Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 61

Ten countries aspirant to NATO membership–the Vilnius Ten group of countries–held a summit meeting in Bucharest on March 25-26. As anticipated (see the Monitor, March 21), the event focused on the Black Sea direction of NATO’s enlargement. With the Baltic states already on a firm track toward membership in the alliance, Romania and Bulgaria now look increasingly likely to also receive invitations this year to commence the NATO accession process.

The “Big Bang” enlargement scenario, encompassing the three Baltic states, Slovakia and Slovenia in Central Europe, and Romania and Bulgaria on the Black Sea–a scenario that looked unrealistic only a few months ago–has now become a distinct possibility, termed “robust enlargement” in recent statements by U.S. and some other allied officials.

The new focus on the Black Sea stems from four main factors. First, that region’s strategic value to the U.S.-led current and planned antiterrorism operations. Second, a growing awareness that the Black Sea region is closely linked with the South Caucasus and the Caspian basin, the whole area being indivisible in terms of security. Third, vocal support by pivotal NATO ally Turkey–in an unusual tandem with Greece in this case–for Bulgaria’s and Romania’s inclusion in NATO, so as to close the gap between the alliance’s Southeastern and Central European tiers. And, fourth, as a corollary, American leadership in all the processes–antiterrorism campaign, NATO enlargement, Caspian basin energy development–that have made the Black Sea region into a strategic prize.

It was U.S. President George W. Bush who broadened NATO’s enlargement agenda to include the Black Sea direction in his June 2001 address in Warsaw. On that occasion, Bush chose to underline historic considerations and common values as the basis for enlarging the alliance “from the Baltic to the Black Sea.” Soon afterward, September 11 provided the strategic impetus behind Black Sea enlargement. The post-September dynamics have underscored the value of the Black Sea region to U.S. and NATO strategies in a vast area from the Balkans to the Caspian and beyond.

Representing the United States at the Bucharest meeting, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called for a “robust enlargement,” “the fullest, widest possible enlargement” of the alliance, when it holds its summit in Prague this coming November. Armitage also announced that he would travel from Bucharest directly to NATO headquarters in Brussels in order to brief the European allies, “to make sure that there is no mistake in Brussels about the position of the United States regarding the widest possible NATO membership.”

The high level of U.S. representation contrasted starkly with the level of West European representation at the Vilnius Ten summit. The West European prime ministers and foreign affairs ministers did not honor the invitations to attend. Western Europe as a whole shone through its absence at the meeting. It was left to the defense minister of Luxemburg to hold mightily aloft the banner of Europe in front of the NATO aspirant countries.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski addressed the summit on behalf of a new member country of NATO. Kwasniewski underscored the vital importance of Ukraine to the international order now taking shape in East-Central Europe and the Black Sea basin. He urged NATO member and candidate countries to develop close and friendly cooperation with Ukraine, to consider the possibility of Ukrainian membership in NATO in the future, to recognize the strong potential of Ukraine’s military industry for participation in joint projects, and to support Ukraine’s military reforms with a view to developing modern units capable of interoperable cooperation with NATO allied units.

Georgia is also situated in the immediate eastern neighborhood of the soon-to-enlarge NATO. President Eduard Shevardnadze is underscoring the significance of Georgia’s location as an extension of southeastern Europe geographically, economically and strategically. On a visit to Germany (Berliner Morgen Post am Sonntag, March 24), overlapping with the Vilnius-Ten meeting, Shevardnadze reaffirmed Georgia’s goal of “knocking at NATO’s door” by 2005 (PAP, BNS, BTA, Rompres, Western news agencies, March 25-27; NATO Daily Brief, March 18, 25-26; see the Monitor, March 15, 21; Fortnight in Review, March 21).