On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in New York, Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase has reaffirmed his country's desire for speedy accession to NATO. In a speech at Columbia University, Nastase repeatedly portrayed Romania and its neighbor Bulgaria as bulwarks in Southeastern Europe against the trafficking of people, arms, and drugs to Western Europe.
New York, 4 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase has laid out his country's case for membership in NATO this year, saying it would provide security and stability on the alliance's southeastern frontier.
In a speech at Columbia University on 1 February, Nastase quoted NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson as saying there is no better insurance against terrorism than enlarging NATO by inviting stable, multiethnic democracies to join.
Though lagging far behind as a candidate for European Union accession, in part because of slow economic and political reforms, Romania is hoping for stronger consideration by NATO when it meets to discuss enlargement later this year in Prague.
Europe's new democracies, Nastase said, have already acted as de facto allies. He said that without pressure or a treaty commitment, the 10 democracies known as the Vilnius Group have freely chosen to support the central obligation of NATO that an attack on any member of the Euro-Atlantic community is an attack on all members.
Nastase said that with Romania's mixed religious and ethnic population, the country is a natural bridge between the West and the Islamic world. He reiterated his belief that the emerging democracies of Southeastern Europe will continue to make a significant contribution to European security.
"Romania and Bulgaria are the most populous of the new European democracies. We are partners who have been tested in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and the war against terrorism. From a geo-strategic prospective, including Romania and Bulgaria in NATO will consolidate the southern flank of the alliance and strengthen its ability to address current security needs."
Nastase said that challenges remain in the western Balkans. He said surrounding the territory of the former Yugoslavia with stable and democratic NATO members will increase the prospects for economic and political development in the region. He said Romania and Bulgaria can help assure conditions that will allow the long process of Balkan reconstruction and reconciliation to begin.
"NATO strategic continuity will also be strengthened since Romania and Bulgaria will link Northern and Central Europe with Greece and Turkey. Our inclusion in NATO would strengthen the European barriers against criminal and terrorist activities flowing from the instability in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria will bring NATO to the Black Sea and provide the alliance permanent forward bases for air, land, and maritime traffic with the Middle East and Central Asia."
Nastase cited the successes he says have already been made by the regional center for transborder crime, located in Bucharest. He said it has succeeded in dismantling a number of drug- and human-trafficking networks. He said Romanians are looking forward to an expeditious accession to NATO.
"We are confident that we will make history in Prague. But we will stay [on] the course even if our moment is delayed. Romania will directly strengthen NATO's security role through our experience in peacekeeping operations and our role in promoting stability and cooperation in Southern Europe. Romania remains on the front line of conflicts in Southeastern Europe."
The Romanian prime minister also warned of attempts to isolate Russia and Ukraine from the process of European integration. He spoke about his government's efforts to improve relations with both Moscow and Kyiv.
"Last year, we launched the 'Partnership for Europe' with Ukraine. We also resumed negotiations for a political treaty with Russia as part of seeking a normal, constructive relationship between our two countries. Russia and Ukraine have important roles to play, and Romania believes [that] the logic of engagement has definitively dismantled Cold War divisions in Europe."
Asked later about the priorities of his government's domestic policy, Nastase singled out the issue of rampant corruption as the most worrisome. Romania is considered one of the most corrupt countries in Eastern Europe.
"Corruption is a drain on our economy, a damper on foreign investment, and a blight on the reputation of our country. It is a threat to our institutions and to the freedoms we worked so hard to acquire. Fighting corruption is the number one priority."
Recent surveys show popular support in Romania for NATO membership stands far higher than any other of the other eight aspiring NATO candidates -- Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Slovakia, and Slovenia.