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The Convincing Call From Central Europe: Let Us Into NATO

NATO Enlargement Turns 20

Madeleine Albright with Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Kavan, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Janos Martonyi and Poland's Minister of Foreign Affairs Bronislaw Geremek at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, March 1999 Jeff Taylor/REUTERS

Twenty years ago today, the first major post–Cold War expansion of NATO took place in an unlikely locale: Independence, Missouri. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland officially entered NATO in a ceremony at the Truman Library organized by the U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, herself a refugee from Czechoslovakia. She had arranged for the accession ceremony to take place at the Missouri site to honor the president on whose watch the alliance had formed fifty years earlier. The foreign ministers of the new member-states got a ride to Missouri on the secretary’s plane and, while in flight, the Polish foreign minister, Bronislaw Geremek, expressed his gratitude to Albright. He told her that NATO enlargement was “the most important event that has happened to Poland since the onset of Christianity.”

Today historians hotly contest the matter of when, exactly, the idea arose to include central and eastern

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