, as a former Soviet republic, how are you doing?

And I literally had to say to a number of them, young man, you go and wash out your mouth with soap and forget the phrase about former Soviet republic. We were an independent republic before the Soviet Union was created, and we are now again an independent republic. And the Soviet past was an unfortunate sort of episode – a long one, albeit – in our lives that we’d rather like to forget.

The current economic situation, by the way, is no joke. I think, frankly, myself, after that really serious collapse of communism, at least in Europe and Central Asia, there is a serious challenge to capitalism as it developed at the turn of the millennium, between the late `90s and early 2000s.

I think that the financial derivatives and the way the banking system ran, the way the supervision was affected by various countries – generally, the economic policy, to my understanding, need very, very serious reconsidering if the world on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond is to recover.

True, some countries are notably doing well and resisting the crisis, and this is why so many speak of a multipolar world in which both Europe and America will be actually slowly sinking, if not into the same fate as Atlantis, but certainly a Euro-Atlantic diminished position, replaced in this sense by China, India, Brazil, and Russia, for that matter, as the new hegemons, or at least the new powers in the multipolar world.

Meanwhile, we hear a lot of bad news and a lot of crises to face up. I think it doesn’t hurt to look also at success stories, at those who have overcome their difficulties, at those who, as the Scandinavian countries have given an example of cooperation, even within a body of nations that are simply not of the same mind and have different political opinions on a variety of things.

Their ability to overcome this and to work together to me is just as impressive as what France did under Monnet and Schuman at the end of the Second World War. I think in both cases you have an example of the political will and a vision, particularly a long-term vision, that will allow nations to move forward and to overcome any number of challenges, no matter how severe and how important they might be.

So, ladies and gentlemen, again, I congratulate you on addressing these issues from that particular point of view here. I am particularly grateful to the council here for your continued interest in the trans-Atlantic relation. I think both sides have to benefit from it greatly, and we should never, ever forget how important it is to us both.

Thank you for inviting me. (Applause.)

MR. WILSON: Madam President, thank you very much for those thoughts. It’s a delight to have you here, unencumbered by the constraints of an official position. Now we get to see – you’ve always had wisdom and insights. Now we get to see it combined with your good humor; and very much appreciated your remarks.

I just wanted to kick off our conversation with a couple of questions, and then I’ll turn to the audience in our remaining time to facilitate a conversation. But you talked a little bit about vision, vision underpinning the idea of Europe and what happened in your own region. You were very much one of the architects of the vision and the policy for the Nordic-Baltic-American relationship over the past 20 years.

You can look at the relationship that we’ve sort of had and think of it in phases where an initial early focus on restoring the sovereignty, restoring the independence of the three Baltic states, really focused on issues like Russian troop withdrawals and the trappings of restoring democratic governance.

Second entered a phase really focused on integration, on the NATO enlargement campaign, on European Union enlargement, and all that came from that process of integration; nice you joined those institutions, very much finding your countries involved in a global agenda after 9/11, particularly by the United States side, with troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, with terrorism at the top of the agenda.

And now we’ve gone through a bit more of a reflection, what I would call our reassurance phase and the debate over the new strategic concept of the alliance, a real reconsideration of Article 5, exercises in the region, how to rebalance the balance between near missions and far missions.

What’s next? What is next? What’s the driving theme, the driving agenda for the relationship between the United States, the Baltic states, the United States, the Nordic-Baltic region? If you had to put the top priorities for that agenda going forward, where would you want to see this particular part of the trans-Atlantic partnership going forward?

MS. VIKE-FREIBERGA: We have found truly common ground on important political questions, as I reminded you – and it was no joke at the time – sometimes to the detriment of our relationships with our European partners. The Iraq situation was truly an extremely divisive one in Europe, and we took a position and a stand that was pro-American. And some still remind us of that.

But altogether, I think these things have calmed down. Terrorism has come as an element that both America and Europe have felt keenly how unpredictable it is, how threatening it is, how much damage can be inflicted, and how resistant it is to conventional military means.

At the same time, I think we should not forget that military capability has not become obsolete and that, just to look around the world and to see the arms race that many country undertakes, both large and small ones, it’s quite evident that no democracy or group of democracies can afford to think that terrorism is now the only threat that we have and that conventional military might has to be forgotten, so that I think NATO and the continued collaboration under NATO is crucial.

In the reflection group on the future of Europe, we were quite blunt in saying that the security of Europe really needs more integration. We heard from Finland today that they thought that this was absolutely not necessary. The opinion of the reflection group, on the contrary, was that Europe is squandering a great deal of its security effort when it could make it much more efficient; too many men under arms, but too few men to be deployed to international missions.

I don’t want to downgrade the contribution of Europe to all the missions in Africa and elsewhere, where they have been actually quite present and done a good job. But if you compare it to what it should be, there’s a wastage. There’s a wastage, I think, there of having large conscripted armies still in some countries and insufficient capability for transporting them somewhere, insufficient training for them, the compatibility of them working together.

