by NATO Secretary General, Javier Solana
It is an honour and a pleasure to address this distinguished Committee.
In my travels to Central and Eastern Europe, I have had the opportunity to meet with many citizens and statesmen who make their case for their country's membership in NATO. Some reflect on the past, others focus on the future. Some employ arguments that are very emotional, while others employ a more cold-blooded strategic calculus.
Yet to me, the most simple, and still most powerful argument was put forward by the Polish President some months ago. He told me very simply that his country wanted to join the Atlantic Alliance for the same reason no current member wanted to leave the Alliance.
This story underlines one of the most heartening developments since the end of the Cold War: the return of the nations of Central Europe as our equal partners and friends. Today, the countries of this region are back on the political map, with their own distinctive voice, and are no longer the object of someone else's ambitions.
Their road back to Europe was long, difficult and dangerous. It was a road travelled with high hopes, but often leading to disappointment and sacrifice.
But it was also a road that demonstrated some eternal truths about the people of these countries: that they hold deeply to their democratic and libertarian instincts; that they are naturally a part of a Europe from which they were so unnaturally separated for so long. They are our Allies in defending freedom, for they have learned what it means to lose freedom.
Today, their journey back to Europe is almost complete. Yet one essential goal still needs to be achieved: full membership in NATO and the European Union - two major institutions which for decades epitomised the Europe that was foreclosed to them. These institutions have achieved far more than increasing their members' security and economic well-being. Both institutions have also helped Europe to transcend its own destructive self.
NATO and EU stand for one of the crucial lessons of the 20th century - that European unity and North American engagement are indispensable. With unity, our continent can break the fateful cycle of mistrust and rivalry that has haunted it for centuries. With an outward-looking and engaged North America, a united Europe can continue to count on the partner it needs to develop a strong and more balanced transatlantic relationship. And with each other, Europe and North America can face successfully the challenges of the wider world.
Membership in these institutions therefore means far more than signing treaties or joining bureaucracies. It means participating in the most ambitious project Europe and North America have ever undertaken: to create the conditions for lasting stability and prosperity in the entire Euro-Atlantic area.
For the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to take part in this grand project is a legitimate ambition. We have no right to deny it. As I have repeatedly said, after 1945, when Western Europe was given a new chance, it was given an Atlantic chance. The same chance, not a lesser imitation of it, should now be given to the new democracies to our East.
Opening NATO was never about righting historical wrongs. Nor was it about gaining security at the expense of others. If enlargement was to contribute to the security of all of our continent, we also needed to look beyond the immediate candidates and focus on the wider Europe. Only in a truly cooperative strategic environment can the enlargement of NATO be seen, and appreciated, for what it is: a natural and organic part of Euro-Atlantic integration.
Today, as we approach the parliamentary ratification of the accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, we can confidently say that the ground is well-prepared. Enlargement will make NATO stronger; it will make Europe more secure and more united; and it will make the transatlantic relationship better prepared to meet the challenges of a new century.
Canada and Denmark have already cast their vote for an enlarged NATO. Their confidence should be an inspiration to us all. And we can be confident, because the Alliance that is opening its doors to new members is not the NATO of the past. It is an Alliance that has been undergoing its own process of transformation and adaptation. Indeed, NATO has changed perhaps more than any other international organisation. Over the course of this decade we have changed our policies, our strategies, our structures.
The new members will therefore join a new NATO: a NATO committed to a stronger role of the European Allies through a European Security and Defence Identity within the Alliance; a NATO also committed to the security and stability of the wider Europe. The Alliance they will be joining is an Alliance that has developed close relationships with virtually every country in the Euro-Atlantic area.
Over the course of this decade, NATO has reached out to the wider Europe, drawing dozens of countries into a common framework of cooperative security throughout the Euro-Atlantic area. We have established new patterns and networks of interaction - led by the very successful Partnership for Peace and the new political body, the Euro-Atlantic Cooperation Council.
In Bosnia, the new NATO of partnership and cooperation has become most visible. Under NATO's lead, 36 nations have united in a historically unique coalition for peace. In Bosnia, Czech, Hungarian and Polish soldiers serve alongside our own, as do soldiers from Sweden, Ukraine, Latvia. Together, they are moving this war-torn region towards a sustainable peace. In the efforts of so many countries and international organisations to re-build Bosnia we can see an undivided Europe at work. It is a Europe with a new sense of strategic direction and purpose - inspired to no small extent by NATO's cooperative policies.
Our future new members will also be joining a NATO firmly committed to a strong relationship with Russia. We have always said that the chance to anchor a new, democratic Russia in a new Europe is a historic opportunity which we must seize. But we rejected the notion that we had to make a choice between enlargement and good relations with Russia. The signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act last May showed that we were right. This document, and the rapidly evolving cooperation which it has inspired, demonstrate that NATO's enlargement and a solid relationship with Russia are not mutually exclusive. A larger NATO and a democratic Russia are destined to cooperate.
Membership in NATO means that for the first time in their recent history, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland will be part of a democratic Alliance - and by their own free choice. They will be able to organise their security collectively, together with like-minded Allies.
However, membership of NATO is a two-way street. It is not enough to enjoy the benefits of Alliance membership; our future new members also must prepare themselves to shoulder new responsibilities and accept obligations and costs.
Are they prepared to do so? The answer is an unequivocal "yes". These three countries have gone through perhaps the most vigorous, detailed, transparent and demanding set of discussions and examinations that any countries have had to go through since the founding of the Alliance. They fully understand the obligations and responsibilities that will be theirs to uphold upon entering the Alliance. And they have shown consistently and without waver that they are prepared to meet these requirements.
All three invitees are aware that they still have to make wide-ranging adjustments. They will have to continue to modernise their armed forces, just as they will have to continue to ensure their democratic control. But NATO will provide a solid, reliable framework for this long-term restructuring - and that means a more cost-effective reform than they would have to contemplate outside NATO.
All these adjustments are manageable. No threat forces us to spend excessive sums on our common defence. What we want to achieve is, first and foremost, interoperability between our armed forces. We need communication systems that can communicate; we need to be able to send reinforcements in times of crises; and we need our soldiers to speak the same language. Our future new members, like NATO's present members, will have the time and the freedom to meet the requirements in a way that they can absorb. No one wants our new members to put their economic reforms at risk by overspending on defence.
NATO's enlargement is a process, not a one-time event. The first new members will not be the last. This message of the open door has been understood. Those countries which have not been invited have already made it clear that they will continue to press their case and to do all that is necessary to join. Thus, the powerful incentives for further reform, which the prospect of NATO membership has created, will remain. Indeed, without the commitment of NATO - and the European Union - to open up, we would probably not have seen the settlement of longstanding disputes by many bilateral treaties that have been signed across Central and Eastern Europe.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
With all the new dynamics in today's Europe, our major institutions simply cannot stand still. In a Europe where integration has become the defining characteristic, our institutions must evolve and adapt. And they must open up. So the enlargement of NATO - like that of the European Union - is a strategic imperative. It is an investment in a Europe permanently secure and at peace with itself.
"What belongs together will ultimately grow together". Willy Brandt's famous dictum was borne out in Germany. I am convinced that what was true of Germany will also come true in Europe. I appeal to you to join hands in the noble task of reuniting Europe.