In the autumn of next year, NATO will hold a summit in Prague to discuss its further expansion eastward. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland were admitted to the military alliance in 1999, and now 10 more countries are seeking to join -- Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
At the Prague summit, further membership invitations may be issued, but exactly which nations are favored is a hotly debated topic -- both inside and outside the candidate countries. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Jacobs recently took part in an interview with a U.S. lawmaker who provided some insights on the competition and the NATO enlargement process as seen from Washington.
Prague, 4 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings of the Democratic Party represents a district in the state of Florida, but his attention often focuses on lands far from his home and his constituents.
Hastings holds key legislative positions in the area of foreign policy. He represents the U.S. Congress in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE. And as a member of the House International Relations Committee, he is actively concerned with the subject of NATO enlargement.
Hastings visited Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty headquarters in Prague over the weekend (2-3 June) and took time to give his personal views on NATO, the candidate countries, and the complications and controversies that might come with the expansion of the alliance.
Hastings provided a "scorecard" of how some of the candidates for NATO are viewed by the U.S. Congress:
"I do know that [in] the United States Congress, more interest has been shown in ensuring that Slovakia and Bulgaria and Romania are considered. And I do know that there is consideration for the Baltics, Lithuania being first among those that are being considered."
Hastings was asked for his opinion on a private commentary that the Baltic states would not be offered invitations to join NATO at the Prague summit in 2002. He said that in his opinion the commentary was "probably correct."
He said Russia's objections to Baltic membership in NATO have to be taken seriously.
"But when you get to the Baltics, I think they [Russia] see [them] as part of their sphere, and it is going to require a great amount of understanding on behalf of all parties involved. And, in my view, it will be more difficult to [bring in] Estonia, Lithuania, and other countries in the Baltic areas if it is that [they] are to become members of the NATO alliance."
Hastings said it would be wrong for the United States or NATO to dictate to Russia on security matters. He said that to do so would be counter-productive.
"Russia is pivotal to understandings on the European continent, and therefore to demonize them [Russia], or to continue along the path of thinking that we are going to have our say from across the Atlantic, I think, is a big mistake."
Hastings said he also thought it would be a good idea to have Russia itself join NATO:
"As a person in the United States Congress, I think that Russia ought to be considered to be a part of this [NATO] alliance so [that eliminating] all of the threat would likely take place."
Hastings said he wanted to make it clear that his views are his own, and did not necessarily represent those of the whole Congress or of the president of the United States.