Madam Speaker, I join my colleagues in strong support of House Resolution 558, welcoming the accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
During my tenure in Congress, I have had considerable interaction with the leaders of these countries, as well as the opportunity to witness the transitions which have occurred. For several of our new NATO allies I first encountered as one-party communist states, as Warsaw Pact adversaries and as “captive nations.” As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I have closely monitored their human rights performance and encouraged their democratic development. The transition for some has been particularly difficult, particularly with the effects of regional conflicts, political or economic crises. Throughout, their peoples have been our friends. Now, they become our allies.
While we must congratulate these countries, first and foremost, on the progress which brought them to this historic point, we can also take some credit for the investments we decided to make, through the human resources and bilateral assistance which planted the democratic ideals that now have triumphed. In my view, the returns on those investments have been notable.
In addition to these seven new NATO members, the resolution before the House also encourages the three members of the Adriatic Charter to continue their efforts toward eventual NATO membership. I particularly want to comment on Croatia. That country has had a particular challenge since 1990. As Yugoslavia fell apart and Croatia asserted its independence, the country faced not only the challenges of democratic transition but of surviving the Yugoslav conflict. From 1991 to 1995, significant portions of the country were destroyed or occupied. The conflict in neighboring Bosnia led to massive inflows of refugees. Croatia itself was vulnerable to those leaders with highly nationalist and less than democratic instincts.
While all of this slowed their transition, Croatia has rapidly moved–especially since 2000–to meet their democratic potential. In the last elections, a smooth transition in government took place, and we have a bilateral relationship which continues to strengthen over time. In addition, Croatia has become a key contributor to stability in a part of Europe where stability is highly fragile.
It is my hope, Madam Speaker, that we recognize this progress as Croatia seeks membership in NATO. Once Croatia meets the criteria for membership, the invitation to join should be extended. I would hope that the upcoming Istanbul summit will make this clear and mandate an assessment of Croatia’s progress in this regard. It would be wrong and counter to U.S. interests to leave Croatia or any other country otherwise qualifying for NATO membership waiting unnecessarily.
I believe that taking this action would also encourage its Adriatic Charter partners, Albania and Macedonia, in meeting the criteria for membership more quickly. Rather than abandon its partners, Croatia will help them make progress as well. Albania and Macedonia are also good friends of the United States and would benefit from this encouragement. Ultimately, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro would benefit as well, all in the interest of European security and, therefore, U.S. security interests.