Milestone from the Baltic to the Black Sea

Posted in NATO | 29-Mar-04 | Source: International Herald Tribune

NATO's newest enlargement

This article was contributed by Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha, prime minister of Bulgaria; Juhan Parts, prime minister of Estonia; Indulis Emsis, prime minister of Latvia; Algirdas Brazauskas, prime minister of Lithuania; Adrian Nastase, prime minister of Romania; Mikulas Dzurinda, prime minister of Slovakia; and Anton Rop, prime minister of Slovenia. Today, our countries are becoming members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO will now unite 26 allies. This is a historic accomplishment for our countries, for NATO, for Europe, and for the whole Euro-Atlantic community.

Membership in NATO is the achievement of our long-standing goal to rejoin the Euro-Atlantic family of nations. By virtue of our culture and values, we have always felt that we belonged to this family, from which we had been separated. This round of NATO enlargement, the biggest ever, embraces countries from the Baltic to the Adriatic and Black Seas. It represents another important step toward the fulfillment of our joint vision of an undivided, democratic and peaceful Europe. Today, nearly 50 million more people in Europe will feel more secure in the knowledge that history will not repeat itself.

We are well aware that NATO membership is not a one-way street. For us, the benefits of membership go hand in hand with obligations. We are ready to assume those responsibilities, and to contribute politically, as well as militarily, to our common endeavor of making our neighborhood and that of others a safe place to live.

Each of the new members is a contributor to peace and security. We bring our unique experience, strategic value, capabilities and knowledge to the alliance. We are sharing our firsthand experience in political, economic and military transformation with other countries. Our integration processes serve as a model for extending the area of freedom, democracy and stability toward the western Balkans, Eastern Europe, the Black Sea region, the southern Caucasus and Central Asia. We also bring new military capabilities to the alliance. These capabilities have already been put to the test in various NATO missions, from the western Balkans to Afghanistan. We are determined to improve them even further. On our way to NATO, we began the Vilnius process, which promoted cooperation over competition. This spirit of solidarity will now help us work within NATO in a consensual manner. It will re-energize the alliance and make it stronger.

We are entering NATO on the eve of its 55th anniversary. By signing the North Atlantic Treaty on April 4, 1949, 12 allies undertook "to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law." This commitment is as vital today as it was in past decades. It is so not despite, but because of the nature of the security environment, which has changed so dramatically in recent years.

The current security agenda of NATO is a challenging one: tackling the new threats of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their deadly nexus; carrying out ongoing operations from Kosovo to Afghanistan; enhancing relations with 20 partner states who want to work with NATO and assisting those who aspire to NATO membership or wish to join its Partnership for Peace; developing practical cooperation with Russia; reinforcing the dialogue with Mediterranean countries; and exploring possibilities of engaging countries in the greater Middle East. And at the same time NATO is working to upgrade alliance capabilities for pursuing new tasks.

This ambitious agenda requires a clear focus, determination and commitment to close cooperation within the alliance. The trans-Atlantic link, which is at the core of NATO, remains essential for the security of the Euro-Atlantic area. We are committed to keeping that link because Europe and North America must work together to succeed. NATO's achievements, including enlargement - a major security milestone in its own right - are proof of that success.