Washington, DC – Thursday March 27, 2003, two key U.S. Senate Committees, Armed Services and Foreign Relations, held the first formal hearings on NATO enlargement for the seven countries, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, invited to join the Alliance in Prague last November. Senator George Allen (R-VA), a member of the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus, chaired the Foreign Relations hearing. Bush Administration representatives from the Defense and State Departments testified and answered questions in support of the largest expansion of NATO in the organization’s history. The hearings detailed the qualifications of each candidate country and contributions of each to the campaign in the Balkans, the war on terror and the effort to disarm Saddam Hussein.
Senator Allen, Chairman of the Committee’s Europe Subcommittee, stated that the Baltics and four other aspirants have “overcome serious political, economic and military challenges to get where they are today — on the way to joining the most important political-military alliance in the world.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee, stated “I hope that we not only expand NATO, but that we remedy and heal the divides in NATO today.” He added that the “importance of NATO, especially an expanded NATO, far exceeds it role of providing for common defense.”
President George W. Bush wrote that “expanding NATO will advance freedom, and make NATO stronger for the future,” in his letter to the committee chairmen requesting Congressional support for admitting the new members into NATO.
During the Armed Service Committee hearing, chaired by Senator John Warner (R-VA), Defense Department officials were questioned about the future mission of the Alliance. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), stated her support for enlarging NATO and commended the Administration for leading the expansion campaign. She stated, “I have visited all seven of the candidate countries, and I believe that each are qualified to join NATO and that they have important contributions to make.” Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) questioned whether France was retaliating economically or politically against the candidate countries who had joined the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq. Marc Grossman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, replied “absolutely” and that the Administration was closely monitoring the situation and supporting our friends. Mr. Grossman likened the U.S.-French relationship to a marriage that has been in counseling since it began, to which Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), also a member of the Baltic Caucus, suggested a legal separation may be in order.
The two hearings mark the beginning of the formal ratification of NATO enlargement by the Senate. A next round of hearings is scheduled for the first week of April, and the full Senate could vote on expansion as early as May. The parliament of each NATO member must approve the enlargement. The process is expected to last about one year before the eastern European nations officially join the Alliance.
Next Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings are scheduled for April 1 and April 3, 2003. Senator Richard Lugard (R-IN) will chair the April 1st meeting and Senator George Voinovich