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Future NATO Members Face Hard Work, Cohen Says

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 16, 1997 – There's hard work ahead for the three Eastern European nations tapped to become NATO's first new members since 1982 and for those nations seeking future membership, according to U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

NATO in early July invited Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to join the security alliance. The three former-Soviet bloc nations are now working to achieve full membership by 1999. Other nations such as Bulgaria, Slovenia and Romania hope to receive invitations in the future.

Countries selected must meet the responsibility of being "a contributor -- not just a consumer -- of collective security," Cohen said. New members must restructure their military forces to be compatible with other NATO forces.

Following a NATO summit in Madrid July 7 to 9, Cohen traveled to Hungary, where he congratulated Hungarian officials on their selection. He also traveled to Bulgaria and reassured its officials the first new members will not be the last.

Bulgaria is a serious contender and candidate for future membership rounds, Cohen said July 13 at the Atlantic Club in Sofia, Bulgaria. "NATO and the United States are committed to walking side by side with Bulgaria down that path and providing all the help we can."

A number of other states have declared their desire to join NATO, and many of them are making excellent progress in preparing themselves for membership, Cohen said. Partnership for Peace remains the best means of preparing for membership, he stressed.

Joining the partnership allows countries seeking membership to interact with NATO and demonstrate they are ready to shoulder membership responsibilities. Since the partnership was formed three years ago, he said, "there have been hundreds of exercises and activities, and the partnership has succeeded beyond the most optimistic expectations."

Enlarging NATO benefits both old and new members, Cohen said. "For new members, it means being part of the most successful peacetime military alliance in history and building closer and stronger ties with the West," he said. "For NATO, it means a stronger alliance by erasing the artificial line that divided Europe and extending a circle of security that can better protect the peace and prevent future war."

But membership also carries heavy obligations, Cohen told Bulgarian officials. "There must be no dilution of NATO's strength," he said. "We must not weaken NATO in the process of enlarging it or threaten overall stability in Europe."

For those countries seeking membership that are on the right path but need more time, Cohen said, it is wise for NATO "to defer invitations, encourage and support continuing reforms, and make sure the door remains open when they are ready."

Once selected nations begin the entry process, Cohen said, the United States and other NATO nations will look for clear assurances that new members understand, and are ready to shoulder, the burdens of membership. This includes the "one for all, all for one" defense commitment at the heart of the security alliance.

When new members' flags are unfurled at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Cohen said, their political and military leaders will help formulate NATO policies and strategies that their forces will help carry out. They will help NATO meet today's security challenges -- forging new ties with Russia, settling regional quarrels, promoting stability and reform in Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia and the Balkans.

The greatest challenge for new members will be to plan and fund compatible military capabilities, stressing interoperability at all levels and training officers to speak English, he said. Restructuring their armed forces will make member nations better able to defend their own territory, contribute to the defense of the alliance and take part in the full range of alliance missions.

NATO will expect new members to complete a national security strategy and invest in training to retain quality forces. It will also expect them to adapt their military doctrine and procedures and upgrade air defense command, control and communications systems to be compatible with NATO.

In the months ahead, NATO staff will visit the three candidate nations to help develop force goals and to answer NATO's Defense Planning Questionnaire, Cohen said. "NATO and the United States are prepared to share our expertise in defense planning and force development in air defense, logistics, infrastructure, training and personnel, and technical advice."

NATO will also help Bulgaria and the others prepare for future invitation rounds. "We are going to share ideas about how forces are organized within democracies, about the defense planning process, about budgets and transparency," he said. "We will offer advice on training issues and creating professional forces. We will provide assistance in becoming interoperable with NATO in the areas of communications, command, control, intelligence and logistics."

Twelve original members founded NATO in 1949: the United States, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United Kingdom. Greece and Turkey joined in 1952, Germany in 1955 and Spain in 1982.

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