Tomorrow, the leaders of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania will meet at the White House with President Barack Obama. The joint meeting provides an opportunity for the United States to reaffirm its commitment to its allies in Eastern Europe, specifically the Baltic States, which have continued to make significant strides towards freedom, democracy, and economic freedom since they regained their independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While the Administration’s support and interest in Eastern Europe has been tepid at best, it’s worth remembering a time when the United States unequivocally supported the Baltics in the face of naked aggression.
Following World War I, all three nations gained their independence. By 1923, the U.S. had officially recognized each as a sovereign state and had stationed ambassadors in Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius. The onset of World War II ended this brief period of Baltic independence. As part of a secret pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the Soviets occupied the Baltic States beginning in 1940. The U.S. swiftly and unequivocally condemned the occupation. On June 23, 1940, Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles issued a statement that became known as the Welles Declaration:
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. They are likewise opposed to any form of intervention on the part of one State, however powerful, in the domestic concerns of any other sovereign state, however weak.
For over 50 years, the United States refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Soviet occupation of the Baltics, and the three nations kept embassies in Washington, DC, throughout the Cold War.
The strong U.S. support for Baltic independence as stated in the Welles Declaration has paid dividends. Today, the Baltic States are strong allies, important NATO members and contributors, and burgeoning free-market economies.
Remembering the Welles Declaration, President Obama should use his meeting with the leaders of the Baltic States to reaffirm America’s commitment to defending our NATO allies, deepen and reinforce our cooperation with the region, and thank Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania for the reciprocal friendship they have shown to America.