Developing a New Euro-Atlantic Strategy for the Black Sea Region: Istanbul Paper #2

Posted in Europe | 08-Jul-04 | Author: Ronald Asmus

Ron Asmus - member of the WSN International Advisory Board
Ron Asmus - member of the WSN International Advisory Board

The idea for this strategy paper grew out of a conversation with Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana in the spring of 2003. The Prague NATO summit had taken place a few months earlier and Alliance leaders had embraced the idea of a “Big Bang” enlargement involving seven countries stretching from the three Baltic states in the north to Romania and Bulgaria on the Black Sea in the south. In parallel, the European Union was preparing for an equally historic and ambitious round of enlargement that would encompass ten countries. It was the fulfillment of a dream that emerged a decade earlier when the leaders of new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe had set their sights on anchoring themselves to the West by becoming full members of the Euro-Atlantic community and joining both the EU and NATO.

What was next? Was the vision of Europe “whole and free” now complete? Was it time for the West, and the EU in particular, to “pause” and consolidate itself? Or should it now turn its attention to those young and fragile democracies lying further East and reach out to help them anchor themselves in the Euro-Atlantic community as well? How serious was a country like Ukraine about transforming itself into a credible Western partner and possible future ally? With Romania and Bulgaria joining Alliance and eventually the European Union, as well as the prospect of longstanding NATO ally Turkey becoming a member of the EU as well, was it time to think about developing a Western outreach strategy for the wider Black Sea region?

We debated the moral and political responsibility of the United State and Europe in general, and the specific especially of those Central and East European countries now entering the EU and NATO, to help the West think through these issues. Foreign Minister Geoana made an eloquent and persuasive case that his generation of leaders from Central and Eastern Europe had a unique chance and responsibility to help ensure that Euro-Atlantic integration was not artificially halted and that these countries were not forgotten. Although the ‘revolution of roses’ in Georgia had not yet taken place, he underscored that there was a new generation of leaders emerging in the region who shared western values and aspirations and that it was time for the West to develop a strategy to work with them.

Inspired by this and subsequent conversations that also included senior Bulgarian officials, GMF decided that there was a critical need to form a working group of both scholars and practitioners from across Europe and the region to brainstorm about such a strategy. The goal was to try to sketch out the contours of what a bold and ambitious approach to help anchor the countries of the Black Sea region to the West could and should look like. From the outset, we were joined by the Romanian and Bulgarian Ministries of Foreign Affairs as key partners as well as some of GMF’s key NGO partners in those two countries.

Brainstorming sessions were held in the fall of 2003 and spring of 2004. The first was held in Bucharest in November 2003 in cooperation with the Romanian Academic Society and the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A second seminar was held in Sofia in early February 2004 jointly with the Institute for Regional and International Studies, the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria and the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Security as well as the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defense. A third and final session was held in Bratislava, hosted by the Bratislava Office of GMF together with the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The participants in the project are listed at the end of this report. They were drawn from both sides of the Atlantic as well as the wider Black sea region and reflect a diversity of backgrounds and experiences. They came from the world of NGO’s and think tanks as well as the corridors of politics and diplomacy. They participated in their private capacities as thinkers and individuals who care deeply about the issues debated in this report. Their institutional affiliations are for identification purposes only.While the report reflects and draws on many of the views expressed, they were not asked to sign this report.

The results are contained in this Report of the working group. It seeks to lay out a rationale for why the United States and Europe need to pay more attention to the wider Black Sea region. It attempts to capture the center of gravity of these discussions and sketch out a strategic framework for new Euro-Atlantic strategy for the region.While it is authored by Ronald Asmus who served as the Director of this project, it reflects the thinking of the working group and is an attempt to summarize the discussions that took place. In parallel to this report, GMF is also publishing a separate book entitled “A New Euro-Atlantic Strategy for the Black Sea Region” which contains a number of the brainstorming essays written for these meetings. In many cases, the arguments presented in this paper are developed in further detail there. Together these publications provide a comprehensive overview of the work undertaken.We hope that they will also spark further thought and debate on a future strategy toward the wider Black Sea region.

