Just after VE Day in 1945, when George Marshall was U.S. Army chief of staff, he sent his biennial report to Congress with an unusual comment. He said, "If man does find the solution to world peace, it will be the most revolutionary reversal of his record we have ever known."
After years of world war, no wonder Marshall was skeptical. But he was also a man of hope. In the years that followed this world war, Marshall helped to usher in not one, but two solutions to peace in Europe -- the Marshall Plan, which helped to revive and rebuild the economies of Western Europe, but also NATO, which protected Western Europe from aggression during the Cold War.
During this period, President Truman said that, "Individuals make history and not the other way around. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better." That is certainly true of the leaders who helped to build a new trans-Atlantic community of free nations, a half century ago. And it is true today, at another turning point in history. Today we have the opportunity to complete Marshall's vision of a Europe whole and free. In order to achieve that vision, we must summon the courage and skill to extend the trans-Atlantic community of free nations.
There is no better place to address this future than here in Prague. Thirty years ago in Prague Spring, tanks rumbled down these streets to crush the stirrings of liberty. Now, liberty is blooming throughout Eastern and Central Europe. NATO and Russia have signed the Founding Act, which commits us to a future of cooperation, not confrontation. We are transforming NATO into an alliance for the 21st Century, with new missions and new partners. Now NATO is ready to take the historic step of inviting new members into the alliance by 1999, the 50th anniversary of the alliance.
NATO has come a long way in four years. In the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, some said there's no threat: why do we still need NATO? And why should the United States maintain this commitment to European security?
We still need NATO because NATO is essential for European and North American defense and security. Over the past four decades, NATO has been a unifying force for stability in a fragmented, unstable world. The United States remains committed to NATO because if Europe is in danger, America is in danger; when Europe is secure, America is secure. That is why US forces along with allies and partners are helping to give peace a chance to endure in Bosnia. And that is why America is committed to building a new NATO for the security challenges of the 21st Century.
Together we have made a lot of progress in building this new NATO in the year since our last workshop in Warsaw. We are launching the Enhanced PFP and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, which will bring NATO and its Partners even closer together with more intensive military exercises, planning, consultations and other activities. These outreach programs also pave the way for further NATO enlargement and offer a role for European democracies that do not seek formal membership in the Alliance. We also have made great progress in changing NATO's internal structure to create a stronger European defense identity.
Most importantly, in two weeks we will invite the first round of new members into NATO. Last month in a speech to the US Military Academy at West Point, President Clinton outlined the four key reasons why NATO enlargement is crucial to European security.
First, NATO enlargement will strengthen the Alliance in meeting the security challenges of the 21st Century. Collective defense is better than going it alone. Enlarging NATO will enlarge the circle of like-minded nations able to protect one another from threats of the new world, including ethnic conflict, regional aggression, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Some have asked whether adding new members will dilute NATO's military strength. The answer is an unmitigated "no." Every new member of NATO will be a contributor of security, not just a consumer. That means their forces will be able to fight alongside NATO's and help protect NATO territory.
The second reason to enlarge NATO is that it will help secure the historic gains of democracy in Europe. NATO membership will provide new democracies with the security to become even stronger democracies in the 21st Century, just as in the past NATO membership provided Western European nations such as Germany, Italy and Spain the security they needed to establish and cement strong democratic principles.
The third reason to enlarge NATO is that it will encourage prospective members to resolve their differences peacefully. By enlarging NATO, we enlarge the zone of stability NATO provides. In the past, NATO membership has helped to reconcile France and Germany and provide a forum for resolution of tensions between members such as Greece and Turkey.
Today, NATO's open door has provided a powerful impetus for Central and Eastern European nations to resolve past disputes and reach a series of unprecedented agreements to ensure stable borders, promote cooperation and address mutual concerns about the treatment of ethnic minorities. These agreements include the Polish-Lithuanian treaty of 1994, the Hungarian Slovakian treaty of 1996, the agreements between Poland and Ukraine, and the 1996 treaty between Hungary and Romania. And I applaud our Czech hosts for their 1996 agreement with Germany over Sudeten and other issues.
Finally, enlarging NATO will erase the artificial line in Europe that divided the continent during the Cold War. The prospect of NATO membership is like a magnet, drawing our nations closer together. Taken with the Partnership for Peace, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the NATO-Russia Founding Act, enlargement is serving to connect our capitals, coalesce our militaries and bridge our differences. Just the mere act of discussing, consulting and negotiating over the future of European security has erased the mental dividing lines, replacing them with growing trust, understanding and cooperation. Meanwhile, our nations are erasing the old divides from the ground up as our forces serve together in Bosnia.
