The Baltic Entente was based on Treaty of Understanding and Collaboration signed between Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia on September 12, 1934 in Geneva. The main objective of the agreement was joint action in foreign policy. It also included mutual commitments to support each other politically, and to give diplomatic support in international communication. The endeavour was ultimately unsuccessful - the combined strength of the three nations and statements of neutrality were insubstantial in the face of the massive armies of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The plans for division of control of European lands located between the two powers laid out in the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact assigned the Baltic countries into Soviet "sphere of influence". As a result, in 1940 all three countries were indeed occupied by and annexed into the Soviet Union.
The idea of setting up a Baltic Union started gaining momentum between 1914 and 1918 and became a direct consequence of people's hopes for independence. The concept of uniting Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania originated in the minds of the numerous refugees who had no other choice than to flee to the west to escape the tyranny at home. They pooled their efforts in the struggle to achieve freedom and create nationhood. Their efforts became more evident after the end of World War I in 1918.
Thanks to the victory of Entente in World War I, and to the relative international weakening of both Germany and Russia, it became possible for the Baltic states to turn theoretical ideas into practice, establishing themselves politically in the international arena. All three Baltic countries managed to secure their independence by signing individual peace treaties with Russia in 1920. This was a big step in the way of diplomatic cooperation between the Baltic states, and allowed each nation to receive recognition of their sovereignty from the other states. Acceptance of the Baltic States as members of the League of Nations in September 1921 meant that Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian security seemed endorsed. The major outcome of World War I — the "Versailles system" — determined a new international order in Europe. Under the new conditions, the issue of solidifying independence for the Baltic States was of paramount importance.
However it was not until 1934 that establishing the union was possible. Lithuania remained reluctant to the idea, because its international political strategy contradicted these of Latvia and Estonia. While Latvia and Estonia saw Germany and Soviet Russia as the primary dangers, Lithuania sought to ally with these states. Only Polish-Soviet and German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact of 1934 resulted in collapse of Lithuanian foreign relations strategy and forced it to change its position.
At the heart of the establishment of the Entente was the desire of its members to prolong and solidify the peace. The reasons for establishment of the Entente are well expressed in the preamble to the Baltic Entente treaty, which was signed on September 12, 1934:
Firmly resolved to contribute to the maintenance and guarantee of the peace, and to coordinate their external policy within the spirit of the principles of the Pact of the League of Nations, the Baltic States have resolved to conclude a treaty.
At the heart of the organization of the Baltic Entente was a coordinating agency. The need to create it was presupposed by the plans of the Entente to pursue a unified foreign policy. The responsibility of the agency is stipulated in the Article 2 of the treaty:
For the purpose stated in the first Article, the contracting parties have elected to institute periodic conferences of the Foreign Ministers of the three countries.
Factors of disintegration
Were it not for the “internal weaknesses” and a conflict with Poland, the Baltic Entente “could have been a significant entity”. One of the first incidents which led to the demise of this union was the Polish-Lithuanian crisis. The crisis resulted from the death of a Polish soldier on the Lithuanian border. The Polish government used this incident as leverage to force Lithuania back into diplomatic contact with Poland. Moreover, the Entente never materialized into a real political force because of maintaining its initial policy of neutrality on the verge of World War II ― the time when maintaining neutrality was evident miscalculation. The following are the additional factors which, in the end, led to the collapse of the Baltic Entente:
- A vague definition of what was considered to be a threat and who was the mutual enemy. From the very day of its establishment the Entente lacked a unified conception of what they consider to be a threat and who their enemies were. This ambiguity led to a lack of common goals among the member countries, and brought the feeling that cooperation was not beneficial for mutual advantage.
- Lack of ability to create mutual safety. Since the Baltic Entente did not become a military alliance, its members could not rely on the organization to provide for their security.
- Lack of an economic foundation. The fact that all three countries were not integrated into a mutually beneficial economic domain took its toll on significant weakening the alliance. Having had similar economic structures, all three were forced to compete with each other, rather than to cooperate.
- Failure to establish the feeling of unity. Differences in the nations’ destinies, mentalities and cultures set precedent for misunderstandings. Since the Baltic nations felt no common historical identity, the union of the estranged nations intensified these sentiments and made the Baltic people diverge from one another even further.
- Text of the treaty of Good Understanding and Co-operation. LNTSer 227; "Estonia-Latvia-Lithuania: Treaty of Understanding and Collaboration". The American Journal of International Law. 4 supplement (30): 174–177. 1936.
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- Kaslas, The Baltic Nations, p. 176.
- Kaslas, The Baltic Nations, p. 177.
- Kaslas, The Baltic Nations, p. 178.
- Feldmanis, Destiny of the Baltic Entente, p. 32.
- Feldmanis, Destiny of the Baltic Entente, p. 98.
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- Łossowski, Piotr; Bronius Makauskas (2005). Kraje bałtyckie w latach przełomu 1934-1944 (in Polish). Scientific Editor Andrzej Koryna. Warszawa: Instytut Historii PAN; Fundacja Pogranicze. ISBN 83-88909-42-8.