Craig Kennedy


The German Marshall Fund of the United States

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Setting Western Goals
  3. A New Outreach Strategy for the EU and NATO
  4. Frozen Conflicts, Russia and Regional Cooperation
  5. Conclusion
    Participants of the Working Group

I. Introduction

A series of historically unprecedented events have brought the attention of the West to the wider Black Sea region—that area including the littoral states of the Black Sea, Moldova, and the Southern Caucasus countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. An area that has heretofore been neglected by the Euro-Atlantic community is now starting to move from the periphery to the center of Western attention.

Why has the West heretofore lacked such a strategy for the Black Sea region in the past and what has changed to make one so critical now? Four main factors explain the past lack of interest.

First, in many ways the Black Sea region has been the Bermuda Triangle of Western strategic studies in recent decades. Lying at the crossroads of European, Eurasian, and Middle Eastern security spaces, it has been largely ignored by mainstream experts in each of these faculties. Geographically located at the edge of each region, the Black Sea has not been at the center of attention of any of them.When it came to Europe, our priority was with the arc of countries extending from the Baltic to the Balkan states.When it came to the former Soviet Union, we were focused on building a new cooperative relationship with Moscow. And apart from the Israeli-Arab conflict, the attention of western Middle Eastern policy usually ceased at Turkey’s southern border.

The Statue of Sofia, patron of Sofia city.
The Statue of Sofia, patron of Sofia city.
Second, given the crowded agenda of the Euro-Atlantic community since the collapse of communism 15 years ago, there was little time or political energy left to address the Black Sea region. The task of anchoring and integrating Central and Eastern Europe, stopping the Balkan wars, and putting those countries back on a path towards European integration—and, finally, trying to establish a new and cooperative post-Cold War relationship with Moscow—were full-time preoccupations. If one looked at the list of priorities of an American Secretary of State or European foreign minister in the 1990’s, rightly or wrongly, the Black Sea rarely broke through into the top tier of concerns. The exception was, of course, Turkey, which fought a lonely political battle to get the West to pay more attention to the region. Almost by default, our considerable interest in the safe and stable flow of energy through the region ended up driving our policy—as opposed to some overarching vision of the place of these countries in the Euro-Atlantic community.

Third, at that time there was also little push from the region for a closer relationship with the West. No Lech Walesa or Vaclav Havel emerged in the 1990s to capture our attention or pound at our door. The countries of the region, different and with widely varying aspirations, were preoccupied with their own problems and at times engaged in civil war and their own armed conflicts. Any thought of joining the West in the foreseeable future seemed unrealistic or even utopian — in their eyes as well as ours. In the West, there is always a tendency to ignore or neglect problems for which one has no immediate answer or prospect for success: the “too hard to handle” category. Henry Kissinger is reported to have said that a secretary of state should not tackle an issue without at least a 90 percent likelihood of success. The problems of the wider Black Sea region were often seen as failing to meet that standard.

Fourth, the Black Sea has been a kind of civilizational black hole in the Western historical consciousness. We suffer not only from a lack of familiarity with the region, its people, its problems, its rich culture, and its contribution to the spread of Western civilization, but also from a kind of historical amnesia. For some, “Europe” meant Western Europe; for others, it extended to the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea — but in the case of the latter, only to its western and southern edges. For many in the West, Ukraine and the Southern Caucasus still seem far-away lands of which we knew little and, rightly or wrongly, care less. Others are still too afraid to even think about venturing into what Moscow today claims to be its “near abroad” and natural sphere of influence if not domination — not realizing or recognizing the many of the deepest roots of what is now consider Western and European civilization can be traced back to the cultures and countries that lived on the Black Sea throughout history.

After largely ignoring the region for the past decade, however, the West is now starting to wake up to the growing importance of the wider Black Sea region and the need for a modern and updated strategy. Several factors are propelling both the United States and Europe to focus their attention on this region and to develop a new and more coherent strategic framework.

The first of these factors is the successful integration of Central and Eastern European countries stretching from the three Baltic states in the north to Romania and Bulgaria on the Western shores of the Black Sea in the south into NATO. This has been matched by parallel and historic expansion of the European Union to ten new members as well. The dual enlargement of the EU and NATO to Central and Eastern Europe conclude the grand project of the 1990’s - to try to make Europe’s eastern half as democratic, prosperous and secure as the continent’s western half.

