Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 27
30 March 1999

The Amber Coast T H E   A M B E R   C O A S T:
Reflections in the Ice

Mel Huang

Spending the last few days in both Reykjavik, Iceland and Washington, I feel a historical reflection seems most appropriate. It was during the mess following the hard-liner coup in Moscow in the summer of 1991 that the unlikely hero for the Baltic states stepped into the forefront. After the three countries re-iterated their declaration to restore independence, the small NATO member, Iceland was first to recognise that status.

Once someone took that first step, the floodgates opened and everyone else, including the faltering Soviet Union, recognised the restoration of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania's independence. Though the United States - with its incompetent Bush-led foreign policy - eventually recognised the Baltics, the delay embarrassed the hundreds of congressmen and senators from both parties that supported the Baltics from the early going.

People in Iceland proudly recall and recite their role in the re-establishment of independence in the Baltics. From customs officers to hotel managers, I constantly heard that reference when they saw where I was from: Estonia. On the other hand, back in the US, people did not even know where Iceland was -- no point in bringing up Estonia.

This reflection is sadly also cast into the present and future. Iceland, being the small and army-less member of NATO, has actively campaigned to bring Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the defence alliance. Of course, with no military nor fear of attack, they can talk larger than others. However, Norway has also made similar requests, despite being the only NATO country to border Russia proper (Poland, after all, borders only the Kaliningrad Oblast). Still, the foot-dragging of the US back in 1991 can be projected into the present with the reaction towards the Kosova crisis.

Despite his own delays, President Clinton has finally taken the responsible step in Kosova. However, this time the House of Representatives and Senate have both voiced concerns both from an intelligent and senseless point of view. Of course, the risk of American casualties should be seriously considered. However, people seem to forget that the US military is a purely professional army and there are no conscripted troops. Therefore, the repeated use of the same arguments since World War I is senseless. The ignorance over anything outside of the US border is amazing in the most powerful legislature in the world.

Listening to the debate in Washington, I find it horrendous to hear ranking members speak about how France, Germany and England have centuries-old animosities and crisis can re-emerge there in the same way as the Balkans. This was from ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Joseph Biden (Delaware).

Then there are those unintelligent Republicans, who, after gaining a strong new presence in the mid 1990s with the 'Republican Revolution,' talk non-stop in isolationist tones. I still remember one of them, after the elections, explaining his pride to never have owned a US passport - as a sign he is patriotic since he has never left the US. I do not call that patriotic, I call that ignorant.

So as I leave Washington to return to Reykjavik for a layover, I get a small sense of relief and worry. Being back in Iceland means being back in Europe - the land where Joe Biden finds ethnic strife in every neighbourhood. He may want to take a quick ride out to SW Washington or back home to Delaware. But a big worry at this stage is if there is this type of resistance to US action in the Balkans when it is prudent, what would happen if the Baltics are threatened from the East? Yes, you got it.

Mel Huang, 30 March 1999


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