NATO Door Must Be Open

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In 1999, three Central European states that had been behind the Iron Curtain for half a century were accepted into the NATO: Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. That decision implied the beginning of the end of the Cold War division of Europe.

That enlargement and the next one in 2004 have significantly contributed to the creation of a zone of stability, peace and security in Europe. Enlarged by the inclusion of new member states, adapted to the challenges of the 21st century, NATO strengthens democracy in Europe. For many new members it is also a bridge to the European Union.

An open-door policy is the condition for the effective functioning of NATO and the EU. The goal of democratic countries in Europe must be to continue to enlarge the area of freedom. This task is particularly significant for NATO in the context of the Balkan countries, as well as Ukraine and Georgia.

Peace and democratic stabilization of these regions is in the interest of all European countries, not only of the members of the alliance. NATO has, in addition to strategic reasons, a moral obligation to eliminate the relics of the post-Yalta division of Europe.

Ukraine and Georgia, having regained their independence, have undertaken the huge effort of reform, the objective of which is for their nations to rejoin the European family. Of course, the implementation of reforms does not proceed without problems. The costs of systemic transformation cannot be avoided. The Polish remember the sacrifices and hardships that led us to NATO and the EU, and we are grateful for the support we received from our partners.

Such support is needed today by Georgia and Ukraine. NATO cannot ignore the request of the leaders of both these countries to tighten their cooperation with the alliance beyond the existing forms of cooperation. These states want to become part of NATO's Membership Action Plan. It is the obligation of NATO member states to provide a positive response. It should not delay.

Skeptics say joining the action plan creates an obligation to grant membership in NATO. This is a misleading oversimplification. The action plan is a process with an indefinite time perspective, and it does not oblige the alliance or the country concerned to conclude the process with membership. The action plan creates a new category of relations that does not impose an automatic progression to any higher level of cooperation, but gives a chance to reinvigorate positive political and economic transformations.

Such transformations offer a chance for stabilization in the region and, consequently, for the enhancement of security and stability in Europe. Today, Ukraine and Georgia are still not ready enough to join the circle of NATO members, but they cooperate extensively with the alliance, including in operational terms. Making them part of the action plan will enable further implementation of the process of political and military reform of their states.

European leaders must be aware that the process of integration with NATO runs parallel with enlargement of the EU. Failure at this week's NATO Bucharest summit to bring Ukraine and Georgia into the Membership Action Plan would be bad news not only for NATO, but also for the EU and might put at risk the construction of a stable European security system.

If NATO fails to settle the issue of membership for Albania, Croatia and Macedonia; fails to open up cooperation with Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro; and refrains from extending the Membership Action Plan to Ukraine and Georgia, the political mission of the alliance will suffer painful defeat. It would signal the loss of NATO's political purpose and significance on the security map of Europe and the world. The organization would irreversibly lose its stabilizing role.

I have written to the leaders of NATO member states, stressing that the moral obligation and historical duty to bring back to Europe the states that were separated from it still remains unfulfilled. The summit is the most appropriate moment to decide to extend the Membership Action Plan to Ukraine and Georgia. We cannot refuse these states their right to European and Atlantic integration. We can't leave them in solitude when they face enormous internal and external pressures.

We have the chance for this week's NATO summit to be positively recorded in the history of the alliance and of Europe. I believe that the right decisions will be made in Bucharest, serving the enlargement of the area of freedom and stability.

Lech Kaczynski is president of Poland. This comment appeared in the Financial Times.