A summit meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, is now underway in the Czech Republic’s capital, Prague. Among the main items on the agenda are bringing new members into the alliance, continuing to forge a new NATO-Russia relationship and transforming the alliance's capabilities to deal with the threats of the twenty-first century.
Seven countries - Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia – are expected to receive formal invitations to join NATO during the Prague meeting. As U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said, the expansion of the alliance to include states that were once part of the Soviet Union will mark “an historic moment” for NATO.
The Prague summit will also focus on NATO’s relations with its Euro-Atlantic "partners", including especially Russia. Among other initiatives in such areas as counterterrorism, civil emergency planning, and peacekeeping, NATO and Russia are cooperating on missile defense under the auspices of the NATO Russia Council. Secretary of State Colin Powell stressed the U.S. commitment to close NATO-Russia relations, and the NATO-Russia Council as a means of achieving that objective.
The biggest twenty-first century threat is posed by terrorist groups and rogue states. As National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said, NATO members are working to transform their military forces to meet this threat. More immediately, the United States and its allies are facing the issue of Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction. President George W. Bush said that if the regime of Saddam Hussein fails to disarm peacefully, then the U.S. would welcome NATO allies in a coalition to disarm Iraq forcefully.
The summit in Prague and the admission of former adversaries into the alliance are a testimonial to the key role NATO has played in making Europe whole and free. NATO’s role in keeping the peace in the twenty-first century will be no less important.