PARIS: The Madrid summit of the Atlantic Alliance has spoken: the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary are admitted to the western security club. Other postcommunist applicants have been told to wait their turn. The sense of isolation their current rejection by NATO will bring is worrying, and not only for them.
Today, NATO decisionmaking appears dominated by a fear of Russia’s reaction to enlargement. Negotiations over expansion seemed designed more to buy Russian toleration than to further the interests of those countries directly concerned. The consequences of this process are likely to be most spectacular, at least in the short run, not in the elected few but in the rejected many. Yet they are the ones with the least power to force consideration of their interests.
In the Czech Republic and in Hungary (but not Poland) enthusiasm for accession into NATO is mixed: the public knows that membership entails no magic solution for their problems and that, in the first phase, it will entail as many costs as benefits. But the consequences of rejection for the unsuccessful applicants, while more debatable and complex, are likely to be more spectacular, in political and psychological terms. Russia may consider that they have been consigned to its sphere of influence.
The specter of a new Yalta, indeed, is always quick to rise in former communist countries. Limiting NATO expansion to the favored three creates (at least in some quarters) the impression of a geographical division between central Europe as a part of the West returning to the fold after having been kidnapped, and the Baltic and Balkan regions, seemingly thrown back into the Russian "near abroad" or the anarchic East.