At the NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, President George W. Bush said one of the main responsibilities of the alliance is to strengthen freedom in Europe:
"In the nearly six decades since NATO's founding, Europe has experienced an unprecedented expansion of liberty. A continent that was once divided by an ugly wall is now united in freedom. Yet the work of uniting Europe is not fully complete. Many nations that threw off the shackles of tyranny are still working to build the free institutions that are the foundation of successful democracies. NATO is encouraging these nations on the path to reform."
President Bush emphasized that NATO will keep its door open to new members. Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia are all participating in NATO's Membership Action Plan, and the U.S. supports their aspirations to join the alliance. The U.S. also supports Georgia's efforts to implement reforms and eventually join the NATO. In Ukraine, government leaders are trying to curb corruption and promote the rule of law. "As democracy takes hold and its leaders pursue vital reforms," said Mr. Bush, "NATO membership will be open to the Ukrainian people if they choose it."
But not every country in Europe is moving toward democracy. A notable exception is Belarus -- where peaceful protesters are beaten and opposition leaders are murdered. Such oppression, said President Bush, offends the conscience of Europe and America:
"We have a message for the people of Belarus: the vision of a Europe whole, and free, and at peace includes you -- and we stand with you in your struggle for freedom."
In the years ahead, the NATO alliance is likely to face threats beyond its borders. Europe, said President Bush, no longer produces ideologies that threaten other nations with aggression and conquest. And a continent that was for generations a source of instability and global war has become a source of stability and peace. Freedom, said President Bush, has brought peace to Europe. And freedom has brought the opportunity to bring peace to other parts of the world, including the broader Middle East.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.