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Volume 2, Number 15              May 19 - 25,  2002                     Quezon City, Philippines

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NATO Sets Next Move: Expansion to the East

By the international herald tribune / associated press
15 May 2002

REYKJAVIK --- A day after NATO accepted Russia into a new partnership on terrorism, arms control and international crisis management, the alliance stepped up preparations Wednesday to move its border closer to Moscow's doorstep.

NATO foreign ministers met with representatives of 10 East European nations that are seeking an invitation to join the alliance at a special summit meeting in Prague in November. At the same time, the alliance ministers also were seeking to improve relations with countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia on Russia's southern borders. The moves follow another milestone in efforts to erase the old Cold War divisions: an agreement between Moscow and Washington on Monday to reduce their nuclear arsenals by two-thirds.

Prime candidates to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization include the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which all have borders with Russia. Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria also are expected to get the go-ahead in Prague.

"North America, Europe and countries of Central Asia are now part of a political community that is unprecedented in its breadth, in its inclusiveness, and in its capacity to work together," NATO's secretary-general, George Robertson, told a meeting that included ministers of the 19 alliance members and officials of the 10 candidate nations and 17 other countries ranging from Albania to Ireland and Uzbekistan.

The U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell, had a separate meeting with representatives of the 10 candidate nations on Wednesday.

Despite Russia's historic agreement to establish a council with the 19-nation alliance to combat common security threats in the post-Sept. 11 era, Moscow continues to have reservations about expansion.

"We continue to think that a mechanical enlargement is no more than a hangover from the past," said the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov. "It won't increase security either for those countries or for NATO."

'No cliché to capture this all' Todd S. Purdum of The New York Times News reported earlier from Reykjavik:

The partnership decision Tuesday solidified an almost surreal sense of a major change in Russia's relations with the West. "We don't yet quite have a cliché to capture this all," Powell said.

The ministers also approved a communiqué pledging to improve their military capabilities and compatibility and declaring that NATO "must be able to field forces that can move quickly to wherever they are needed."

In doing so, they acknowledged that the alliance now faces unpredictable threats far from Europe, even as some have questioned the continued relevance of the alliance because the United States made only selective use of the members' forces in the Afghanistan campaign.

The need to reduce the gap between U.S. military capacity and Europe's comparatively outdated forces had been a central American demand for this meeting. Senior administration officials said they were pleased with the communiqué's strong language, which says that "NATO must be able to field forces that can move quickly to wherever they are needed, sustain operations over distance and time, and achieve their objectives."

Under the agreement, Russia will for the first time become an equal partner in discussions and actions with alliance members on a range of issues, including nonproliferation, military cooperation, civilian emergency planning and other topics the members agree to in the future. The accord will be signed by President Vladimir Putin of Russia and the 19 heads of NATO member countries in a meeting near Rome on May 28.

But those 19 nations, including the United States, will preserve full control over membership in the alliance and over core military decisions and the use of allied troops to defend member nations.

Powell, speaking to reporters after the main morning meeting Tuesday, said: "We believe we can lay the foundation for new cooperation between NATO and Moscow while fully protecting the alliance's ability to act independently."

Later, after an hourlong meeting with Powell, Ivanov said: "We must now together build the new world order, and this will be a long process, a difficult process." The Russian foreign minister added that Moscow wanted "partnership relations, constructive relations and predictable relations" with the United States.

While America is set to spend about 3.7 percent of its gross domestic product on defense this year, spending by about half the alliance's European members has dropped below 2 percent of gross domestic product, barely the level that the United States expects applicants for new membership to meet.

Robertson, emphasizing that point to reporters, warned that "NATO must change radically if it is to be effective," and added that the organization must "modernize or be marginalized."

For his part, Powell said, "The kinds of challenges NATO may be facing in the future won't always be located in Central Europe, and NATO has to have the ability to move to other places."

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