In July, NATO members will meet in Madrid to issue invitations for full membership in the alliance. The Republic of Slovenia, which was founded only six years ago, has clearly stated its wish to participate in this historic process and to be included in the first round of NATO enlargement.
Bordering Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia, Slovenia is a developed and industrialized country in the heart of Central Europe. Since our independence, we have served as a stabilizing factor in Europe based on our political, social, and economic achievements. We have no territorial disputes with our neighbors, and our human rights record exceeds European standards.
From our bilateral dialogues with NATO and participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, we have gained a better insight into the alliance, its functioning, and its mechanisms. As a result, we are now even more convinced that our principal national security interest lies in full membership.
Moreover, Slovenia is probably the only country whose candidacy does not antagonize Russia. Slovenia was not a Soviet republic, nor a member of the Soviet bloc or the Warsaw Pact. Its inclusion would not bring NATO any closer to Russia's borders and would fit well into the alliance's nonconfrontational policy toward Russia.
Since it would be the only continental link between NATO and likely member Hungary, Slovenian membership in NATO would provide strategic and logistical benefits. Hungary would otherwise be isolated from its fellow NATO members.
A first-round invitation would confirm the fact that Slovenia plays a stabilizing role in Central Europe. At the same time, it would send an important message to the region: The West recognizes the democratic achievements and rewards the constructive and responsible efforts of the partnership countries by inviting them to join the alliance. Slovenia will continue supporting the development of good relations with our neighbors.
The American public may worry that NATO is overextending itself. They may see prospective members as a financial burden that would need assistance in paying their share of NATO costs, and they may be tentative about providing guarantees to protect the integrity of candidates' vast territories.
However, as the wealthiest country per capita in Central and Eastern Europe, we will contribute our share to the budget of the alliance. And, as a compact and stable nation, we would not strain the alliance's security obligation.
We feel fortunate to have so many supporters in the United States, in Congress, and in the Clinton administration. We are grateful for the training programs and other military assistance that the United States government has provided for us. Furthermore, we are encouraged by the fact that the US Senate, in its Roth-Lieberman resolution on NATO enlargement, has specifically identified Slovenia to be included in the first round of enlargement.
Our interest in NATO - in accepting and carrying out all of the responsibilities associated with full membership - is not inspired by a fear of Russia, nor is it a flight from one security umbrella to another. It does not come from the fear of potential threats from our southeastern Balkan neighborhood.
In our assessment, we do not have a threat. We desire to join NATO because we wish to rejoin - formally and institutionally - the part of the world with which we have always shared the same basic social, economic, and political values. And we believe that with the inclusion of Slovenia, NATO would acquire a reliable ally and Slovenia would become a firm and stable component of NATO structures.
* Janez Drnovsek is prime minister of the Republic of Slovenia.