NATO's expansion reflects changes throughout world

What others say

Posted: Monday, December 02, 2002

NATO's enlargement from 19 to 26 states ... in Prague underlines the alliance's continuing military and political role in Europe after the end of the Cold War. Its influence extends well beyond this membership base through the Partnership for Peace organization and the Euro-American Partnership Council, at which 46 states, including Ireland and other neutral states, were represented. ...

The decision ... to create a NATO rapid reaction force which would be available to intervene in conflicts outside Europe is a new departure for the alliance, in keeping with the summit's joint statement on Iraq and a commitment to tackle international terrorism.

President Bush's meeting with President Putin ... immediately after the summit ended is a sharp reminder of how much has changed in Europe since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. After the Soviet Union broke up all its successor states -- including Russia -- have been preoccupied with their security. For the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania NATO membership became a symbol and guarantee of their independence from a huge, powerful neighbor which has traditionally shown scant regard for their rights. In similar fashion the other former communist states accepted into NATO this week -- Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Slovenia -- believe it is an essential bulwark against any reassertion of Russian power.

They have all gone through a profound transformation to become parliamentary democracies and market economies. The European Union has contributed more than NATO to this process, but it is a mistake to draw too sharp a distinction between the two, given their mutual insistence on setting similar conditions for membership. President Putin has been willing to go along with NATO's expansion on the basis that the alliance itself has been transformed from a strictly military into a much more political organization with which it suits his country to cooperate. He has used this cooperation as a lever with which to develop a more constructive relationship with the United States across the span of political, security and military concerns, including a joint attitude toward terrorism. ...

-- The Irish Times, Dublin - Nov. 23

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