Battle for a bigger Nato tests Solana's diplomacy

On eve of Madrid summit, alliance chief tells Sarah Helm that he is sure of success

Javier Solana, the Nato secretary-general, faces the task tomorrow of launching it on its most important and most risky post-Cold War mission - expanding membership to the east. A Spanish physicist turned diplomat and foreign minister, he appears to have little doubt he will succeed.

He predicts the Madrid summit will be an overwhelming success: Nato leaders will finally name the countries that have made the grade to join in the first expansion wave, demonstrating once and for all the West's commitment to end Cold War divisions. "It will be quite a happening," he says.

Privately, however, he must be worried. In past days he has worked the diplomatic channels, calling alliance leaders, including Tony Blair, to try to avert a row at Madrid. The clash is looming over which countries should be declared winners in Nato's membership contest - or, as others are describing it, Nato's "oriental bazaar".

Washington, which wants just Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in the first wave, is at loggerheads with France, which wants Romania in, and Italy, which wants Slovenia. How other alliance members will line up is not clear but political interests are certain to play a key role. The US has angered some Europeans by demanding a limit of three starters, largely because wider expansion would not be approved by Congress. Britain backs the US, while the Scandinavians want a place in the first wave for at least one of the Baltic states.

Estonia, which has qualified in many eyes, is bitter at the prospect of being left out at the start, and Romania says a decision to exclude it first time round would be "cynical."

The squabbling has also sent a signal of Nato weakness to Moscow. On the eve of Madrid, President Boris Yeltsin refused to attend, snubbing Nato a month after appearing to soften opposition to expansion by signing a co-operation pact in Paris.

Mr Solana believes a deal can be done which will please all sides. "It will have to be three members, four members or five." He also believes those left out in the first wave will be reassured by the promise of a second wave soon after. "Everyone must understand that Madrid is the beginning of the process, not the end. Sometimes people think this will be the end. But it is not true that those who don't get in this time will never get in."

But more is at stake than simply names on a list. The Madrid summit comes at a time when Western enthusiasm for bringing former Eastern Bloc countries in from the cold has been tapering off within Nato and the European Union.

Last month's Amsterdam summit on reform of the EU demonstrated its lack of vision and doubts about enlargement by failing to agree on changes to institutions which would accommodate new members.

Now many leading EU political figures are questioning whether Amsterdam achieved enough to allow enlargement to go ahead on time.

Divisions at Madrid would show that Nato too is in a quandary about how to manage enlargement, showing that it is more intent on its own squabbles than on achieving more high-minded objectives. One of Nato's prime objectives since Mr Solana took over in 1995 has been to secure a stronger role for the European arm of the alliance, a move boosted by France's declaration that it intended to rejoin the integrated military command structure.

But France has said it no longer intends entering the Nato core grouping, due to anger at refusal by the US to make key concessions. Mr Solana is finely tuned in to the transatlantic debate, having always been a strong advocate of securing a stronger European Nato defence capacity and a defence role for the EU. Today, however, he is determined to ensure nothing undermines Nato's passage to expansion. Questioned about its future role, given the demise of the Russian threat, he proffers the familiar vague warnings about deterring arms proliferation and defusing ethnic conflict.

But enlargement is clearly the objective for Nato which Mr Solana most fervently believes in. As a young socialist, Spanish membership of the alliance was anathema to him, but in today's changed world Mr Solana believes that "collective security" for the new democracies gives Nato's mission firm moral underpinning.

"Both the institutions of the EU and Nato have a responsibility to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Both have to open their doors - although at what velocity we will have to wait and see."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn