NATO's Cliffhanger; Aspiring Members Must Maximize Comparative Advantages
Byline: Tod Lindberg, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
BRASOV COUNTY, Romania - The craggy wall of rock rises 120 meters above the curving bed of a gently babbling stream in the Carpathian mountains. The face is in places so steep as to incline past the vertical. Mainly, though, it is massive and it is high. If you drove by it on the narrow, unpaved road that runs parallel to the stream, especially in the light spring snow that is falling, you might think it beautiful scenery.
But not today. Today the rock wall is pure intimidation. This impression comes from watching through binoculars as the singularly unintimidated men of Romania's 21 Mountain Hunters Battalion scale its many faces with alacrity and even grace.
The snow makes for treacherous climbing, especially for the second man up, when it has turned to ice. Indeed, the commander, Brig. Gen. Ion Bucaciuc, has
had to call off one exercise because of iced-up rope lines at the wall's highest heights. Nevertheless, the 40 participating Mountain Hunters offer plenty to see in this capabilities exercise, and it is impressive: from the free-climb up sheer rock, to the speedy traverses by zip wire high above, to the singular spectacle of two men carefully rappelling down the rock face transporting a "wounded" comrade suspended horizontally by rope from a pole between them, to a by-the-book ambush on a three-vehicle convoy, complete with a flash-bang simulated explosion.
Ordinarily, of course, one rappels facing the rock. For sheer vicarious thrills, nothing tops watching a couple soldier-alpinists race down a steep grade facing not the mountain but the enemy - that is, away from the rock, rifles in hand - hitting a ledge and firing off a few rounds, then resuming the near-vertical descent.
Romania is one of nine countries hoping to be invited to join NATO this fall at the alliance summit in Prague. Assuming they continue to work diligently on their to-do lists between now and then, the admission of five of them seems no longer to be controversial: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
That leaves open the question of a "southern dimension" to enlargement - specifically, the fate of Romania and Bulgaria. In early October, Bulgaria hosted a summit of aspirant countries in Sophia. Understandably, it was largely given over to discussions of the implications of the September 11 attacks, including declarations of solidarity from the aspirants as well as reassurances from the United States and NATO that the enlargement process as a whole remained on track. …