Any enlargement of the Alliance was aimed at extending the zone of security and stability to further European countries. The whole Europe has always benefited from the preservation of peace and stability on the territory of NATO countries. The two latest steps of this enlargement process (1999, 2004) were the most important ones due to the fact that a number of Central and Eastern European countries became NATO members.
At the London Summit meeting in July 1990 NATO proposed friendship to its former Warsaw Treaty enemies and started a process of dialogue and cooperation. Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme was launched in January 1994 to give a framework for bilateral cooperation with each country on an individual basis. The political framework for cooperation is expressed in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (from 1997). These initiatives were soon successful and several countries identified membership in NATO as their main foreign policy goal.
At the Brussels Summit in January 1994 NATO representatives stated that they “expect and would welcome NATO expansion that would reach to democratic states to our East” [3] . Practical steps were taken to move the process forward, but also to reassure Russia and other countries that the process would not threaten them. These countries had to be assured that NATO expansion would not only extend the sphere of stability in the area but also be in their interests.
In 1995 the Alliance carried out a Study on NATO’s Enlargement. In it the experts examined the “why and how” of the future admissions into NATO. Following the results of it they concluded that, with the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Warsaw Treaty Organization, there was both a need for and a unique opportunity to build improved security in the whole of the Euro-Atlantic area, without recreating dividing lines. NATO enlargement should also contribute to encouraging and supporting democratic reforms, establishment of civilian democratic control over military forces, promoting good-neighbourly relations etc. Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty created the know-how.
Prospective member countries were made sure that once admitted, they would enjoy all the rights and assume all obligations of membership. They would need to accept and conform to the principles, policies and procedures adopted by all members of the Alliance at the time they joined. The willingness and ability to meet such commitments would be a critical factor in any decision taken by the Alliance to invite a country to join. “Other conditions were stipulated, including the need for candidate countries to settle ethnic disputes or external territorial disputes by peaceful means before they could become members. The ability of candidate countries to contribute militarily to collective defence and to peacekeeping operations would also be a factor. …Allies would decide by consensus whether to invite additional countries to join, basing their decision on their judgement at the time as to whether the membership of a specific country would contribute to security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area or not” . [4]
The existence of PfP proved to be beneficial at that time, too. The Implementation Force (IFOR in 1995-6) and Stabilization Force (SFOR from 1995) in Bosnia and Herzegovina demonstrated openly the common interests of NATO member countries and those outside the existing membership of the Alliance.
The Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary were invited to begin accession talks with NATO at the Madrid Summit in July 1997. Protocols were signed in December 1997 and these three countries became NATO members in March 1999. The Prague Summit (21 and 22 November 2002) was a crucial event for both NATO and Europe. Decisions taken by Alliance leaders in Prague have put a permanent end to the divisions of Europe in the 20th century. In the process, NATO's leaders have shown their commitment to maintain the Alliance as their central institution for collective defence, security consultation and multinational military actions.
In Prague, NATO leaders invited seven countries to begin membership-accession negotiations. Those were Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. This includes invitations to three former Soviet republics, three former Warsaw Pact members and one former Yugoslav republic. The seven invitees have all participated in the Membership Action Plan (MAP), NATO's preparatory programme for prospective members, since its creation in 1999, as well as the NATO-led peacekeeping missions in South-eastern Europe. As a result, they were better prepared for membership than the first three countries to join NATO after the Cold War - the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland - when they were invited to begin accession talks after the Madrid Summit in 1997. These seven countries became NATO members on 29 March 2004.
Alliance enlargement will strengthen NATO in several ways making it more able to handle both its traditional and more recent security missions. Politically, the new members will see the extension of a zone of security over more of the Euro-Atlantic area. Militarily, they will be able to provide specific capabilities as well as a general defence contribution appropriate to their means.

[3] - The Prague Summit and NATO’s Transformation – A Reader’s Guide, NATO 2003, p. 21
]4] - The Prague Summit and NATO’s Transformation – A Reader’s Guide, NATO 2003, p. 22
Last modified: Friday, February 4, 2011, 1:32 PM