- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001

President Bushs meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels today and his meeting in Poland on Friday should provide his European NATO partners with confidence in the United States positions on three fronts. First, the members should be assured that they are invaluable partners in strengthening NATO and that enhanced dialogue between the members is a top priority. Second, the United States should express its intention to extend invitations to those among the 10 candidates who are qualified militarily, economically and politically at the Prague summit next year. Third, in the evaluation of political and strategic considerations, Russia should have no veto right over new members, specifically over the induction of the Baltic countries.
Europe is now waiting to be convinced that President Bushs rejection of the Kyoto treaty and his determination to go ahead with a National Missile Defense (NMD) plan despite European reservations does not mean that a transatlantic dialogue has turned into a monologue. A definitive invitation to candidate members would send a statement that the United States is willing to risk being the first of the major NATO powers to declare that it will be a defense ally with newly democratic countries for the sake of building a more secure Europe.
This the United States, and its allies, can do with confidence. A comprehensive RAND study by Thomas Szayna on the readiness of candidates called "NATOs Further Enlargement, 2000-2015" places the Baltics as well as Slovenia and Slovakia well on their way to becoming members. The candidates, which now include Romania, Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Bulgaria in addition to the Baltics, must complete a membership action plan (MAP) which includes development of military cooperation, consensus-building within NATO, and consideration of the countrys strategic, economic and military benefits to the alliance. While Slovenia has completed all of the MAP criteria, according to the study, Slovakia is not far behind in its strategic attractiveness. The Baltics have also completed the military cooperation and consensus-building chapters in the MAP process, and are currently subject to negotiations within NATO.
These negotiations come with political ramifications, of course. Since 1939, when the Hitler-Stalin Pact confiscated the independence of the Baltics Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia the Soviets have tried to make sure that the three countries were controlled militarily, economically and politically. In 1990, the Baltics began a concerted effort to break that control and by September of 1991, the United States was the 37th country to recognize their independence. Four days later, Boris Yeltsin did as well. More than a decade later, Moscow is still opposing the right to self determination for the three countries. Last month at a NATO conference for candidate members in Bratislava, the Russian embassy called NATOs enlargement plans a "grave mistake." Now is not the time for the United States to be ambivalent about whether the door will be left open to the Baltics in Prague next year.
President Bush has a historic opportunity today to focus Europes attention on how far these candidate states have come. Now is not the time for the United States to stall.

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