Yesterday, President Bush outlined his vision for the future of U.S. defense. Mr. Bush's grand plan for missile defense and unilateral missile reduction will be debated among friends and foes of the United States in the days to come.
There are, however, a great many people who would have been thrilled had the president addressed in his remarks his plan for NATO. Will there be a second round of NATO enlargement in 2002? As before, NATO enlargement could be a case of, as the Bible has it, "many are called, but few are chosen." Presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers from the nine countries hoping to join, have been arriving in Washington in a steady flow in the hope of pressing their case with the White House. Those who have been given the opportunity to do so, come away with high hopes for Mr. Bush's commitment to enlarging NATO.
So far, however, no specifics have been forthcoming from the administration. Mr. Bush is scheduled to travel to Brussels in June, before going to the European summit in Gothenberg, Sweden. Aspirant countries hope for clearer signals to emerge before then, a deadline that is fast approaching. In Bratislava, Slovenia, in early May, the Committee to Expand NATO will hold a repeat of last year's Vilnius summit, at which foreign ministers from the nine aspirant countries got together for the first time to make the case for a NATO "Big Bang." This near-cosmic event would bring into NATO Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Macedonia and Albania in one great swoop.
One of the first leaders to have made her case with Mr. Bush was Latvian President Vaira Viki-Freiberga, who was in Washington last week. Fresh from her meeting with Mr. Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, she told me that the president "gave strong reinforcement of the open door policy, with no artificial exceptions." He also spoke of giving no country a veto over the process, which is especially important for Latvia and the other Baltic countries, whose NATO membership application is adamantly opposed by Russia. If Mr. Bush is giving that kind of encouragement, one hopes he is not doing so lightly. For the countries seeking NATO membership, it is deadly serious business.
Back in the early days of the NATO enlargement debate, former Clinton adviser Michael Mandelbaum stated that "NATO expansion is the Titanic of American foreign policy, and the iceberg on which it will founder is Baltic membership. …