Strategically, this means that the age-old security problem of the future of those lands lying between Germany and Russia has been resolved through the anchoring and integration of these countries to the West. Germany is firmly embedded in both European and transatlantic structures; and both the EU and NATO have new mechanisms to manage relations with Russia. Thus, the questions that have been at the heart of European security and preoccupied our leaders and strategists for the last century are increasingly resolved. At the same time, the Euro-Atlantic community now must face the question whether and how to reach out to the new democracies lying further to the east and south and help anchor them to this enlarged European and trans-Atlantic framework.

Second, there are also new and more credible voices in theses countries articulating their aspirations to anchor themselves and become full members of Euroatlantic institutions. The success of the “Big Bang” enlargement has nurtured hopes in these countries that they, too, can dare to think big and succeed. Three of the countries of the region — Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey — are in NATO and another three — Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan — have declared their desire to join. The emergence of new reformist leaders in the region has given the West new partners to work with. Georgia’s ‘revolution of roses’ has played a particularly important role in demonstrating the will to embrace the radical reforms needed. For the first time there is a country that is matching those aspirations with concrete steps and moving to become a viable candidate for eventual membership into Euro-Atlantic institutions. A visitor to Tbilisi, Georgia today can discover the same kind of determination to take their countries to the West that existed a decade ago in the Baltic states.

Third, the strategic optic of the West has changed in a way that potentially puts this region front and center in our thinking. The terrorist attacks against the United States, Europe and Turkey have served to underscore the new dangers and strategic realities facing our societies in the 21st century. They have highlighted the fact that many of the greatest threats to North America and Europe are now likely to emanate from beyond the continent as opposed to from within in or from Eurasia. In particular, they are centered in the wider Middle East, that region stretching from Morocco to Afghanistan. In addition to providing a critical portion of the world’s energy needs, the wider Middle East is the most likely place for the dangerous combination of totalitarian ideologies, state failure, terrorism and access to weapons of mass destruction to occur.

The wider Black Sea region is the Euroatlantic community’s great eastern frontier with the wider Middle East. And these countries are a natural partner in any Western strategy dealing with the wider Middle East. They, too, are interested in the progressive transformation of this neighboring region into more free, democratic and stable societies. For the West, the significance of the Black Sea countries and goes well beyond military planning factors, boots on the grounds or even forward bases. Anchoring them to the West and helping to ensure their political and economic stability is critical to our capability of projecting soft power into the broader Middle East as well. A western success in this region can help and teach us many lessons in how to handle the daunting problems of reform and modernization in the wider Middle East.

Last but certainly not least, there is the energy factor.Why should the Euro-Atlantic community be concerned with energy issues in the Black Sea region? In the changed global market after September 2001, the answer is simple: the United States and the Europe share an interest in diversifying their energy supplies away from reliance on Saudi Arabian and Persian Gulf oil. The Black Sea is poised to become a much more important conduit for non-OPEC, non-Gulf oil and natural gas can flow into European markets and beyond. The potential of these sources is considerable. Russia is an energy supplier of growing importance, while Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have significant oil reserves as well. As most of this oil will reach European markets after transiting the Black Sea region, integration of this area into the broader European security and economic environment is important for the long-term energy security strategy of EU and NATO members.

These factors are combining to change the Western optic of the wider Black sea region and to elevate it on the list of Euroatlantic priorities. The countries in the region were previously seen as on the periphery of Europe at a time when the main challenges in European security were focused on the North Central European plain and our relations with Russia. September 11th, Afghanistan and Iraq have made this entire region a focal point of a Western strategic reassessment.With NATO is engaged in Afghanistan, the U.S. and its allies are peacekeeping in Iraq and with Iran one of the top strategic challenges facing the West, the wider Black Sea region is taking on a new significance. It is not only the new borderlands of the Euroatlantic community but part of a strategic space reaching as far as the Persian Gulf that is likely to draw the attention of NATO and the EU and other regional actors in the decades ahead.

The growing recognition that the wider Black Sea region needs to be at the forefront of the Euro-Atlantic agenda has not yet been translated into a coherent strategic rationale and strategy attractive and comprehensible to elites and publics on both sides of the Atlantic.Without such a rationale, however, Europe and the United States will not able to generate the attention, focus and resources necessary to engage and anchor the countries of the wider Black Sea region to the West, let alone help them transform themselves into full partners and perhaps, over time, full members of the major Euro-Atlantic institutions. That is what now needs to happen.

