John Finkbeiner Read a Lecture on US Foreign Policy

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On April 6, the Political-Economic Chief at the Embassy of the United States in Lithuania, John Finkbeiner, read a public lecture about foreign policy of the U.S. at the VMU Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy (Gedimino g. 44, room 203).

Martynas Gedvila, m.gedvila@vkt.vdu.lt

In a lecture that was open to all interested, John Finkbeiner, the Political-Economic Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania, discussed  foreign policy priorities of the USA in Europe, including U.S.-European cooperation on global issues. The guest said his country’s approach towards the world could be best described with a quote by the President Obama: "America’s relationship with our European allies and partners is the cornerstone of our engagement with the world".

“We have a big Embassy, but we have a lot of issues in the United States. Focus on Europe is particularly important to us. That’s what keeps us busy at the Embassy down in Vilnius", Finkbeiner said. 

A Glimpse at Historical Winds of Change in Europe

A summed up history of the partnership between the USA and Europe, and Lithuania in particular, was recounted in the beginning of lecture. The Embassy representative, currently living in Lithuania, remembered the Soviet occupation and how much has changed over the last 25 years: “I certainly never thought I would actually ever live in a place like Lithuania, which was part of this big conglomerate, the Soviet Union, which for my generation once was the main threat to the United States’ national security. So the idea of actually living and working in a free Lithuania was something I could not have anticipated. And yet in just a quarter of century, look how much has changed throughout much of Europe, and because of that change the way the US engages with Europe changed completely”, Finkbeiner said and reminded the audience of the former US mission of defending Europe from the Soviet Union.

Afterwards, the guest proceeded to name three overall objectives in the US relationship with Europe: partnership with the Old Continent in meeting global challenges, US-European relations with Russia and working with Europe on European issues; Finkbeiner then explained the latter: "It means talking about how we engage with Lithuania, the European Union and our NATO partners to address other parts of Europe that have not achieved the progress that Lithuania and this part of Europe has achieved”, refering to further integration of post-Soviet Eastern European countries, which have not progressed as much as Lithuania, into the European Union.

The Embassy’s Political-Economic Chief emphasised the significance of Lithuania’s role in the war with Afghanistan, calling the Baltic nation "the smallest member of NATO to actually take on the challenge of organizing a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan”.

Discussed the Problem Countries

Missile defence, according to Finkbeiner, is an important issue in the context of US-European relations. At the last NATO Summit in Lisbon in November of 2010, where both the President of the USA Barack Obama and the President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė participated, an important decision was made: "The NATO partners agreed that it was important to defend Europe and develop a missile defense system that would cover all of the European territory”, Finkbeiner reminded the audience.

The guest also devoted time to discuss the issues in North Africa and the Middle East, areas where progress is still sought, such as Georgia, Osettia, Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, etc. The hot topic of Libya was not avoided as well, as Finkbeiner discussed the no-fly zone over Libya, imposition of strict sanctions by the UN and the African country’s suspension from the Human Rights Council.

Finkbeiner brought attention to the importance of Lithuania’s role in the US and European relations with Belarus. Both the EU and the USA condemned the post-election crackdown and provide coordinated assistance to resistance groups in Belarus, while Lithuania helps to address all these issues by being geographically close and communicating with its Eastern neighbour. The Embassy representative explained that Lithuania currently holds the chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), where Belarus holds membership as well, whereas the OSCE works on the issues of human rights, freedom of the press and other problems that are evident in Belarus.

Relations with Russia were also discussed in the lecture: “The US-Russia relationship and the EU-Russia relationship in many respects is two sides of the same coin, it is important to both our entities to have productive communications with the Russian government, not only to deal with the security issues that we feel in terms of Russia itself, but also addressing issues in many areas around the world where we need cooperation from Russia, such as Iran and North Korea”, Finkbeiner said and also mentioned the fact that Russia agreed to allow the U.S. and NATO transit its territory as part of the supply line to Afghanistan, called the Northern Distribution Network.

Lithuania Standing Tall on Global Stage

When the talk shifted to the US-Baltic relations, Finkbeiner said that the Molotov-Ribentrop Pact, which resulted in Lithuania being occupied by the Soviet Union for 50 years, was something he vaguely remembered from history lessons at school before becoming more involved in the work in Lithuania. He said that even though the Baltic nations were occupied, their embassies in the United States have never been closed. The Embassy’s representative also talked about the Baltic Charter, a significant agreement signed by the USA and the Baltic states in 1998, which is not often remembered because most of its goals – Baltic countries joining the EU and NATO, integration into Europe, security cooperation, etc. – have been sucessfully achieved.

The Article V of the NATO Treaty was mentioned as well, which states that all partners commit to the national security of other partners. "Lithuania takes that seriously, that’s why they are in Afghanistan", Finkbeiner said.

The lecture also attracted attention to the fact that this year Lithuania is holding important positions at global organizations: it is currently holding the chair of the Community of Democracies, where Lithuania is the president since 2009, and the chairmanship of the previously mentioned OSCE. Another significant issue brought up by Finkbeiner was the energy security of Lithuania as NATO partner – the Baltic country’s insecurity because of its dependence on Russia, vulnerability to being cut off supply.

Lithuanian-U.S. Ties Still Developing

Members of the audience had quite a few questions to the guest from the Embassy. One of the more notable queries concerned the lack of American companies’ investments into Lithuania. "Lithuania has been, like we say in America, off the radar. American companies don’t know much about Lithuania, it is a mysterious country to a lot of export firms. But it is changing. Some American companies see opportunities and go after them, but they never come to the US Embassies for help. I think that trade is something that tends to develop over time, and because Lithuania had very strong trade ties within the Soviet Union, it still has them with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Baltic states and Germany; those have persisted, while twenty years ago it did not have strong ties with the US. It’s also because the US government does not have influence over US exports, those companies never talk to government officials about this", Finkbeiner said.

Dr. Linas Venclauskas, the Vice Dean of the VMU Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy, had this to say before the U.S. Embassy representative’s visit: "Vytautas Magnus University is very pleased by the visits of honourable guests, how they reveal the experience they have collected and how varying they are in points of view. President Valdas Adamkus visited the university on March 30 and shared insights on the current trends of Lithuanian foreign policy and its future perspectives, while yet another very interesting, interactive meeting will take place on April 6, this time with the representative of the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania and a diplomat, John Finkbeiner". According to dr. Venclauskas, it is important to not just read theories in textbooks but also listen to the insights and opinions of experienced people working at responsible positions, analyze the differences and similarities in the predictions by ourselves and the visiting guests.

You are welcome to view the lecture’s photo report by Jonas Petronis (j.petronis@vkt.vdu.lt).

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