Farewell to a gray zone

  • 2001-06-21
On June 15, U.S. President George W. Bush read out an historic speech at Warsaw University. By articulating the principle that all European democracies that seek NATO membership "and are ready to share the responsibility" should be admitted, Bush set the stage for far-reaching U.S. engagement with countries ranging from the Baltic states to the troubled Balkans.

Bush's father loved bonding with the leaders of great powers and was heedless of the interests of small nations. Lithuanian leader Vytautas Landsbergis even accused him of a "new Munich" when the White House refused to recognize Lithuanian independence in 1990. The son is different. It seems he not only has interests, but morals. His views recall the vision of the world held by Ronald Reagan.

Bush said the West would never again use Central Europe as a bargaining chip in dirty games with undemocratic countries. "No more Munichs. No more Yaltas," Bush said in Warsaw. Just the day before, such commitment was difficult to imagine for cynical political analysts in the United States.

On June 14, the Associated Press quoted Kim Holmes of the conservative Washington think tank the Heritage Foundation saying a grand bargain with Russia may be conceivable. The basis of a deal could be Russia's cooperation on missile defense in exchange for promises by Bush not to open the door to Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia when NATO considers new members next year.

The pragmatics have grown quiet. The Baltic states are not for sale. They will join NATO. This was one of the messages brought by Bush. He said nothing about a timetable. But there is the question of "when," not "whether."

Bush calls for the unity of the countries of Western civilization. At the end of World War II in Yalta, a treacherous agreement between the leaders of the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union about handing Central Europe to the Soviets was arranged. "Yalta did not ratify a natural divide, it divided a living civilization," Bush said.

Last weekend Lithuanian Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas visited Prague, met with Czech leaders, and campaigned for NATO enlargement. There he heard the unofficial opinion of NATO that seven countries could be invited to join NATO in 2002; this means all candidates except Croatia, Macedonia and Albania. It's time to celebrate. No more Molotov-Ribbentrop pacts.

And everybody's wish is that Russia will finally become just another boring Western democracy. Then it will be welcome to join NATO as well.