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
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links