Welcoming the Accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
BODY: Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of H. Res. 558, which welcomes the accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Earlier this month I celebrated the 86th anniversary of the declaration of independence of Lithuania with my constituents and the Lithuanian Society in Baltimore. I am very enthusiastic about the accomplishments of the Lithuanian people and my optimism for that nation’s future. As you know, I am of Lithuanian heritage and share your special interest in Lithuania’s development.
I am proud of the United States’ strong support for Lithuania through the extension of membership to the NATO alliance, and the continued endorsement for the nation’s integration into the European Union. In 2003 the U.S. Senate unanimously ratified Lithuania’s inclusion into NATO, and praised Lithuania for “serving as an example to emerging democracies worldwide.”
As an invited member of NATO and the European Union, the Republic of Lithuania plays a role in promoting security abroad and in combating international threats. Since 1994, the Lithuanian Armed Forces have demonstrated this commitment by deploying over 1,300 servicemen on missions to the Balkans and, most recently, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Lithuania’s accession to NATO really marks the return of Lithuania to the Euro-Atlantic partnership and alliance, as we face the new challenges of the global war on terrorism.
Lithuania has made considerable progress towards a functioning market economy, and has enjoyed some of the highest domestic product growth rates in all of Europe. I am therefore pleased to see that Lithuania will shortly be joining the European Union (EU), which will grow from 15 to 25 members on May 1, 2004.
By joining the EU, the nation will greatly benefit from a larger, more integrated European marketplace. We should continue our partnership to further strengthen Lithuania’s economic growth.
I am also pleased to report that in the last decade Lithuania has made great progress in the area of human rights, rule of law, and religious freedom all while pursuing further integration into European political, economic, and security organizations. As a member of Congress, I serve on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, commonly known as the Helsinki Commission. I also serve as the Chairman of the Economic Committee of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Lithuania, among other countries, has agreed to the terms of the Helsinki Final Act, which calls upon governments to respect religious freedom and minority rights as well as guarantee free speech and political dissent. Lithuania has successfully moved to establish a strong democratic government, holding fair elections since 1991 and supporting an independent judiciary, both of which are critical components for maintaining rule of law and fighting corruption in any country.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join my colleagues in supporting this resolution, in saluting the accomplishments of Lithuania and looking forward with great pride and expectation to the future. I urge my colleagues to take a moment to reflect on the unique Lithuanian culture and its contribution to the world.