Afghanistan, I think, has been a training ground. So, in fact, was Iraq. But also, before that, Bosnia and Kosovo were training grounds for showing to what extent the interoperability within NATO or with countries that are not within NATO but have the same aims and are ready to support it is something that still needs to continue.

We have not only – within the whole European Union, but even with the Nordic countries, if you have three types of fighter planes being manufactured by relatively small countries, we thought in the reflection group that this was somehow not exactly the most rational way to use the taxpayers’ money in each of these countries.

And similarly, Europe-wide, in terms of number of different – so tanks, you know, and equipment of that nature, there’s just so many different kinds and such difficulties of interoperability, not to mention small arms and everything else, that there’s an enormous amount of collaboration that is needed to make security more effective, to have the means and the tools for security, but to do so in a more cost-effective way.

And I think that this is where, if you like historical inertia, internecine oppositions between different parties, different political leanings within countries, have often brought about a standstill in these questions, and starting with Lord Robertson and then continuing through successive NATO general secretaries, I think that they will in private tell you that this is truly a frustrating thing within NATO to get them moving forward.

So I would say that in the terms of security, there’s enormous amount still of interoperability to be done. And the other thing is that, frankly, the economic presence and the economic interest of America is, I think, dwindling with Europe.

My country has America as its trading partner 101, I think, on the list. And truly it sounds to me like it could be with little effort on America’s part and with relatively little cost that that rank could be raised a little bit higher, and certainly to our benefit, but I think no less to the States either, because we do have things to offer as well.

MR. WILSON: (Laughs.) Terrific. Let me just ask you, you had mentioned that when you came to Washington on one of your first official visits, met by the skepticism about the idea of continued enlargement. How do you see this vision of a Europe whole and free today? And does the Nordic-Baltic community have a particular role to play in where Europe comes out on this issue, not just of deeper integration, but of openness and enlargement?

We’ve talked about how Iceland and Croatia may very well move forward with their membership in the European Union, but we’re not likely to see much movement after that. And yet there’s unfinished business in the western Balkans and Europe’s east as you look at the prospects of Moldova and the Caucasus and Georgia, and even the situation of Turkey.

What role should, could, the Nordic-Baltic community play in terms of influencing the debate about whether Europe whole and free remains a valid concept?

MS. VIKE-FREIBERGA: I think they should continue on the same path that they have been pursuing so far. And there has been, I think, good will on both sides. In France, for instance, Mr. Sarkozy came with his initiative about the Mediterranean project. Of course one can see France as – I lived in North Africa myself at the time when Morocco was a French protectorate. I was in Egypt just recently, where during – while still the uprisings were going on, as a member of the board of the library of Alexandria.

And I can see how these countries truly need both European and American support in what is again an absolutely sea change in political situation and a fantastic opportunity, just as there was post-collapse of the Soviet Union. The collapse of these dictatorships, I think, should not be bemoaned, even though formerly they were frequently allies of either Europeans or Americans.

What these dictators did to their people could not go on forever, and these people could not possibly continue to tolerate it forever. It happened in 2011. It would have happened someday anyway.

We are – I think countries in the eastern and northern part of Europe are quite sympathetic to the aspirations of these countries, and we’re equally desirous to see them become democratic and prosperous as France, Italy, Spain and Portugal could possibly be. But in return, of course, we certainly have been pushing for the idea that the eastern borders of the European Union should – the southeastern ones as well; this is where Central Europe has been particularly a champion of that – we cannot forget about them. And everything should be done to help them move forward.

Of course, these countries themselves will have to make the necessary efforts. As in the case of Belarus, for instance, it’s very difficult to see how much can be done to change the situation under a dictatorship, but there are things that can be done. I have always advocated, for instance, that Belarusian students should be given scholarships in as many countries in the West as possible. And I have met them traveling around Europe and the Caucasus in talking to universities and various nongovernmental organizations.

Whenever I met students from Belarus, they kept saying how important it was for them to get out of their country, to see how things are done elsewhere; and, by the way, very flattering to us, saying what a wonderful job the Baltic countries have done and how lucky we were to have gotten where we are. I thought sometimes some of my countrymen, when they complain about the hard life that we are having, they should maybe go to Belarus and spend some time there and compare the situations.

MR. WILSON: Thank you.

Let me see if there are some questions from the audience that I could group.

Let’s start over here. Just catch my eye if you’d like to ask a question.

Q: Thank you. Milton Davis.

My question relates to – the whole conference has been talking about the Baltic-Nordic area. But if you look at the Baltic Sea region, we’re missing two countries, forgetting about Russia, the evil empire. We’ll just talk about Poland and Germany.

