The summer of 1997 saw a momentous event in the history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and indeed of the West itself, This was NATO’s formal invitation to three Central European countries-Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary- to become members of the alliance. The expansion of NATO has been the major foreign policy initiative of the second Clinton administration, and the entry of the three new members is expected to take effect in 1999. That year will be the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of NATO; it will also be the tenth anniversary of the collapse of NATO’s historic and adversarial counterpart, the Warsaw Pact.
Three events, then, are linked in a narrative that is a grand and inspiring one. The first event, the formation of NATO, did much to bring about the second, the collapse of the Soviet bloc forty years later, and the second provided the opportunity for the third, the expansion of NATO to include the core members of the defunct Warsaw Pact (including Warsaw itself). This narrative culminates with the fulfillment, in our time and before our very eyes, of the inspiring vision and heroic determination of preceding generations of Western statesmen, especially those fabled American “Wise Men” who were “present at the creation.” It is a fulfillment of two great historic ideas, the idea of Europe and the even broader idea of the West.