II. Setting Western Goals

A new Euroatlantic strategy for the wider Black Sea region must start with a discussion of what American and European goals in this region should be. For the reasons laid out above, there is a strong case — moral, political, economic and strategic — for elevating the region as a higher priority on the Euro-Atlantic community’s agenda and developing a bolder and more ambitious outreach strategy. But what should the ultimate goal of that strategy and effort be? What are the aspirations of the different countries in the region? How do American and Europeans see their objectives? Is the purpose of such a strategy to simply strengthen these countries internally and to pull them and this region closer to the EU and NATO through expanded cooperation — a looser form of anchoring but with no perspective of eventual membership in our institution? Or should we set the goal even higher — i.e., to not only anchor but to actually transform and integrate this region to the West in a manner similar to what has accomplished for Central and Eastern Europe? Over what timeframe are these goals feasible if at all?

Even raising the issue of the eventual membership of these countries in Euroatlantic institutions, or drawing a parallel between Central and Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region, is highly controversial in many corners of both the EU and NATO today. Having just completed a major round of enlargement of membership, many in both institutions are loath to talk or even think about any future enlargement at all. The EU has just resolved a messy constitutional debate and is still groping to understand how this new enlarged institution will function in practice. NATO must deal with the capabilities gap across the Atlantic and among its European members as well as prepare for very different future missions. In both institutions, “enlargement fatigue” has set in and there are real concerns about their future cohesion and effectiveness.

Bucharest, The Parliament Palace, world's second largest building. "House of the People"
Bucharest, The Parliament Palace, world's second largest building. "House of the People"
Moreover, the sense of historical connection and solidarity between the United States and Europe on the one hand and the wider Black Sea region on the other is more tenuous.While the countries of the region certainly consider themselves to be European, those feelings are not always reciprocated. The distance between London, Paris and Berlin and Kyiv, Tbilisi and Baku today is not only geographic.Many officials in Brussels and elsewhere question whether these countries are truly European, whether they fully understand what membership entail and whether these countries are capable of ever meeting those standards.When Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians or Azeris talk about joining Europe and the Euroatlantic community, not everyone today takes such talk all that seriously.

The question of membership for any of these countries is also premature in any operational sense, at least for the immediate future. Not only is the West today unable to provide a clear perspective, but the countries we are talking about — Ukraine, Moldova or Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia — are themselves weaker, poorer and less developed than previous candidates. They have a steeper hill to climb than their Central and Eastern European brethren did a decade ago. In some ways they may be more comparable to some of the countries in the Balkans as opposed to Central and Eastern Europe. None of the countries in the wider Black Sea region today has advanced far enough to make a credible case for meeting the qualifications required for either institution.

Last but not least, the question of Russia — the biggest and most powerful Black Sea littoral state — and its views and possible objections to the integration of these countries into Western structures looms even larger than it did with previous rounds of enlargement given that country’s proximity and neuralgia about this region, a subject we will return to later in this paper.

It was once said that the West’s successful strategy for Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s was based on three ingredients: the creation of a big juicy carrot or incentive in the form of a clear perspective of eventual membership for these countries; the motivation and drive to go West and the willingness to implement difficult reforms that leaders in these countries brought to the table; and a strategy to find a new modus vivendi with Russia that defused the danger of a train wreck between the West and Moscow. If one applies that framework, to the wider Black Sea region, it is obvious that the point of departure today is more difficult. The carrot is smaller; the drive to reform and go West is weaker and the Russian factor looms larger.

Acknowledging these realities, however, in no way obviates the need for a new Euro-Atlantic strategy. Indeed, it strengthens the case for the kind of comprehensive and long-term outreach strategy that can, over time, alter these realities. This would include the creation of a new Western vision that embraces these countries and gives them the perspective they need; policies and support that can help them reform and transform themselves countries into the kinds of societies that can become viable candidates and a new approach toward Russia that transcends old geopolitical habits and patterns.

One also needs a sense of perspective.When listening to the arguments today why the integration of Black Sea countries is not feasible, one cannot escape a sense of de ja vu. In the early 1990s, the idea of Central and East European countries joining the EU or NATO also initially evoked fierce opposition. Former French President Francois Mitterrand, for example, initially declared that it would be “decades and decades” before these countries could join the EU. Opposition to enlarging NATO was just as strong. And no where was it stronger than in the bureaucracies of these institutions themselves. The first wave of Western outreach proposals all insisted that membership was not on the agenda and offered to create some interim status to pacify these countries.

