- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2001

Leaders of 10 Central and Eastern European countries will attempt to revive what they consider a stalled bid to join NATO at a summit in Slovakias capital of Bratislava this weekend.
"We are concerned because we dont see that the serious discussion has even begun in some Western capitals," said Slovakian Foreign Affairs Minister Eduard Kukan.
"We would really like to see a strong signal from the United States to get things started," Mr. Kukan said in a recent interview.
But the 19-nation alliance faces an intensely political internal debate between now and November 2002, when formal invitations to join NATO are to be issued at a summit in Prague.
The United States and its Western allies have their own favored candidates. Russian fears and threats about further NATO enlargement will play a role, and the European Union is embarked on its own military and institutional reforms that could leave several EU countries ready to defer any NATO enlargement next year.
Some favor a "Big Bang" strategy, letting in all or most of the qualifying candidates, while others prefer a far more modest round that could be limited to just one or two preferred applicants.
And some of the most attractive candidates from a political standpoint — Bulgaria and Romania, most prominently — face a steep task in fielding and funding the kind of military force that would qualify for admission to the alliance.
Hungary, which joined NATO with Poland and the Czech Republic in the last expansion round in 1999, strongly favors adding new members, particularly on its borders.
But Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said in an interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times that he, too, sensed a worrisome drift in the NATO-enlargement debate, with the deadline for some crucial preliminary decisions coming fast.
"We would very much like a clear early determination that there will, in fact, be another enlargement round next year," Mr. Martonyi said. "Its very important that there be no deception or delay."
He said the lack of momentum in the debate is troubling because disappointment among the candidate nations could have serious consequences. "We feel there is a real risk of instability if the decisions are dragged out indefinitely."
The European Union is engrossed in its own internal debates over enlargement, a new European defense force, and potential institutional changes. Germany, which cultivates strong ties with Russia, worries about the fallout from a NATO enlargement that would provoke Moscow.
"The silence youre hearing over in Western Europe on this issue is really deafening," said John Hulsman, a European analyst at the Heritage Foundation. "And that reflects a clear lack of enthusiasm for enlargement at a time when theres really no momentous political reason or security threat driving the process."
Top officials from NATO hopefuls Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia will be in Bratislava for the summit. The 10 plan to address a number of regional security issues, but the clear underlying purpose will be to inject new urgency into the NATO question.
Leading NATO powers have all spoken favorably of enlargement in the abstract, but have been careful not to endorse individual candidates. All say Moscow, which is particularly critical of the NATO ambitions of the three Baltic states on its border, has no veto in the process, although Russias security concerns will be taken into account.
The United States has been seen as a strong supporter of enlargement, and NATO hopefuls such as Slovakia and Latvia have pressed for a clear statement of support from the alliances dominant member.
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman yesterday traveled to Bratislava to deliver a message from President Bush praising the progress made by the countries attending the conference in meeting NATO military criteria.
"NATO must be open to all of Europes democracies ready and able to meet NATOs obligations," Mr. Bushs statement read. "No part of Europe will be excluded because of history or geography."
But the president stopped short of endorsing the admission of new members in 2002, and candidate countries now say they hope Mr. Bush will use a trip to NATOs Brussels headquarters next month to put the United States on record in favor of enlargement.


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