And would there be any use in seeing this expand to be the whole Baltic Sea region and somehow trying to bring Poland and Germany into this, particularly Poland? If you bring Germany in, you might say it was questions; you’re bring all of Central Europe in or you’re bringing all of Western Europe in, or whatever.

But in the case of Poland, with Lithuania as close to Poland as Estonia is to Finland – obviously there are major differences there, and I understand that – but I’m just saying, what is your thought or what is your assistant’s thought here, the idea of making this a Baltic Sea area, not just Nordic-Baltic area? Thank you.

MS. VIKE-FREIBERGA: Well, there is such an entity. There is the Baltic Sea area. It’s a great dream of Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, the former foreign minister of Denmark. It’s very much alive. And I think as long as Uffe is alive, it’s certainly going to continue to be working very hard. And this is a forum where common concerns are being addressed.

But I think in terms of the emphasis that I see at this conference, there truly is room for this particular format for certain types of problems, including security, and, I think, yes, including energy security, for that matter.

MR. WILSON: I think there’s a question in the back as well.

Q: Yes, thank you. My name is Mindy Reiser. I’m vice president of an NGO called Global Peace Services.

MS. VIKE-FREIBERGA: Would you speak up, please?

Q: OK, yes. My name is Mindy Reiser. I’m vice president of an NGO called Global Peace Services.

I’m wondering if you could talk a bit about the challenges and the successes that the Baltic nations have faced in integrating people from different ethnic and religious traditions. There are wounds that have lasted a while, and there is the wonderful nation-building project. And I wonder if you could talk about the way forward and the successes that you’ve attained.

MR. WILSON: As you take that question, I’m going to add one to it, and maybe you can take these two to help wrap up our conversation. You talked about, which I thought was really interesting, the evolution of Nordic-Baltic from a five-plus-three entity to an NB 8, getting rid of the plus sign, meant to be additive, but subtractive.

Where do you see Nordic-Baltic NB 8 cooperation going? How much more deeper integration or cooperation do you envision, do you advocate? To what purpose? I just would welcome your vision on the overall theme of what we’re trying to address today.

So with that question in mind, we welcome your thoughts.

MS. VIKE-FREIBERGA: Yes. Of course, immediately after independence, I think, on the part of Russia, there was a great hope of actually stopping our integration, both into the European Union and definitely into NATO, by playing the card of the minorities, of the Russian-speaking minorities, in Latvia and Estonia, particularly since Lithuania has only 9 percent.

And I must say that during the eight years of my presidency, it was always one of the top items on the agenda, how to move that forward. And I think, you know, we don’t have time to go into detail, but I think we tackled that one quite energetically, and I think we can consider ourselves quite happy with the result.

In terms of cooperation in the northern area, I would say yes, in terms of military and security cooperation, very high priority; cutting the umbilical cord, if you like, of the three Baltic countries or the energy grids, especially electricity, that link it to the former Soviet Union, and building up links with Sweden.

And really someday I hope that the Swedish greens would consider that the few reindeer sort of traveling around a gas pipeline would not be necessarily that much harmed by it, any more than they are in so many other countries where there are pipelines.

I mean, there are – this is need for a grid that goes all around the Baltic Sea. That would be – in one way or another, would be helpful. I mean, after all, you could raise the pipelines and the reindeer could run under, or something like that. I mean, I can – I’m not a technical person, but I visualize – I have visions of doing this sort of thing.

But, you know, I’d like to add another thing, and this is science and technology and education. I think that the differences in language have been somewhat of a barrier in a way. But I was tasked a couple of years ago with evaluating the European Research Council as an entity that supports cutting-edge research on the basis of individual excellence all across Europe.

And what I saw there was that there’s like an invisible iron curtain dividing the former communist countries from Western Europe, simply because – in terms of infrastructure available to scientists, and that there is also – that the northern part of Europe, apart from places like Uppsala and a few others, is not really as represented as one would like to see.

So I think that there’s an effort, an investment in science and technology, where these Nordic-Baltic countries could make more of an effort to collaborate and pool their resources and pool their laboratories and exchange their students and their scholars in a much more intensive way. I think they do less of that than they do, say, between those countries and America, for instance, which is fine, which is wonderful, but one would like to see some locally as well.

MR. WILSON: Madam President, thank you very much. You’ve combined a remarkable career with a very compelling life story. And I think it’s a testament to your leadership that you provided Latvia a voice of clarity at a critical time in your country’s history.

But I’m so glad that our broader community has been able to benefit from your wisdom after you left office as well, flying Latvia’s flag as part of the reflection group on the future of Europe, but also your work with the United Nations on development, human rights issues. We’ve continued to benefit from your insights and your wisdom after leaving office as president.

I want to thank you for coming back to the Atlantic Council for a third time, and coming back in the context of this discussion on the future of Nordic-Baltic cooperation. I learned a great deal from you and really appreciate your time and your contributions. Thank you very much.

MS. VIKE-FREIBERGA: Thanks. Thanks a lot. (Applause.)