On July 23 1940, Acting Secretary of State Sumner Welles issued a statement that came to be known as the Sumner Welles Declaration. In it, he condemned the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states and laid the foundation of the U.S. policy to refuse to recognize the recently installed Soviet governments in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Welles' bold act of diplomacy 78 years ago continues to impact U.S.-Baltic relations to this day. Last week, the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the U.S. Embassy celebrated the anniversary of the Sumner Welles Declaration in Washington Square in Vilnius. The Lithuanians call this event, “Thank you, America!” It is basically a U.S.-Lithuania mutual love fest with speeches by dignitaries, live music, and food trucks serving cheeseburgers and hotdogs. A public diplomacy officer’s dream!
Last year when I attended the event for the first time, I was struck by how one seemingly simple statement could pay such enormous diplomatic dividends. History does not always stay in the past. The basis for the strong relationship our two countries enjoy today goes back to Sumner Welles and his decision to stand up for three small countries most Americans had probably never heard of.
I wonder how our actions today will be commemorated 78 years from now.