- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

The new American president faces the daunting foreign policy agenda of the world's only hyper-power. For the global role of the United States, the partnership and alliance with Europe will continue to be a crucial cornerstone. The future of the transatlantic alliance will be among the first security issues confronting the president after his inauguration. With the NATO alliance pledged to review its open door policy at a summit no later than 2002, important decisions will require prudent American leadership.
The 1999 Washington NATO summit, which sealed the acceptance of Poland, the Czech republic and Hungary as first new members from the former Warsaw Pact, explicitly assured the nations of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) that NATO's door would be held open. In principle, the aspirations of (currently) nine further CEE partners for integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures have been favorably accepted, with the role of the alliance projected as an anchor of stability in the region. Regrettably, Europeans have gone markedly silent on the NATO issue, as they have become absorbed by their own historic megaprojects: the enlargement of the European Union (EU) and the inner reforms required to make a bigger Europe of 27 or more work.
The successful completion of EU enlargement will be a milestone in securing lasting peace and stability in Eastern Europe. Much points to a big bang scenario taking in up to 10 new members by 2004-2005. Of the present candidates, only Bulgaria and Romania will be excluded. Both countries know they will not be ready for the first round and have set themselves different timetables. To keep them on the path of reform for another decade, however, they must be spared a double rejection shock.
Some (West) Europeans might secretly hope for a NATO zero option in 2002. But Bulgaria and Romania call for the alliance door to be opened. The West cannot afford to weaken democratic forces or risk an anti-Western backlash anywhere in Southeastern Europe. Bulgaria and Romania are key actors in the Balkans, as stabilization of the region finally stands a real chance after the end of the Milosevic regime. The two Balkan states also hold a geostrategic advantage for NATO and the United States by securing a broader access to the Black Sea and its energy supply routes.
To balance EU enlargement, Bulgaria and Romania must be given a clear perspective of joining NATO by 2005. In the end phase, the extension processes of EU and NATO must finally come to complement and reinforce each other. All CEE countries should be members of at least one euro-atlantic institution 15 years after the revolution of 1989-90. Then the West will have more or less fulfilled its historic obligation.
Of course, this logic will trigger a new enlargement dynamic for the alliance. For one, Slovenia is as ready for NATO membership as the first round candidates were in 1997. Second, Slovakia must be taken in on geo-strategic grounds alone. With these four candidates, the alliance would clearly signal that after four Balkan wars, stability in Southeastern Europe remains a key strategic priority for the United States and Europe.
But what about the Baltic states? So much is clear: Neither of the three new democracies will be left out in the cold. The Russia factor will not be allowed to prevent their integration into the euro-atlantic institutions. Full EU-membership will mark the definite return to Europe of three Baltic countries. Joining the complex system of EU norms and regulations, the internal market and Schengen borders will create a new reality in the Baltic region.
In the long term, the Baltic issue will also be a test case for the credibility of the alliance. Some 25 years after the signing of the Helsinki final act, it must be clear that individual states are free to choose their alliances. The Baltic issue will also be a test case of Vladimir Putin's Russia. A modern and democratic Russia must understand that it will benefit from prosperity and stability on its Western flank. A modern Russia must also accept that the times of red lines are gone forever.
It can be expected that NATO chooses a cautious approach which takes legitimate Russian security concerns into consideration, but it has no veto rights.
In the second round of NATO enlargement, membership could therefore only be offered to one Baltic state, to Lithuania, which has no Russian minority problem. To reaffirm NATO's continued open door line, Estonia and Latvia could be upgraded from aspirant to official candidate status.
It is in the interest of the West that Russia is included in Europe's security architecture. It is therefore vital to revitalize the NATO-Russia Committee and establish a longstanding, transparent security agenda with Moscow. NATO enlargement must remain the gradual, well-reflected and transparent process that defined it in the 1990s. The historic task of overcoming the Yalta division of Europe cannot be delayed indefinitely. A next NATO round of four or five would underpin EU enlargement, reinforce NATO's open door line and strengthen the alliance between the United States and the future bigger Europe. The U.S. president taking on these challenges might go down in the history books as the unifier of the old continent.

Friedbert Pflueger is a CDU member of the German parliament.

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