RIGA - Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia can bank on receiving invitations to join NATO at the alliance's summit in Prague at the end of 2002, the U.S. newspaper The Washington Post wrote in an opinion piece on Oct. 21, citing several unnamed diplomats.
"A second round of expansion to extend NATO into the Baltic states has moved from bitter controversy to broad consensus in an eye's blink," wrote Jim Hoagland, one of the newspaper's commentators. "Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania can now bank on receiving invitations late next year to join NATO, diplomats agree. So can a still-undetermined number of other Central and Eastern European states."
Hoagland cited the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington and the United States' anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan, which has softened Russia's categorical stance on the issue.
NATO Secretary General George Robertson has sounded similarly upbeat on the subject recently . "The events of Sept. 11 focused Russia on the fact that there are larger things out there than an obsession with NATO moving into the Baltics," said Robertson.
Moscow "had come to understand that strident Russian opposition might make it happen more quickly," the newspaper cited Robertson as saying during a recent visit to Washington.
The newspaper foresees that the new member countries will find themselves in a significantly changed NATO. "America's war on global terrorism and Russia's decision to swallow NATO's Baltic advance, which will put it onto the territory of the former Soviet Union, will make the alliance a more openly political body than it is today."
Hoagland argued that military support offered by European countries should be used more by the United States.
"Paradoxically, after hectoring its European allies for years to get more interested in NATO operating outside Europe, Washington today is setting aside for the time being offers of direct military help from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and others.
"Europe has extended meaningful support to a common war led by America. But it has not found a comfortable fit militarily in this effort. Leaving European allies feeling underutilized, underconsulted and perhaps even underappreciated in this global struggle is an outcome that should be avoided, even in history's gallop," Hoagland concluded.