By Ben Partridge and Jeremy Bransten
London, 10 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- NATO Secretary General Javier Solana says next month's Washington NATO summit is expected to offer aspirant new members "a membership action plan" helping them integrate with the alliance's military structure.
He told a NATO anniversary conference in London yesterday that the plan -- still to be approved -- would boost the "interoperability" of the military forces of NATO and non-NATO countries.
He said the plan "is to bring the countries who have decided they want to be part of NATO as close as possible from the point of view of inter-operability, to try to help them integrate."
Solana said the membership action plan shows that the "open-door policy" adopted by the 16-nation western military alliance at the Madrid summit in July, 1997 "is not just a rhetorical concept but it has practical consequences with practical elements."
NATO will make history Friday at a ceremony in Independence, Missouri, when it admits three new members, all former Warsaw Pact adversaries -- Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.
Eight other Central/East Europeans, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Romania, are also seeking to join (plus Albania) and are engaged in a dialogue with NATO. Solana said the extension of NATO membership to the Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians is an incentive to the other would-be members.
"Extending NATO's membership to these three democracies helps to stabilize the region which historically has been the staging ground for many of this century's disasters. In doing so, it also signifies that, in this new Europe, geography is no longer destiny. And it provides a powerful incentive for other nations sharing the same ambitions, and the same values, to get their house in order."
Solana said NATO today has an opportunity to actively shape the security agenda for Europe, and not to be passively driven by it, as was the case during the ideological stand-off of the Cold War.
He said NATO is helping to bring the Europeans closer together, not only to each other, but also closer to Russia, and is helping to create new relations between an integrated and widening Europe.
He said NATO's role is to complement the present trend toward political, social and economic integration by "helping bring about a new cooperative security order in which no country feels excluded."
Our correspondent says that although Solana stressed NATO's open-door policy, many of NATO's military commanders believe it would be premature to absorb any more new members soon.
NATO now has a cooperative relationship with more than 20 eastern countries, including Russia and Ukraine, through its Partnership for Peace Program. Forty-four countries, including most of the former Warsaw Pact nations, have joined NATO's Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, a forum for political and security talks.
Solana says the West must help Russia to develop its potential to enhance European security. He noted that NATO has opened up new avenues for cooperation, ranging from preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to crisis management.
Referring to Bosnia, Kosovo and the Balkans generally, he said the Euro-Atlantic community must go beyond treating symptoms of conflict, to tackling the causes. Help is needed with reconstruction, creating the climate for reconciliation, and with economic incentives to help the region "rejoin the European mainstream."
He said it was in the long-term strategic interests of alliance
members to create what he called "a partnership for prosperity," although he did not say how this economic help would be funded.
But Solana's main message was that NATO is setting a new security agenda for Europe into the 21st century.
"At the age of 50, NATO has left the passive, reactive approach of the Cold War and today NATO is setting the security agenda in ways we could only dream about decades ago. We're making a major contribution to the widening and deepening of Europe."
Polish Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz told the conference that his country wants to see NATO evolving but it does not want to see the creation of new dividing lines in Europe. He also spoke of the need for constructive relations with Russia and Ukraine.
Konstantyn Gryshchenko, Ukraine's ambassador to NATO, said the accession of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary as full members will enhance European security.
He said Ukraine sees NATO's eastwards enlargement as an "expansion of democracy and a guarantee of stability in Europe."
He said Kyiv wants to continue to accelerate and deepen its special partnership with the alliance, but declined to speculate when asked if Ukraine might soon want to join NATO.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk was listed to speak yesterday, but was unable to attend at the last minute. Another listed speaker, Hungarian Defense Minister Janos Szabo, also failed to show up. The Romanian and Slovak foreign ministers, Andrei Plesu and Eduard Kukan are due to address the last day of the conference today. The main speaker will be U.S. deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, who will focus on the Euro-Atlantic relationship.