There is overwhelming evidence that enlarging NATO will be good for the North Atlantic community. Now the question for NATO is which new members to invite first? After extensive discussion with Allies and candidate countries, with members of Congress, and within his Administration, President Clinton last week decided that the United States will support Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic for the first round invitations on the basis that these three countries have demonstrated the necessary level of progress on military, political, economic and social reform. At the same time, the United States recognizes the impressive strides made by Slovenia and Romania and views both as strong candidates for future NATO membership.
The United States has adopted the deliberate approach to enlargement because inviting accession is a highly important action. It carries heavy obligations both for the new and the old members. The prudent course is to defer invitations where the countries are on the right path, but need more time. This approach is all the more appropriate given that the door to membership is going to remain open.
There are some other advantages to limiting the number of the initial invitations. The problems and costs of enlargement will be diminished, if only a limited number of countries need to be assimilated into NATO's operations at one time. A small initial group underscores that there are really going to be additional rounds. And the United States also took into consideration the view that for so momentous a decision, there ought to be a strong consensus in its support. And therefore it's right to act now only in the cases where there is strong unity of view leaving others for later action.
It's a basic premise of US policy that there should be a clear commitment by the Alliance at Madrid to early further rounds of membership. First, we should make an unequivocal commitment to keeping the door open. Second, we should continue our dialogues focused on membership issues. Third, we should explicitly reject the notion that any European democracy will be excluded from membership solely on the basis of geography. Fourth, the Alliance should regularly review the progress of additional nations toward readiness for membership.
In addition, we're going to attach great importance to implementing the measures the Alliance has planned to strengthen the links between NATO and Partner countries whether they are seeking membership or not.
But it is not enough for us to shake hands and sign papers in the relative privacy of our capital halls and conference rooms. NATO enlargement cannot occur -- and indeed, it should not occur -- without the consent of the people of our nations and their elected legislative representatives. As President Clinton said last month, "Because it is not without cost and risk, it is appropriate to have an open, full, national discussion."
As democracies, we have learned that public support for government actions, particularly actions involving national security, legitimizes those actions. As Thomas Jefferson said in 1799, "citizens have a right to full information in a case of great concernment to them. It is their sweat which is to earn all the expenses of war, and their blood which is to flow in expiation of the causes of it."
So we need to have "open, full, national discussions" about the costs and benefits of enlarging NATO. And we must have these discussions not just in the 16 NATO nations, but in every nation that would join NATO. That is the proposition I present tonight. Together, we must begin now to build public support in Europe and America for NATO enlargement.
50 years ago, George Marshall faced a similar challenge with the Marshall Plan. In his Harvard University commencement address outlining the need for the plan, he said, "The very mass of facts presented to the public by press and radio make it exceedingly difficult for the man in the street to reach a clear appraisement of the situation." Marshall then spent the next year trying to remedy that problem. He traveled across the United States promoting the plan to labor unions, farmers, journalists, local politicians, women's groups, veterans and others. In the end, the US Congress approved the plan.
||Later President Truman said that Marshall "would be the first to agree that it is more than the creation of statesmen. It comes from the minds and hearts of all the people."
|| The new NATO must also be more than the creation of statesmen -- it must come from the minds and hearts of all the people. It is our responsibility as democratic leaders to make a clear and compelling case for it, explaining the costs, the benefits and the modalities of enlargement.
In closing, let me congratulate our hosts, President Havel and the people of the Czech Republic, for their efforts to integrate their nation into the Europe that George Marshall envisioned 50 years ago. They demonstrate the good that comes when people focus their energies on the future. President Havel once told a story that exemplifies this way of thinking. Sometime after he became president, he was approached by a man who interrogated him during his last spell in jail in 1989. The man had a bold favor to ask: Would President Havel put in a good word for him so he could stay with the police as an interrogator? The President said yes, and he did it.
That generosity of spirit is what the new Europe is all about. It is the spirit of George Marshall 50 years ago, reaching America's hand across the Atlantic. It is the spirit of new hands today that reach across the old divides in Europe. By keeping with this generosity of spirit, we can realize Marshall's vision for a North Atlantic community with a new Europe, whole and free.