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U.S. Asks Can You? Will You? of NATO Hopefuls

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 29, 2002 – Nine countries are lined up seeking admission into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in November.

The fact that so many emerging democracies are looking to join begs the question of whether the North Atlantic alliance is relevant in the post-Cold War world, said Lord George Robertson, secretary-general of the alliance.

The nine countries seeking admission are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. During a meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, in November, the heads of state of the 19 NATO countries will announce which countries will be invited to join the alliance.

A senior defense official said the United States is looking at NATO enlargement through the lens of two questions. First, how will the admission of the candidate country promote and protect NATO's values and interests?"

Second, how enduring will the applicant country's commitment be to those responsibilities?

What lies behind these questions is a vision of Europe free and undivided, a Europe allowed to grow in peace. "This is in some ways driven by a desire to have a Europe that is even more effective and more capable partner with the United States in promoting our common interests," said the senior official.

In other words, a divided Europe may face security challenges. That Europe would be less able to work with the United States. It is in the United States' interest that democracy flourish in Europe and that the democracies band together.

But NATO is not a club that anyone can join. The nations invited must be ready to shoulder the responsibilities of membership. They must bring capabilities to the alliance.

"Like current members, (the candidate countries) have a variety of different levels and capabilities," the senior official said. "The question is do they bring a net gain to the alliance?"

That call is made based on judgments on what the various nations' politics are, what their economies are, what military capabilities they bring, and how their membership affects the alliance geopolitically.

This is the second round of enlargement since the end of the Cold War. In 1999, the 50th anniversary of the alliance, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland joined NATO. "The round of enlargement in 1999 will significantly influence this round," the defense official said.

"We have a better sense of what to look for," he continued. It benefits applicants because they have a better grasp of what to expect.

The official said the applicants are better prepared this time in part because of NATO's Membership Action Plan. The plan lays out many of the goals candidate countries need to meet to qualify for membership. Some of the countries have been working on their plans since NATO instituted the program in 1997.

Another leg up for many of these countries is their membership in the Partnership for Peace program, formed in 1994. This program enables both applicant countries and others, such as Uzbekistan, to meet and exercise with NATO nations.

Candidate countries have also demonstrated their value and commitment through their contributions to the Stabilization Force in Bosnia and the Kosovo Force. From a U.S. perspective, "European applicants have made contributions to U.S. operations that demonstrate the relevance and value and geographic value of NATO enlargement," said the official. Many of the countries also are part of the international coalition arrayed against global terrorism.

Once the countries become members of NATO, they will be treated as all current members are. "There is no halfway house, no junior partnership (in NATO)," said the official. "They will receive all the rights and benefits of membership, and they will assume the responsibilities of membership and face the same expectations."

The official said the experience of the addition of the three countries in 1999 was worthwhile. He said they have fulfilled all NATO commitments with expediency and enthusiasm. "I think when you look at those new members, one could argue that they bring a refreshing trans-Atlantic perspective," he said. "My sense is any new allies would do the same."

The official said these new countries value the Euro- Atlantic relationship. "They see NATO as relevant, they see NATO's charter as mutually beneficial on both sides of the Atlantic. They want to be in NATO because they value NATO," he said.

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