NATO Invites Seven Nations to Join
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
PRAGUE, Czech Republic, Nov. 21, 2002 NATO heads of state have invited seven countries to join the alliance.
The invitations to Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania mean that the Western Alliance would have members that were once part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The heads of state also invited Bulgaria and Romania, and Slovakia and Slovenia.
Before the vote, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson called the meeting here "the transformation summit." He said by enlarging NATO and modernizing military capabilities, the alliance will reinforce "that essential trans-Atlantic bond on which our security and defense still depend."
Robertson noted that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, showed the alliance a whole new level of threats. "A deadly cocktail of threats is now menacing free societies," he said. "Terrorists and their backers, the failed states in which they flourish, and proliferating weapons of mass destruction, pose a genuine threat to everyone in the Free World," he said.
After the vote, French President Jacques Chirac said the vote to include the new countries eliminates the final dividing lines in Europe.
President Bush said NATO enlargement "strengthens our nation's most important alliance. By welcoming seven members, we not only add to our military capabilities, but we refresh the spirit of this great democratic alliance.
"We believe our decision today reaffirms our commitment to freedom and our commitment to a Europe that is whole, free and at peace."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the vote historic and a reaffirmation of NATO's values. The alliance is not only a military alliance, but an organization of democratic states that believes in the rule of law and individual freedoms. He said anyone who questions NATO's relevance should talk to the new members about why they wanted to join.
The seven nations will now begin negotiations with NATO officials to enter the alliance. All invitees' legislatures must approve joining.
In statements following the vote, many speakers stressed that NATO is not a weapon aimed at any country, and that Russia should not feel threatened by the enlargement.
Robertson stressed that the door to NATO is still open. "Today's invitees will not be the last," he said. "Through the membership action plan process, we will continue to help you pursue your reform process, and we remain committed to your full integration into the Euro-Atlantic family of nations."
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization started in 1949 with 12 countries. Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic were the most recent invitees in 1999.