JBANC considers US Democratic presidential candidates through Baltic lens

Participants in the tenth Democratic 2020 presidential debate in Charleston, South Carolina. February 25, 2020. L-R: Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Warren, Sanders, Biden, Klobuchar, Steyer.
Participants in the tenth Democratic 2020 presidential debate in Charleston, South Carolina. February 25, 2020. L-R: Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Warren, Sanders, Biden, Klobuchar, Steyer. Source: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Scanpix

The Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC), a Washington-based nonprofit that monitors issues affecting Baltic-American communities as well as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, published a report earlier this week providing an overview of the positions of the current Democratic candidates for the 2020 U.S. presidential elections, based on the candidates' previous public statements, votes, plans and actions related to the Baltics as well as related issues such as their support for NATO and sanctions on Russia.

Bernie Sanders
U.S. senator, Vermont

While the Sanders campaign has stated that the candidate supports the U.S.' ongoing membership in NATO, and in 2016 called it the "most successful military alliance in, probably, human history," just one year prior, he had called for a new NATO that would include Russia, JBANC noted. As far back as in 1997, then-Congressman Sanders opposed NATO enlargement, including any future membership for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the alliance, calling it an unnecessary provocation against Russia.

The nonprofit also expressed concern over Sanders' opposition to U.S. sanctions against the Putin regime in Russia, noting that while Sanders had justified his vote against new sanctions in 2017 with the fact that he opposed the measure due to sanctions included in it against Iran, the senator is on record voting against or not voting on all Russia sanctions.

Joe Biden
Former U.S. vice president

Biden has a "very strong" track record in supporting the Baltic countries and NATO, JBANC noted, having shown clear support for the three countries during his term as vice president, prior to that in the U.S. Senate, and as a public figure and during his current campaign.

On an official visit to Latvia on the anniversary of the Baltic Way and signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 2016, where he also met with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, he pledged U.S. support to the Baltics, emphasized bipartisan support for NATO, and strongly dismissed then-presidential candidate Donald Trump's anti-NATO rhetoric; this year, he has voiced concerns that NATO would "end within four years" in case Trump is re-elected.

While serving as senator from Delaware, Biden co-sponsored the "Baltic Freedom Day" Resolution, and in 1998 served as a floor manager during the U.S. Senate's first vote on NATO enlargement since the Cold War.

Michael Bloomberg
Former mayor, New York

While Bloomberg, a relatively late addition to the list of Democratic candidates for president, has criticized Trump for enabling Russia to interfere in the U.S. election process, remarks have recently resurfaced from a speech he gave at the Aspen Institute in 2015, in which he compared Russia's annexation of Crimea with the U.S.' annexation of California, and later to the U.S. possession of Guantanamo Bay.

Bloomberg has likewise considered NATO enlargement to be a provocation against Russia, stating, "One of the reasons that Putin has reacted the way he did is there was a movement to have NATO be right along the Russian border."

Pete Buttigieg
Former mayor, South Bend, Indiana

Buttigieg has an advantage in foreign policy, JBANC notes, as he served in the U.S. Navy Reserve as a naval intelligence officer as well as completed a tour in Afghanistan. His stance on near peer military powers such as Russia is that of a realist, and he has called for a new policy on Russia that "must include a regional security framework that promotes stability for Eastern Europe and incentivizes Russia to adhere to international norms."

The former mayor has also praised Estonia on a few occasions, including regarding governance, transportation, technological innovation and progressive policies. His pro-NATO stance aims to treat current increases in EU defense capabilities and structured cooperation as a "force multiplier" in tandem with U.S. forces and NATO.

Elizabeth Warren
U.S. senator, Massachusetts

Warren has spent time in Eastern Europe, expanding her foreign policy platform, including a visit to Estonia in 2017, when she met with then-foreign minister Sven Mikser (SDE) to discuss cyber and defense cooperation and EU-U.S. trade relations, as well as visited the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn, which she applauded for its position as a forerunner in European technological and cyber capabilities following 2007 cyberattacks from Russia.

In a statement to Congress, Warren noted that "Russia is actively working to destabilize countries along its borders and to undermine the European Union and NATO." She blames Trump for the backsliding of EU and NATO relations, tweeting that "undermining NATO is a gift to Putin that [Trump] seems all too happy to give."

Amy Klobuchar
U.S. senator, Minnesota

Klobuchar visited all three Baltic states in 2016, accompanied by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), where they met with Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) to discuss NATO relations and EU defense and reaffirmed unchanged relations following Trump's comments about NATO being "obsolete."

The senator has supported various sanctions on Russia following cyberattacks on U.S. elections and critical infrastructure, stating that "sanctions alone will not stop Russian cyberattacks," as well as called on the U.S. to begin negotiations for the New START Treaty; the current treaty, signed to halt the proliferation of nuclear and kinetic arms, is set to expire next February.

Click here to read JBANC's report, complete with sources, in full.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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