Next stop, Ukraine

  • 2002-07-11
The message from the NATO candidate countries' summit in Riga was not which countries would be invited to join in Prague but which would be invited after Prague.

Reading between the lines, it's clear that the Baltic countries, Bulgaria Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia - if upcoming elections there go smoothly - are in.

What most people wanted to talk about is which countries will follow them. Aside from Albania, Croatia and Macedonia, all of which attended the summit, Ukraine was first on the list.

Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski set the tone early in the summit when he called on the current group of candidate countries to join with Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to help push NATO's borders further east.

During his speech many of the nine prime ministers sitting in front of him began frantically scribbling notes into the margins of their own speeches. One after another they got up and spoke of the need to embrace Ukraine's interest in joining NATO.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga called Ukraine an "important partner and ally."

It is also clear that the United States wants Ukraine in as well.

The U.S. NATO mafia is a group of Washington insiders that have traveled fairly anonymously around Eastern Europe for the last seven years telling leaders what to say and do to get into NATO. They call themselves the U.S. Committee on NATO and their ranks include some heavy hitters.

Present National Security advisor Condaleeza Rice used to be one of them, as was present Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

They help leaders write effective speeches and convince them of the importance NATO places on talking passionately about social issues such as freedom of the press, anti-Semitism and discriminatory election laws.

Their job has been tough but by no means impossible. Most importantly, the leaders here have listened to them, and we will see their results in Prague in November.

Now their job will get even tougher. They've never dealt with a country such as Ukraine, which has a population roughly equal in size to all seven present candidates combined.

One committee member, a former foreign policy advisor to a high-ranking U.S. senator, said his pet project was getting Belarus on the list of candidate countries. Granted he already had a few beers at the time, but there was no hint of joking.

They will look to countries like the Baltics for help, while the Baltics are attentively looking the other direction - toward the European Union.

It will be interesting to see if Baltic leaders have the resolve to renew long-broken ties.

NATO makes strange bedfellows.