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Historic Pageantry Honors NATO's Founding

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 26, 1999 – One for all, and all for one. This collective defense pledge is at the heart of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and 19 nations renewed it April 23, 50 years after the security alliance was born.

By signing the Treaty of Washington in April 1949, the United States and 11 like-minded nations agreed to defend each other's people, territory and liberty. The organization's foundation was based on three common values -- democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

This year, 19 NATO member nations, including the three newest, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, signed the Washington Declaration. "The world has changed dramatically over the last half century, but our common values and security interests remain the same," the declaration states.

The site chosen for April 23 signing ceremony was the same one used 50 years ago -- the Mellon Auditorium on Constitution Avenue, in the heart of the nation's capital. U.S. service members bore NATO's national flags into the grand hall in the order of each country's accession.

Opening the historic event, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana pointed out that the alliance has successfully protected its members "against any form of aggression or intimidation" for 50 years. "NATO has never been only about defense. This alliance has always sought to promote peace," he said, and this is evident in NATO's efforts to end the Kosovo crisis.

NATO continues to demonstrate that "values have meaning," Solana said. "The founding fathers of this alliance would be proud of what we have done, and of what we are doing."

Prior to signing the declaration, the heads of state or government of each of the 19 nations spoke briefly. President Clinton said the occasion was one to honor NATO's past, to reaffirm its present mission in Kosovo and to envision its future.

NATO's founders had sought strength through unity, Clinton noted. The original 12 North American and European nations were determined to build "a new Europe on the ruins of the old through a mutual commitment to each other's security and freedom," he said.

Today, thanks to NATO, Clinton said, most of Europe is free and at peace. He then welcomed NATO's new members -- Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic -- three countries "now pledged to defend what was too long denied to them."

Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, noted that the three new members were part of the Warsaw Pact less than 10 years ago. Their admission to NATO signifies the "real and definitive end" of the division of Europe and the world, the fall of the Iron Curtain and the demise of the Yalta arrangement, he said.

"Let us hope that we are thus entering a world in which the fates of nations are not decided by powerful foreign dictators, but by the nations themselves," Havel said.

[The Allies met in Yalta, a small town on the Crimean Peninsula in what is now Ukraine, in February 1945 and agreed that each would administer the territory it held at the end of World War II -- by May, the Soviet Union occupied all of Eastern Europe.]

Joining this alliance based on solidarity and determination to defend shared values represents one of the most important moments in the Czech Republic's dramatic history, he continued. "We are conscious not only of the assurances we have received with this affiliation, but also of the responsibilities which it entails."

Havel thanked NATO as a representative of his nation, a European and as one who understands that "peace can hardly be attained without the readiness to defend it against the forces of evil."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair noted in his address before the alliance that he is younger than NATO, which was founded after his father fought in World War II. "I know that, without NATO, Europe and the world would have been a less secure and peaceful place. My generation owe a lot to the vision and courage of NATO's founders," he said.

Along with celebrating its past, Blair noted, NATO "can be proud of its fighting role today." The alliance cannot stand by and allow Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's genocidal policy to succeed, he said. "Reversing the hideous policy of ethnic cleansing is the best anniversary memorial NATO could have."

Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States signed the Treaty of Washington in 1949. Greece and Turkey joined the alliance in 1952, followed by Germany in 1955 and Spain in 1982. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined in March 1999.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNATO leaders gathered at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C., April 23, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the alliance founding and prepare the security alliance for the 21st century. NATO Photo   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePresident Clinton greets NATO Secretary General Javier Solana during the opening of NATO's 50th anniversary summit, April 23, in Washington, D.C. NATO Photo  
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