Byline: David Jones, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The months leading up to the last round of NATO expansion, in which Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were admitted to the Western alliance, were filled with gossip, speculation and intense lobbying among the prospective member countries.
Hardly a week went by without an invitation to lunch from the ambassador of one or another of the candidates, hoping to put his case before the American officials whose choices were likely to be decisive.
It has been much quieter ahead of a November summit in Prague, where the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is expected to issue invitations to as many as seven more countries stretching from the Black Sea to the Baltic.
The reasons are obvious:
*Russia seems much less of a threat to Western Europe than it did even three or four years ago, and it has dropped most of its objections to a larger NATO reaching up to its borders.
*Almost all the serious candidates are expected to be admitted this time, giving their Washington embassies far less reason for anxiety than before.
*Both the diplomats and the journalists are preoccupied with the war against terrorism and the buildup to a likely war with Iraq.
Nevertheless, our reporter Nicholas Kralev has just come home from a 19-day tour through four of the prospective new NATO members and will return to Europe next month to visit the other three.
The first of his articles appeared Friday, giving a broad overview of the issues affecting all the countries and describing their frustration at being caught in the middle of U.S.-European policy differences over Iraq and the International Criminal Court.
In the weeks to come, we will publish separate articles on each of the seven countries, assessing their prospects and readiness for membership.
Why bother if there is so little interest this time? Mainly because we think the issue is important, of course.
But beyond that, we are eager to build on an enthusiastic readership base within the Washington diplomatic community, and this is an issue of intense interest not only to the seven candidate countries, but to the 19 existing members as well.
Add to that our loyal readers at the Pentagon, who will have to live with the decisions made in Prague, and we have an issue that bears directly on the lives of a large number of our core readers. …