President Bush's tour of Europe will do much to determine whether the relatively bumpy start his administration has had in transatlantic relations fades with growing familiarity or becomes an enduring problem. No doubt much of his discussions with European leaders will be dominated by the issues of missile defense and global warming. It is unlikely those differences can be resolved this week.
But there is another theme to the trip that offers Mr. Bush the chance to demonstrate continued U.S. commitment to positive engagement with Europe. As his national-security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, described it, Mr. Bush wants to revitalize the goal of a "Europe whole, free and at peace" articulated by his father at the end of the Cold War. That slogan is far less rhetorical than it sounds. It encompasses a concrete and urgent piece of unfinished business that has not yet been the subject of adequate attention in U.S.-European discussions: the incorporation of 10 or more once-communist nations in Central and Eastern Europe into the continent's dominant institutions, which are the European Union and NATO.
Although Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were successfully brought into NATO four years ago, the European Union has yet to admit any of the states of the former Soviet Bloc. It now seems as though no Central or East European states will be allowed into the common market before 2004, and the date may slip still further. Meanwhile, states that will be vital to preserving peace and security in Europe, ranging from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on the Baltic coast to Slovakia in Central Europe and Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Croatia and Slovenia in the Balkans, remain outside of NATO.
There may not be much the United States can do about the shameful slowness of European Union expansion, though Mr. Bush would be right to urge the process forward at his summit meeting with EU leaders in Sweden. But the president can use his visit with NATO leaders in Brussels and his major address several days later in Warsaw to put NATO expansion firmly at the center of the transatlantic agenda. He can do that by strongly stating U.S. support for the eventual admission of all the candidate states that meet clear military and political criteria and by focusing the discussion within NATO on taking action on at least some new members by the Prague summit. By doing so, Mr. Bush would make clear to Europeans, both west and east, that the United States will remain engaged in the continent and committed to its security. -- Washington Post
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