NATO past and future
Not everything that happened at the Prague NATO meeting this week was palatable but, unquestionably, it was an historic occasion and should be remembered as such. The fact that it took place in Prague with Vaclav Havel as host symbolised its significance. More than any other Eastern European leader, except perhaps the nowforgotten Lech Walesa of Poland, Havel kept alive by personal example the spirit of independence during dark years of Soviet Union oppression. During those years few can have believed that a day would come and come quite quickly when seven states that were once beholden to Moscow would be accepted into membership of NATO. And, further, that this development would actually be welcomed, not just reluctantly accepted, by today's rulers in Moscow. NATO has thus increased its membership from 19 to 26 nations and made redundant its original purpose of holding the Soviet Union at bay in Europe. The acceptance of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia into membership is primarily for political reasons rather than military ones. Just as potential new members of the European Union have to adhere to certain democratic, financial and humanitarian principles before they can be considered, so applicants to NATO have to guarantee that they provide democratic and human rights across a wide spectrum of society. However, such advantages of expansion, although valuable, do not answer the difficult questions that arise about the future role of NATO as a military organisation. Fundamental reform to face new tasks is now necessary.
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