Recently, I came to America to join the world in saying goodbye to former President Reagan. His spirit and vision will live forever in the hearts of the freedom-loving peoples he inspired. As the leader who dared to dream that the wall of tyranny dividing Europe could be torn down, he made freedom’s victory in the Cold War possible. Romanians have a full understanding of the values that Mr. Reagan espoused. In 1989, as the Berlin Wall was dismantled, the Romanian people threw off the yoke of a corrupt, totalitarian regime.
In the years since, we have made tremendous progress in building a society based on the universal values of democracy, human rights and free markets espoused so effectively by Mr. Reagan. We rewrote our constitution, held free and fair elections where power has changed hands, placed our military and security services under civilian control, promoted a free press and vibrant civic society and took long-overdue steps to protect our ethnic minorities and fight corruption.
We undertook these actions to build a Romania that has truly rejoined Europe, a Romania that has become a full member of the trans-Atlantic alliance and is actively preparing for EU membership in 2007. Our internal reforms are a part of building a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. So, too, is our membership in NATO the security expression of a wider Euro-Atlantic community of shared values. As the most successful alliance in history, NATO kept the European peace in the Cold War. In the 1990s, NATO restored peace and stability in the Balkans.
Several days ago, the NATO summit opened in Istanbul, Turkey. The alliance continues its transformation to ensure it is effective in facing the major threats of the 21st century: terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. NATO is fundamentally different from the alliance that defended Europe from the Soviet Red Army for four decades. In the last seven years, 10 new members have been welcomed into the alliance. Today, NATO is in command of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and is preparing to hand off its responsibilities in Bosnia to the European Union.
The NATO Istanbul Summit will develop new responses to the dangers of instability from Europe’s south and east. Expanded cooperative measures between NATO militaries and their counterparts can help. But the real solution lies in political transformation — opening societies so opposition can be expressed peacefully and citizens are connected to their governments. History has demonstrated that democratic governments seek the betterment of their own peoples rather than the territory or resources of their neighbors. Democracies resolve their internal and external problems peacefully.
As part of the preparation for NATO membership, social and political reforms must be implemented. The only path to NATO membership is paved with enduring democratic change.
At Istanbul -? NATO’s first summit with 26 members ?- the progress of the three aspiring member states — Albania, Croatia and Macedonia — likely will be recognized and they will be encouraged to continue reforms in order to gain full membership at NATO’s next summit. We expect NATO will begin to develop a strategy toward the Black Sea Basin, a region that offers both dangers and opportunities. Connecting the countries of this region economically, politically and militarily is in the interest of the Euro-Atlantic community. Just as NATO and the European Union are working together in the Western Balkans to promote stability, we can work together in the Black Sea region. We must do all we can to support democrats in this region who look toward Europe.
In each of these challenges, Romania is a frontline state. Today, Romanian troops are deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have a vital national interest in preserving both our European identity and our strong trans-Atlantic partnership. We believe there is no choice between Europe and America because the new democracies of Central Europe need both.
The voices that speak of a divergence between Europe and America are not new. They would have been familiar to Mr. Reagan. He realized that together, Europe and America would prevail over the forces of tyranny. At Istanbul, the greatest tribute we can pay Mr. Reagan and his Cold War success is to pursue an equally bold vision: pushing the frontiers of freedom forward to help bring democracy, peace and prosperity to millions of people.
Ion Iliescu is president of Romania.