- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

The Senate yesterday ratified the expansion of the NATO military alliance to include seven Eastern European countries, strengthening Washington’s links with “new” Europe even as relations continue to sour with partners France and Germany.”They have won their liberty and earned their place among free nations,” President Bush said as he celebrated the Senate vote with former Soviet bloc nations Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania.”This day was a long time coming, yet there was never any doubt,” Mr. Bush said, hailing the seven as “examples of the power and appeal of liberty” and as steady allies of the United States.The Senate yesterday voted 96-0 to approve the accession of the seven countries into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO was set up in 1949 as a defensive partnership to resist attacks from the increasingly powerful communist Soviet Union.Sixteen of NATO’s 19 members have yet to ratify the expansion.”This is historic for these seven countries, vital in continuing to strengthen the North Atlantic alliance, and central to U.S. security and relationships in the world,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican.The vote came as many were questioning the role of NATO in a post-Cold War era, both as a military organization and as a political alliance, after Washington’s rift with Paris, Berlin and Brussels on the war in Iraq.The accession of the seven will not enhance the war-fighting ability of the alliance to a great extent, Sen. Joseph R. Biden, Delaware Democrat, pointed out, but it will offer some strategic infrastructure and political reach.With the Eastern European countries joining Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in NATO, the balance of political power within the trans-Atlantic group is shifting toward nations that are more supportive of U.S. foreign policies.”You’ve got 10 countries who are more supportive than some of the countries in Western Europe,” said James M. Goldgeier, director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University. “It gives the United States more influence and helps ensure stability across Europe.”Unlike France, Germany and Belgium — which stridently opposed the U.S.-led war to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein — Poland was a key ally in the effort and six of the seven incoming members were supportive of Washington’s actions.”In the battle of Iraq, Central and Eastern European countries have stood with America and our coalition to end a great threat to peace and to rid Iraq of a brutal, brutal regime,” said Mr. Bush.”They have proved themselves to be allies by their action. And now it is time to make them allies by treaty. This morning’s vote in the Senate brings that day closer.”Foreign ministers from all seven nations were on hand for Mr. Bush’s speech in the East Room of the White House.Sens. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat; Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat; Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat; and Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, did not vote on the expansion.No House vote is needed for treaty ratification.

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