Last week President Bush asked several European journalists to meet with him in order to speak about the upcoming NATO summit in Bucharest. The following dialogue then took place. Bush: “Do people still talk about the rainbow speech? Were you there?” Journalist: “Yes.” Bush: “That was an amazing moment, wasn’t it?” Journalist: “Yes, it was an amazing moment.” Bush: “I gave a speech on the same square where Ceausescu gave his last speech. It was raining, and just as I started to speak a perfect rainbow appeared.” Journalist: “Yes, and you spoke about a bridge to the new Russia.” Bush : “Yes.” Journalist: “Do you remember that?” Bush: “I remember the rainbow best of all. It was a remarkable moment.”
Bush’s remarks pretty much mirror his state of mind as he returns to the Romanian capital. It is his farewell visit with the NATO partners, his final summit meeting in Europe. The president, diplomats say, is now only interested in his transatlantic legacy, adding a NATO chapter into the history books that are already full of entries about him.
But this also includes a project that will certainly encounter some resistance from the 24 heads of state and leaders as they meet for the kick-off dinner for the summit. Bush would like to bring the Ukraine and Georgia into the NATO alliance as a reward for their efforts at building democracy. Bush would like the two countries to be admitted into the so-called Membership Action Plan (MAP), which is the first step to joining NATO.
This intention has pretty much divided NATO into east and west – at least among the European partners. Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and Luxembourg all have strong reservations. Of the older western members only Canada, which has a large population of Ukrainian immigrants, has signaled it might be open to the idea, while the UK has been more reserved. Most of the eastern European partners, on the other hand, are in favor. Especially Poland and the Baltic states see themselves as representatives of the former Soviet republics in NATO (and in the EU).
But the Germans have been the most forceful in pointing out that neither the Ukraine nor Georgia at this time meet the internal political prerequisites that are expected of NATO members. Polls in the Ukraine indicate that 70% of the population is against joining NATO. Georgia has two separatist regions (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) which would make the border security guarantee among NATO members highly problematic. Finally, Russia’s objections are having an effect in Berlin. Sources point out that the Americans are correct in asserting that Moscow does not have any veto rights over the alliance. But it has to be considered that relations between the West and Russia have been strained by the question of Kosovo’s independence. Why pour fuel on the fire just now?
Up to now the NATO committees have been unable to reach a compromise. Bush was aware of this, since he emphasized that a final decision would be made in Bucharest. Over the weekend he was busy calling partners, trying to persuade them to his position. The Germans signaled that would be in favor of making an offer in Bucharest to both countries of much closer ties to NATO – but not going as far as MAP, which would lead directly to membership.
This isn’t the only thorny issue that the alliance has to deal with at the 59th anniversary of its establishment in the Romanian capital. This event was supposed to be an “enlargement summit” where NATO would decide whether to invite Croatia, Macedonia and Albania into the alliance. None of these countries is much of a military force, but most members believe that their joining would have a stabilizing influence in the region, which has become destabilized by Kosovo’s independence.
This plan, which requires that certain internal Albanian deficits be overlooked, could be derailed by a petty disagreement concerning the official name of the state of Macedonia. Greece does not recognize Macedonia as Macedonia because it has a northern province with that same name. Long negotiations mediated by the United Nations resulted in a compromise with the official state name of the “Republic of Macedonia (Skopje)”, which the Greeks promptly rejected on Monday in Brussels. The Greek government is worried that it might collapse, since the issue has become emotionally charged in the country’s internal politics. Diplomats can’t rule out that a new fundamental debate concerning Albania might erupt in Bucharest should Greece prevent Macedonia’s membership.
On Thursday, the second day of the summit in Bucharest, the ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo will be on the agenda. The Americans have already signaled that they will once again demand a greater participation in Hindu Kusch in terms of funds, troops and more. The Germans always feel that they are being taken to task for not going into the heavy combat operations in the southern Afghanistan, but Bush has already assured them in an interview that he is perfectly satisfied with them remaining in the peaceful north. So all eyes will be on French President Sarkozy, who will announce in Bucharest the deployment of an additional 1000 troops to Afghanistan along with another special unit.
Finally on Friday the NATO-Russia Council will meet, during which yet another luminary will be saying farewell to the alliance: at the alliance’s invitation Russian President Putin, soon to be leaving office, will come to Bucharest. Whether he uses the stage to attack his hosts depends on what is decided with respect to the Ukraine and Georgia. His foreign minister has already fanned the flames by speaking of the “shameful” process. Other than that the preparations in Brussels for the meeting were harmonious. The Russians are prepared to sign a transit treaty with NATO that will allow NATO forces to cross Russian territory en route to Afghanistan. Up to now there was only a bilateral agreement with Germany. According to western diplomats, the increasingly shrill public pronouncements against NATO by Russia are not being reflected in its actions.