Clinton Approves New NATO Members
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 27, 1998 The United States four years ago proposed opening the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to new members. That proposal is fast becoming a reality.
On May 21, President Clinton signed accession ratification documents at a White House ceremony to make the United States the fifth nation to approve the admission of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to NATO. The three would be the first new members since Spain joined the alliance in 1982. The Senate had approved adding the three former Warsaw Pact nations with an 80-19 vote April 30.
Canada, Denmark, Germany and Norway have also approved the admissions to date, but all 16 NATO members are required to ratify new members. NATO officials would like the process to be finished before the alliance's 50th anniversary summit, to be held in Washington April 24-25, 1999.
Western allies formed NATO in 1949 as a united front against aggression. The original members were the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Canada, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Greece and Turkey joined in 1952, followed by West Germany in 1955.
Enlarging NATO benefits both new and old members, Clinton said. "For the 60 million people who live in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, they now know that what they build in peace they will be able to keep in security."
The 16 current members, he said, gain new allies ready to contribute troops, technology and ingenuity needed to defend allied territory, provide mutual security and pursue vital interests.
"We want to imagine a future in which our children will be much less likely to cross the Atlantic to fight and die in a war, but much more likely to find partners in security, in cultural, commercial and educational endeavors," Clinton said.
The United States supports NATO expansion, Partnership for Peace and all efforts toward European integration and unity, the president said. "Our goal is to help to build a Europe that is undivided, free, democratic, at peace and secure; a Europe in which Russia, Ukraine and other states of the former Soviet Union join with us to make common cause; a dynamic new Europe with partnership for commerce and cooperation."
Reaching this goal requires more work, building closer ties among Partnership for Peace nations and strengthening NATO ties with Russia and Ukraine, Clinton said. "We must achieve deeper reductions in our nuclear forces and lower the limits on conventional arms across the European continent."
The president praised the new members and Partnership for Peace nations for supporting NATO operations in Bosnia. "We have to see through our efforts to secure a lasting peace in the Balkans, and we cannot walk away until the job is done," he said.
Europeans can continue to count on the United States, Clinton vowed. "We remind the world that tomorrow, as yesterday, American will defend its values, protect its interests and stand by its friends."
While critics have said NATO enlargement would cost too much, Clinton certified that adding the new members will not increase the U.S. share of NATO's common budget, nor will it obligate the United States to subsidize the three countries. He told the Senate enlargement will not detract from America's ability to meet its other military requirements. DoD officials estimate the U.S. contribution to expansion will be $400 million over 10 years.
At the Pentagon following the White House ceremony, Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe, said that officials in the three invitee nations greeted the Senate vote with "an enormous sense of pride and a tremendous sense of relief." These countries have "long sought an association with the United States," he said.
The NATO commander told reporters the new allies have borne the responsibilities of providing adequate resources and they have realistic plans in place. "Based on my visits to the three countries, they've got some good people leading their armed forces who can handle these plans. So I feel very comfortable about that."
Clark praised Hungarian, Polish and Czech troops for doing a "very credible job" serving among their counterparts in Bosnia. "We can be very proud to have these people with us in NATO."