new challenges. We will maintain approximately 100,000 military personnel in Europe to fulfill our commitments to NATO, provide a visible deterrent against aggression and coercion, contribute to regional stability, respond to crises, sustain our vital transatlantic ties and preserve U.S. leadership in NATO.
NATO enlargement is a crucial element of the U.S. and Allied strategy to build an undivided, peaceful Europe. The end of the Cold War changed the nature of the threats to this region, but not the fact that Europe’s stability is vital to our own national security. The addition of well-qualified democracies, which have demonstrated their commitment to the values of freedom and the security of the broader region, will help deter potential threats to Europe, deepen the continent’s stability, bolster its democratic advances, erase its artificial divisions, and strengthen an Alliance that has proven its effectiveness both during and since the Cold War.
In December 1997, the NATO foreign ministers signed the three protocols of accession for Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, making them full members of the Alliance subject to ratification by all current and incoming NATO members. On May 21, 1998, the President signed the instruments of ratification for the three protocols following a strong, bipartisan 80-19 vote of approval in the U.S. Senate. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic will make the Alliance stronger while helping to enlarge Europe’s zone of democratic stability. They have been leaders in Central Europe’s dramatic transformation over the past decade and have helped make Central Europe the continent’s most robust zone of economic growth. They will strengthen NATO through the addition of military resources, strategic depth and the prospect of greater stability in Europe’s central region. Our Alliance with them will improve our ability to protect and advance our interests in the transatlantic area and contribute to our security in the years to come.
At the same time, we have vigorously pursued efforts to help other countries that aspire to membership become the best possible candidates. Together with our Allies we are enhancing the Partnership for Peace and continuing political contacts with aspiring states. We are also continuing bilateral programs to advance this agenda, such as the President’s Warsaw Initiative, which is playing a critical role in helping the militaries of Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia become more interoperable with NATO. Building on the increasing links between NATO and the Partnership for Peace nations, Partners will increasingly contribute to real-world NATO missions, as many are doing in the NATO-led operation in Bosnia.
Some European nations do not desire NATO membership, but do desire strengthened ties with the Alliance. The Partnership for Peace provides an ideal venue for such relationships. It formalizes relations, provides a mechanism for mutual beneficial interaction and establishes a sound basis for combined action should that be desired. For all these reasons, Partnership for Peace will remain a central and permanent part of the European security architecture.
NATO also is pursuing several other initiatives to enhance its ability to respond to new challenges and deepen ties between the Alliance and Partner countries. NATO has launched the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council to strengthen political dialogue and practical cooperation with all Partners, and established a NATO-Ukraine Charter, which provides a framework for enhanced relations. As a result of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, NATO and Russia developed the Permanent Joint Council to enhance political consultation and practical cooperation, while retaining NATO’s decision-making authority. Our shared goal remains constructive Russian participation in the European security system.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization will hold its Fiftieth Anniversary summit meeting in Washington on April 24-25, 1999. This summit will mark NATO’s extraordinary record of success over the past fifty years in protecting the security of the United States and our European allies. As agreed at the 1997 Madrid summit, we hope to use the upcoming summit meeting in Washington to welcome the entry of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic as new members of the alliance. Looking to the future, the summit will advance the common work of NATO allies and partners to build an undivided Europe that is peaceful, prosperous, and democratic.
As we help build a comprehensive European security architecture, we must continue to focus on regional security challenges.
Southeastern Europe and the Balkans: There are significant security challenges in Southeastern Europe. Instability in this region could threaten the consolidation of reforms, disrupt commerce and undermine our efforts to bring peace to Bosnia and other parts of the former Yugoslavia.
The United States has an abiding interest in peace and stability in Bosnia because continued war in that region threatens all of Europe’s stability. Implementation of the Dayton Accords is the best hope for creating a self-sustaining peace in Bosnia. NATO-led forces are contributing to a secure environment in Bosnia and providing essential support for the broader progress we are making in implementing the Dayton Accords. Further progress is necessary, however, to create conditions that will allow implementation to continue without a large military presence. We are committed to full implementation of the Dayton Accords and success in Bosnia. We support the efforts of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and broader efforts to promote justice and reconciliation in Bosnia.
We are deeply concerned about the ongoing bloodshed in Kosovo, which threatens security and stability throughout the Balkan region. We are firmly convinced that the problems in Kosovo can best be resolved through a process of open and unconditional dialogue between authorities in Belgrade and the Kosovar Albanian leadership. We seek a peaceful resolution of the crisis that guarantees restoration of human and political rights which have been systematically denied the Kosovar Albanian population since Belgrade withdrew autonomy in 1989. In support of that objective, NATO is reviewing options for deterring further violence against the civilian population in Kosovo and stabilizing the military situation in the region.
We are redoubling our efforts to advance the integration of several new democracies in Southeastern Europe (Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia and the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia) into the European mainstream. More specifically, the President’s Action Plan for Southeast Europe seeks to promote further democratic, economic, and military reforms in these countries, to encourage greater regional cooperation, and to advance common interests, such as closer contact with NATO, and increased law enforcement training and exchanges to assist in the fight against organized crime.
Tensions on Cyprus, Greek-Turkish disagreements in the Aegean and Turkey’s relationship with the EU have serious implications for regional stability and the evolution of European political and security structures. Our goals are to stabilize the region by reducing long-standing Greek-Turkish tensions and pursuing a comprehensive settlement on Cyprus. A democratic, secular, stable and Western-oriented Turkey is critical to these efforts and has supported broader U.S. efforts to enhance stability in Bosnia, the NIS and the Middle East, as well as to contain Iran and Iraq.
The Baltic States:
For over fifty years, the United States has recognized the sovereignty and independence of the republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. During this period, we never acknowledged their forced incorporation into the Soviet Union. The special nature of our relationship with the Baltic