NATO Approves Expansion, Turns Attention to Terrorism

P By David Holley

pRAGUE, Czech Republic – NATO leaders approved a historic expansion Thursday that will take the alliance beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union and, moving even further from the old Cold War posture, endorsed a shift in emphasis toward fighting terrorism.

In what Bush administration officials saw as an important diplomatic success, the leaders also warned Iraq to give up all weapons of mass destruction, approving a statement demanding that Iraq “comply fully and immediately” with disarmament demands in a recent U.N. resolution.

“A deadly cocktail of threats is now menacing free societies,” NATO Secretary-General George Robertson declared in opening the summit. “Terrorists and their backers, the failed states in which they flourish and proliferating weapons of mass destruction pose a genuine threat. … A transformed and modernized alliance is at the very heart of the free world’s response.”

The 19-nation alliance issued membership invitations to seven formerly Communist-ruled countries, including the three Baltic states that once were part of the Soviet Union, the enemy that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed to stand against.

The NATO leaders pledged Thursday to build more mobile and high-tech forces, and streamline command structures, to cope with new threats wherever they arise. They also stressed that enlargement is meant to consolidate democracy and stability in Europe, not threaten Russia.

“By welcoming seven members, we will not only add to our military capabilities, we will refresh the spirit of this great democratic alliance,” President Bush said. “We believe today’s decision reaffirms our commitment to freedom and our commitment to a Europe which is whole and free and at peace.”

The leaders’ statement on Iraq set the stage for members to contribute to a U.S.-led war effort if Iraq flouts the U.N. demands but stopped far short of pledging NATO to fight as an alliance.

The Baltic nations of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were invited to join, as were Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. They are due to join by May 2004, after their parliaments and those of current members ratify the enlargement.

“It will be no exaggeration to compare today’s decision on the enlargement of NATO with the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov said.

Enlargement marks a “historic moment when Europe is finally reunited, and when Europe and North America reassert the inseparable nature of their security,” French President Jacques Chirac said.

Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security adviser, described the meeting to reporters as “the most historic summit since NATO’s founding in 1949.”

The invitees’ leaders expressed joy that their nations would no longer feel shunned by the continent’s richer and more established democracies.

“Finally, we are not the unwanted child of Europe, a country on the periphery,” Romanian President Ion Iliescu told reporters Thursday. “Now we are calm and happy.”

The incoming members celebrated joining what they see as not just the world’s premier security organization but also a kind of elite club that provides a stamp of democratic legitimacy and promotes full integration in Western economic and political life.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said her nation does not want to be “left out in the outer darkness.”

“Latvia lost its independence for a very long time, and it knows the meaning of liberty and the loss of it,” she told the NATO leaders. “Being invited to an alliance that ensures our security is a momentous occasion in the history of Latvia. This is a great day for Latvia.

“I hope that this step will be a reminder to those forces in Russia who may still think in terms of the former Soviet empire that those days are gone,” she added.

But Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus offered reassuring words to Moscow, which has watched unhappily as NATO expanded first to Russia’s borders, with the 1999 inclusion of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, and now beyond the old Soviet frontier. “This is not a Cold War NATO,” Adamkus said, stressing that he believes Russia wishes to integrate peacefully with Europe.

Moscow, while not pleased about NATO expansion, has muted its criticism for a variety of reasons, ranging from acceptance of the inevitable to a belief that Russia’s future lies in cooperation, not confrontation, with the rest of Europe.

“The remarkable thing about this is that it has been done in a framework that allowed not just the entry of the seven new states into NATO, but the reconciliation of NATO with Russia in the new Russia-NATO Council,” Rice said. The council – a consultative body on issues such as counter-terrorism, peacekeeping and missile defense – was set up in May.

The summit was rich in historical resonance: Soviet-led forces crushed the liberalizing “Prague Spring” effort here in 1968, and it was here that the Warsaw Pact, NATO’s decades-long foe, was dissolved. Czech President Vaclav Havel, who hosted Thursday’s summit, and Romanian President Iliescu were among those leaders who signed the Moscow-led bloc out of existence.

“A clear signal is given not only for all Europeans but for the entire world that the era when countries were divided by force into spheres of influence or when the strong were used to subjugate the weaker has come to an end once and for all,” Havel said.

About 2,000 protesters who see NATO as a bully took to the streets of Prague in several groups Thursday, but that was only a fraction of what police had prepared for. Most tried to approach the conference center where the summit was being held, and police lines easily stopped them. Some demonstrators seemed interested in trying to break through, but organizers warned against any clash.

“There is no war against terrorism,” one of the rally speakers said. “The war is against innocent people.” Security helicopters flying overhead sometimes drowned out speakers.

Protesters carried banners and posters with slogans such as “Fight against capitalism and NATO,” `Smash NATO,” `NATO Death” and “Capitalism breeds NATO, NATO breeds war, war breeds victims. All just for profit.”

“NATO is probably something necessary, but I would like to show my disagreement with the system in our society,” said a 22-year-old Czech theology student who gave only her first name, Viola. “And I do not like it that the USA exploits poor states, and in the name of freedom makes war but the real reason is profits.”