Those policies and the mindset behind them did not stand the test of time. They were increasingly recognized as inadequate. Policies designed to keep countries out of institutions were transformed into way stations for eventually getting them in.What initially seemed impossible gradually became possible and today in accepted conventional wisdom.What changed this equation were three factors.

The first was the push from the region and in particular the appeal from new democratic leaders who were boldly reforming their countries and societies.When they turned to the West and asked for help in consolidating the same values the Euroatlantic community is committed to building and defending,Western leaders decided they had to respond to a historical imperative — often over the strong objection of many in bureaucracy. Those appeals would not have been credible or gained political traction, however, if they were not backed up by performance and reforms on the ground. One can see the same process starting today in the significant political and psychological impact that Georgia’s ‘revolution of roses’ and President Mikhail Saakashvili have had in nudging Western policy forward toward greater support and engagement with Tbilisi and the region.

A second factor that changed Western thinking in the 1990s was the strategic insight — reinforced by the bloodshed and horror of ethnic wars of the Balkans — that the West was better off acting preventively to stabilize and integrate Central and Eastern Europe and locking in stability in advance than running the risk of new instability emerging at some point down the road. It has often been said that NATO and EU enlargement were one giant act of conflict prevention. In the case of the wider Black Sea region, it is precisely this question that the September 11th, Afghanistan, Iraq and the instability of the broader Middle East have raised in a very different context. Are we not better off today in assertively moving to help consolidate democracy and stability in this region bordering on the wider Middle East rather than running the risk of that instability from that region spreads into the Euro-Atlantic community?

A third factor that changed Western thinking in the 1990s — and which also has a parallel in the current situation — is Europe’s very understanding and definition of itself. The collapse of communism and the USSR in 1989 and 1991 was unexpected. So were the early demands from new democratic leaders in what was then still called Eastern Europe to join the EU and NATO. Such demands challenged and in many ways threatened the then prevailing view in Europe of itself which was essentially defined in “West European” terms. But those demands from the East helped set into motion a rediscovery of an old part of Europe that the Cold War had artificially cut off. It led eventually to a redefinition of Europe that came to embrace those countries in the East stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

That redefinition has found two expressions, cultural and institutional. Culturally, it now seems very old-fashioned to talk about “Western Europe” and “Eastern Europe.” The notion of “Europe” clearly includes Central and Eastern Europe. The notion of “Eastern Europe,” if used at all, now encompass Ukraine and Belarus as opposed to Poland or the Czech lands. Today the next step in again redefining “Europe” is being played out in the debate over whether Turkey should be invited to join the EU.

And if Ankara is invited to start accession talks and successfully completes them, then one must ask whether a Europe that includes Turkey would say no to Ukrainian aspirations, especially if Kyiv were to get serious about reform and democratization. Is it not possible to imagine another redefinition of our understanding of “Europe” unfolding over the next decade or so in which the inclusion of Turkey, Ukraine and the Southern Caucasus gradually becomes increasingly natural? Might not our current sense of Europe’s limits also seem quite artificial in a decade or so?

The same is true institutionally. The EU and NATO were incapable of adapting and enlarging to new members when those demands were first raised in the early 1990s. But those institutions, too, were driven to adapt to the political and strategic imperatives of a new era. And the reality is that they reinvented themselves in order to be able to enlarge. These institutions are dynamic, not static. The EU today in its current form probably cannot handle Turkey as a new member — let alone Ukraine or the Southern Caucasus. But if the EU decides to enlarge to Turkey, it will have to adapt to meet that challenge, too. It is not today’s EU that will do that, but a reformed institution that has change in order to cope with that challenge. And the same is likely to be true for NATO. As it becomes increasingly involved in regions and missions the founding fathers never conceived of, it will have to reinvent itself yet again to meet new challenges, including new members.

This as a rather long-winded way of appealing for a bit more historic openness and humility when it comes to what is possible over the next decade or two — both in terms of what the countries in the region are capable of becoming as well as the capacity of our own institutions to adapt to new imperatives and strategic circumstances. As Chou En-lai is reported to have responded when asked about his assessment of the French Revolution, it may be too early to tell. The same is true when it comes to what the final place in and the relationship of these countries with the Euroatlantic community will or should be. If the countries of the region succeed in reforming themselves to the point where they qualify for membership, it would be a remarkable success. The problems that would pose are the challenges of success. They are preferable to deal with than the challenges of failure.

