Sunday 9th of August 2020, 19:54 CET
Romania and Bulgaria join NATO
March 29, 2004

Posted by HW on August 9, 2020

Seven countries
Romania, Bulgaria and five other former communist nations join NATO today, sealing the military alliance's shift from defending the West against the Soviet empire to fighting global terrorism.

Prime ministers of Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania meet in Washington today to mark the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's biggest expansion ever, to 26 members. A ceremony is scheduled for April 2 at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
"We've been seeking this more than 60 years and preparing at all levels for a decade," said Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, 72, in an interview in Vilnius before leaving for the U.S. "We're ready," he said, adding Lithuanians "realize how much effort fighting terrorism requires."

NATO, created 55 years ago to counter communism during the Cold War, is adding 200,000 military personnel to its existing 2.8 million as it seeks to fight terrorism in places like Afghanistan. New members will spend a combined $4 billion a year to meet NATO standards, boosting sales at companies including Lockheed Martin Corp., the No. 1 U.S. defense contractor, and European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co., Europe's biggest aerospace company.

Rapid-reaction force
NATO aims to create a rapid-reaction force, to reach full operational capability by October 2006, that will be able to move 20,000 troops anywhere in the world in as little as a week.
"No other organization has proven as dynamic as NATO, and as capable of adapting to changing circumstances," Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a speech in Warsaw this month. "NATO is already doing its part" to fight terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, "and we will do more."

Closer to Russia
The last expansion occurred in 1999, when NATO added Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, who will join the European Union on May 1. Today's enlargement moves the alliance Eastward to Russia's border near St. Petersburg, making all Eastern European EU entrants also part of the alliance.
Russia opposed the expansion, which leaves its Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic Sea surrounded by NATO countries. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov called the expansion "offensive" and warned it considers the inclusion of former eastern bloc countries a threat, press agency Interfax reported Thursday.

Land link to Turkey
Romania, Bulgaria, two Balkan nations on the Black Sea coast that plan to join the EU in 2007, and Slovakia, which was created in 1993 with the breakup of Czechoslovakia, give NATO a direct land link between European allies and Turkey, something NATO lacked. Turkey is NATO's only predominately Muslim member.

Faster response
That means troops and supplies can be transported to operations in the Middle East and Central Asia not only by air, but also truck and rail, according to Andrew Brookes, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
That's important for the organization's goal of being able to move troops rapidly beyond Europe to battlefields anywhere, in line with its evolving mission, Brookes said.

Broader support
`This enlargement brings in people who are keen to show their credentials and want to cooperate,' he said. `And the alliance's broader support, which now includes essentially all of Europe, means its decisions will carry more weight.'
The new allies already contribute to missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan and to the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq.

Money is limited
Still, money is limited. The new members' combined defense budget of about $4 billion a year, including $1.4 billion for Romania, is about the same size as Poland's alone and less than 1 percent of total defense spending by current NATO members.
Romania, the largest of the new NATO countries, has already upgraded 90 Soviet-made fighters to NATO standards under a $500 million contract with Israel's Elbit Industries. It is upgrading dozens of helicopters, and buying used carrier planes from the U.S. Navy and warships from the British navy.
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