Thursday, March 11, 1999 Published at 16:32 GMT
Enlarging Nato: Q&A
German troops prepare for a possible Nato role in Kosovo
At a ceremony in Independence, Missouri, on Friday, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation - Nato - welcomes three new members - Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. World Affairs Correspondent Nick Childs provides a simple guide to what this means for the organisation, and for European security:
Q: Are these the first new members?
Since the end of the Cold War, Nato has been engaged in a difficult balancing act of trying to modernise itself, cope with the new security concerns of central and eastern European states which have felt in a security limbo since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, and all of this without alienating Russia.
The advocates of enlargement say the Alliance is spreading stability throughout Europe. The critics complain it's simply drawing new lines of confrontation, and actually creating new instability.
Q: Why were these three picked to join, and other east European countries left out?
Q: Who's next?
But the Baltic states are amongst the keenest on Nato membership, and some argue also those most most in need of security guarantees, and Russia's particular sensitivity in that region make their accession a very distant prospect.
Q: What does Russia think of it all?
Nato has tried to engage Moscow in ever deeper dialogue, while resisting any suggestion that Russia has a veto over its future plans.
But it's clear that it will continue to be a difficult process trying to manage what remain an area of deep disagreement between the two sides.
Q: How much will it cost?
In the run-up to enlargement, there has been much argument over how much the process will cost, at a time when all Nato members have been trying to economise on defence, and that the new entrants would be forced to buy new equipment they could ill-afford.
The official US government estimate is that it will cost up to 35bn US dollars in all.
So is enlargement a good thing?
Sceptics say that, because of the sensitivity of the issue, Nato is bestowing membership on those countries which need it least, and excluding those which are most vulnerable.
The important test will be how Nato itself will be able to function with its enlarged membership, including whether it can maintain the military effectiveness which most agree remains its greatest asset. And, equally important will be how those left outside, especially Russia, will respond.