To see the full strategy paper in PDF format click

V. Conclusion

Developing a new Euro-Atlantic strategy for the Black Sea region must start with the major democracies of North America and Europe recognizing their own moral and strategic stake in the region. Projecting stability and security in these countries is not only the next logical step in building a Europe whole and free, but the wider Black Sea region is the Euroatlantic community’s eastern frontier with the wider Middle East. In spite of the many differences, locking in reform and stability in this region may be as important over the next decade as integrating Central and Eastern Europe into the West was for the previous 1990s.

The European Union has already taken a small but important step by including the South Caucasus in Europe’s Neighborhood Policy, informally known as Wider Europe. It is time for NATO to take a parallel step at its Istanbul summit by recognizing the strategic stake it has in this region. Such recognition should be matched by a bold program of outreach and both bilateral and regional cooperation. Anchoring these countries to the West will not be easy or happen overnight. Whether the end result is simple better relations or the full integration of these countries into institutions like the EU and NATO remains to be seen. Once again the West faces the challenge of either working with these countries to export stability or running the risk it will important instability from the area down the road.

As in the past, developing a new Euroatlantic strategy to meet this challenge will require the leadership of a core group of countries on both sides of the Atlantic to help set a new course. Large institutions like the EU or NATO operate by consensus and move slowly and deliberately. To use a shipping parallel, it often takes time to turn the bow of the tanker in a new strategic direction. As was the case with Central and Eastern Europe, a coalition of Western countries can organize themselves to take the lead in working with these countries on both a bilateral and multilateral basis — and pull the institutions as a whole behind them. The tools and experience to reach out to these countries already exist.What are needed are the political will and the guidance to tailor such programs to their specific interests and needs.

Finally, North America and Europe, working through the OSCE and the United Nations, must step up to the plate and make a concerted effort to resolve the frozen conflicts from Transneistria to Nagorno-Karabakh that continue to plague the region. The persistence of conflict and occupying forces are destructive cancers eating away at the fabrics of society in this region. In place of economic development, they create criminal enterprise and trafficking. In place of regional security cooperation, they foster the proliferation of arms and a climate of intimidation. Fifteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is time to make their resolution a top priority, including in our relations with Moscow.

The final and most important factor shaping a new Euroatlantic outreach strategy is the countries of the region themselves. The history of the last decade shows that the West often moves in response to the actions of the countries themselves. Had they not undertaken “shock therapy” and far-reaching reforms on their own, Central and East European countries today might still be stuck in some vague EU associate status or a version of PfP designed as an alternative to NATO membership. And if the countries around the Black Sea region stay on the stagnant path many of them have been on for the past decade, then the EU’s New Neighborhood framework or NATO’s PAP and IPAP won’t make much difference. The onus for change is on the aspirants to make the first serious and palpable reforms, not the other way around.

It is worthwhile to recall the experience of the Baltic states in this regard. They were arguably at a comparable level of development as Georgia and other countries in the wider Black Sea region when the USSR broke up. They, too, carried the cross of being a “former Soviet Republic.” They were initially rejected when they first asked the EU to provide a perspective for membership and their NATO aspirations were also deemed “unrealistic.” Although they started two years later than the Visegrad countries and from a lower economic base, they embarked on a rigorous set of reforms which within five years allowed them to catch up with the front runners in Central and Eastern Europe as candidates.When one Baltic country started to pull ahead of the other two countries, the others redouble their efforts lest the EU enlarge to one instead of all three states. Their example shows that nothing is pre-ordained, that performance matters and small counties in Europe can determine their own fate after all.

But the West can both assist in that process as well as help create the foreign policy environment that reinforces such trends and helps put and keep these countries on a path that will bring them closer to the West. In doing so, we would lay the foundation for the third phase in completing the vision of a wider Europe. The first phase of enlargement focused on the anchoring of Poland and the Visegrad countries. The second phase broadened that vision to include the new democracies from the Baltic to the Western edge of the Black Sea. Today the challenge is to extend that vision to potentially include the countries of the wiser Black Sea region as well.

The completion of this third phase would be a tremendous advance for the cause of democracy, integration and security in the Euro-Atlantic region. It would also better position the United States and Europe to deal with the challenges of the broader Middle East. The key question is not whether it is desirable but whether it is achievable. That is the challenge we now must face.