- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Yesterday, President Bush outlined his vision for the future of U.S. defense. Mr. Bushs grand plan for missile defense and unilateral missile reduction will be debated among friends and foes of the United States in the days to come.
There are, however, a great many people who would have been thrilled had the president addressed in his remarks his plan for NATO. Will there be a second round of NATO enlargement in 2002? As before, NATO enlargement could be a case of, as the Bible has it, "many are called, but few are chosen." Presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers from the nine countries hoping to join, have been arriving in Washington in a steady flow in the hope of pressing their case with the White House. Those who have been given the opportunity to do so, come away with high hopes for Mr. Bushs commitment to enlarging NATO.
So far, however, no specifics have been forthcoming from the administration. Mr. Bush is scheduled to travel to Brussels in June, before going to the European summit in Gothenberg, Sweden. Aspirant countries hope for clearer signals to emerge before then, a deadline that is fast approaching. In Bratislava, Slovenia, in early May, the Committee to Expand NATO will hold a repeat of last years Vilnius summit, at which foreign ministers from the nine aspirant countries got together for the first time to make the case for a NATO "Big Bang." This near-cosmic event would bring into NATO Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Macedonia and Albania in one great swoop.
One of the first leaders to have made her case with Mr. Bush was Latvian President Vaira Viki-Freiberga, who was in Washington last week. Fresh from her meeting with Mr. Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, she told me that the president "gave strong reinforcement of the open door policy, with no artificial exceptions." He also spoke of giving no country a veto over the process, which is especially important for Latvia and the other Baltic countries, whose NATO membership application is adamantly opposed by Russia. If Mr. Bush is giving that kind of encouragement, one hopes he is not doing so lightly. For the countries seeking NATO membership, it is deadly serious business.
Back in the early days of the NATO enlargement debate, former Clinton adviser Michael Mandelbaum stated that "NATO expansion is the Titanic of American foreign policy, and the iceberg on which it will founder is Baltic membership."
Yet, exactly by what right or reason the Russians object has remained unspoken. During a recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Austria, so Mrs. Viki-Freiberga says, Mr. Putin told her that Russia will oppose Latvian NATO membership with every effort and that enlargement should not be done at Russias expense which is interesting given that Latvia (and the other Baltic states) of course are independent and sovereign countries, free to make their own alliances.
"If you translate their objections," she says, "it is really a matter of principles. They think we are part of their near abroad. They cannot get over the fact that they rolled over us with tanks in 1940."
Russia still has not given up laying claims to that sphere of influence, which makes it all the more understandable why no country in Central or Eastern Europe has ever said it would consider EU membership a substitute for NATO. For each and every one of them, Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty, which commits alliance members to common the defense, is the only acceptable security guarantee.
There is little doubt, however, that the case for the second round of enlargement is more complicated to make than for the initial round in May 1999. In each their own way, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, had played an important part in the fight against communism Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Poland in 1981. Add to that sizable ethnic communities in the United States, and the political equation was not difficult. In the end, 80 U.S. senators voted to ratify their accession.
The case for a second round should be as compelling. The area of instability in Central and Eastern Europe which helped start two world wars needs to be made permanently secure. As Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi told editors at The Washington Times Monday, "I am afraid there will be instability if NATO does not expand. Otherwise the countries will be disappointed and insecure. Furthermore, other people will have the same feeling" those other people would be the Russians. "The real question is how this part of Europe will be shaped in the next 20 to 25 years." That could be a proud legacy for the new American president to build.
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