NATO Invites Three Nations to Join
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 10, 1997 NATO formally invited the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to join the alliance during its Madrid summit July 8.
If all goes according to schedule, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland will become full-fledged members in 1999, President Clinton said. All three are former members of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.
Clinton said in Madrid NATO's invitation bridges a chasm in history. "We have taken a giant stride in our efforts to create a Europe that is undivided, democratic and at peace, literally for the first time since the rise of the nation-state on the European continent," he said to U.S. embassy personnel and their families.
Clinton called the invitations an important first step, and he made it clear NATO's door is open to other European countries.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the invitation to the three countries ensures the first round of enlargement will make NATO stronger and more cohesive. "By intensifying our dialogues with those nations that continue to seek membership, setting a date certain to review their progress and making it clear that no European democracy will be excluded because of its place on the map, we have made sure that NATO's door will remain open," she said.
Albright said NATO enlargement gives every aspiring nation the incentive to deepen reform and contribute to regional stability.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said NATO will send teams to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to design force improvement plans, set force goals and clarify contributions new members must make to be full-fledged members of the alliance. Prospective NATO members must continue defense reform programs, including developing a professional NCO corps, upgrading training and operation standards to NATO norms and improving military support systems, he said.
Clinton said the invitations to the three countries was not an American achievement. "Every country had its say," he said. "The decision we made was a genuine consensus effort."
He praised the countries invited. "Your heroism made this day possible," Clinton said. "Through long years of darkness, you kept alive the hope of freedom. I still remember the Hungarian uprising of 1956, the Prague Spring of 1968, the Gdansk shipyards in 1981.
"But we also appreciate the fact that when these three nations threw off the shackles of tyranny, they embraced democracy and tolerance." He said they set an example for other new democracies of the region to follow.
Clinton spoke of two other developments from the summit. Internal changes made to NATO, he said, will ready the alliance for future challenges and give Europeans more security responsibility. Also, NATO reached out to a new partner, Ukraine, by signing a pact modeled on the NATO-Russia agreement signed in June.
Under NATO, each member country pledges to regard an attack on any as an attack on itself. Therefore, once Hungary, Poland or the Czech Republic become full members of the alliance, the United States would react to an attack on these countries just like as it would if an enemy started landing on the Texas coast.
The NATO alliance was formed in 1949. The original members were the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Iceland, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Norway, Luxembourg and Denmark. The alliance added Turkey and Greece in 1951 and West Germany in 1954. Spain joined in 1982.