The Outer

20th Anniversary of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia becoming a NATO member – from 20 to 75 years of history

By Manal Abdel Fattah

20 years ago, on the 29th of March 2004, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined NATO – a political and military Alliance of democratic states, united in defending their freedom and security through political and military means. This historic achievement for each of the new members represented the culmination of a long and, at times, difficult period of democratic reforms and modernization undertaken with the wider post-communist transformations in Central and Eastern Europe. By joining NATO, the new members assumed the important responsibility to uphold the shared democratic values and to contribute to the collective security of NATO members and NATO partners, thus defending peace and rules-based international order. Becoming a NATO member was a foreign policy objective enjoying a widespread popular support in each of these countries, with more than 60%, in some cases even 80% of the population in favor of joining the Alliance. This widespread support has been maintained and has even increased in the past two years, which makes NATO membership a reason to feel safe and proud across all 7 states celebrating their 20 years of NATO anniversary.

For nearly 75 years, the bond between Europe and North America has made NATO the strongest Alliance in history. It is an Alliance bound by shared history, values and goals. Together, NATO works to prevent conflict and protect peace for one billion people. The ironclad solemn commitment of each member to all members is that an attack against one Ally is an attack against all. This bond guarantees shared security and prosperity, and allows each member to live in freedom. The strength of NATO is that despite internal differences, NATO members have always been able to unite around this core task: to defend each other and keep member nations safe.
Following Russia’s illegal Crimea Annexation in 2014 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, our membership in NATO has become more relevant than ever. This war of aggression has demonstrated that security could not be taken for granted and freedom of choosing national paths must be protected. Today only a strong and united NATO is capable of defending every Ally against external threats which endanger the very core of the European security and the global order. This unprecedented crisis confirmed the indispensable role of the Alliance, whose importance in defending peace in Europe is greater than ever.
At the Vilnius Summit in 2023 NATO leaders further took major steps to strengthen Allied deterrence and defence for the long term, across all domains and against all threats and challenges. This is in line with what NATO calls “360-degree approach” – partnering and projecting stability across the entire neighborhood of the Alliance, North, East, South.
In the current geopolitical context, NATO stepped up its presence for the entire Eastern Flank, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, with particularly focus on border countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria). All NATO allies are determined to support that effort.
The high level of insecurity perceived in Europe as a result of the war on the Eastern border determined new states to want to be protected under NATO’s security umbrella. Finland joined NATO on 4 April 2023 and Sweden on 7 March 2024. NATO considers itself stronger and safer with Finland and Sweden as members. Their accession sends a clear message that every nation has the right to choose its own path including in terms of foreign policy and security policy choices – which is a key message resonating with numerous countries around the world.
From 12 founding members in 1949 to 32 members, NATO has remained an important and effective alliance. Over the decades, the Alliance has continuously adapted to address evolving challenges, demonstrating our unity, strength and resilience. Nowadays, the Organization pursues dialogue and practical cooperation with more than 40 global partners (which are all invited for the celebration on the 21st of April) on a wide range of political and security-related issues, including global challenges like terrorism and climate change. NATO’s partnerships are beneficial to all involved and contribute to improved security for the broader international community.
Since 1994, NATO and Egypt have been partners for peace, security and stability in the region within the Mediterranean Dialogue. This is a partnership forum with seven non-NATO countries, including our host nation, Egypt. The forum aims to contribute to security and stability in this region. In the current geopolitical context, Egypt, being a pillar of stability, a peacemaker and security provider, has become a partner of growing strategic importance for NATO. Both sides see real merit in their dialogue and cooperation on matters of mutual interest related to common challenges.

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