Please note: This is an abridged version of Ambassador Fried’s remarks in Washington, DC on May 20, 2017. For the full version, please see the JBANC website.
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here with JBANC. I first met with JBANC in 1993. Back in those days, NATO enlargement even to Poland was considered a dangerous and radical idea, and the NATO enlargement to the Baltics was considered a kind of elaborate rhetorical device not to be taken seriously, and yet here we are, with the EU and NATO having embraced a hundred million Europeans between the Baltic and the Black Sea, who liberated themselves from communism and Soviet domination. But our work is far from done. The Free World faces challenges from without, from Russian aggression; and from within, not just from the Russian trolls and bots and useful idiots, but by the doubts within the West itself, as to our purposes and our achievements and our values.
The enlargement of NATO was not done for its own sake. NATO was an instrument of achieving a united Europe, democratic, prosperous, and free for the first time in its history. Credit for that goes to President Clinton – Bill Clinton made the decision to enlarge NATO over the objections of many. The decision to invite the Baltic states to NATO is to the credit of George W. Bush, who might have decided otherwise. And then let’s give full credit to Barack Obama, who ended up supporting sanctions against Russia, and led NATO’s decision to put in its forces and America’s parallel decision to put in national forces into the Baltic states and Poland. So, full credit to three American presidents in a row; very different people who carried out in their own way the same policy and did so successfully. But the real credit for all of this belongs to the people and governments of the Baltic states. The Baltic states did what they had to do. And in doing so, they generated political capital for themselves, which then their friends in the West would use.
What does Putin want? He wants the empire back, as much of it as he can claw back. It doesn’t mean he won’t settle for less, but it means he wants as much as he can get. And he also wants to weaken the institutions of the West in general, because he wants to show that the West is not what it claims to be. He judges us by his own standards, and he thinks we are no more than our worst selves. We need to prove him wrong. And we need to resist Russian aggression. Putin does all of this, because his own rule and Russian autocracy is safe only if democracy is weak, because autocracy at home for Russia depends on democracy being on the defensive abroad.
We have a responsibility to mobilize ourselves to meet the threats, to do and to remember that our work is not done. Our tasks still lie ahead. They include securing what we achieved from Russian aggression; facing up to the problems in the West that have raised such doubts, and never giving up on the notion of freedom in the conviction that our time will come again.
So thank you and thank you to JBANC for all the work and cooperation over so many years.