Romania is the largest of the seven former communist states expected to be invited to join the NATO alliance this week during a meeting in Prague. The country's prime minister, Adrian Nastase, is enthusiastic for both symbolic and practical reasons, saying being invited to join NATO is like being welcomed back into your own family.
"It is important psychologically, first," he explained. "There is a huge frustration in Romanian society. There was a huge frustration after the Second World War. The Yalta arrangement cut Romanian society from western European society. And for several decades Romania remained in the eastern camp, the Soviet bloc, without being linked by anything ideological or even history. That is why for Romanians, and there are more than 80 percent, joining NATO is joining back our own family."
But it is not all symbolism. Future NATO membership also carries important political and military implications. The world order changed following the collapse of Communism in 1989, and the Romanian leader says his country is in a strategic position.
"Romania is now the biggest country in the Balkan area after the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation. Romania, with 22 million people, is an important country in this region and might have an important regional role in the Balkans, in southeastern Europe," the prime minister said. "And playing, with Bulgaria, an important place in bridging the central European members of the alliance with the countries from the southern flank, Turkey and Greece."
"Romania is therefore a country, which can be in this region an asset, a platform, for the alliance towards the East," continued Mr. Nastase. "It is a country, which can be an excellent partner in between the three seas Adriatic, Mediterranean, and the Black Sea. It can be an excellent exit, an excellent port for getting to the Caucuses. It can be very useful as a partner in dealing with non-conventional threats coming from the South."
For Prime Minister Nastase, the phrase "non-conventional threats" refers to problems such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. As NATO redefines itself in the post-Cold War era it is focusing on these new hazards.
According to Prime Minister Nastase, Romania can make an important and immediate contribution to the alliance. "I think that taking into account the population, the location, the resources, the military capabilities tested in Afghanistan among others Romania will be not a burden for the alliance. It will be indeed an asset," he concluded.
Already, Romania has sent a battalion of troops to Afghanistan and has also exchanged information with the United States in the war on terrorism.
There are also economic interests that could result from NATO membership, according to Prime Minister Nastase. Romania hopes that by joining, and achieving the necessary political and military reforms, foreign investors will find the country more attractive.
"Romania has to decide on its own place in Europe, in the world, and it is a question of choice based on values but also on interests," he said. "While this choice has been done by all the Romanian political parties and by the population, there is also an economic interest. It is clear that Romania from now on will be considered no more a kind of buffer zone, a no-man's land, in between Western and Eastern Europe. And this will attract more foreign investment. That is why it is clear that for many years after the revolution all the governments and all the political parties in Romania agreed, had a large consensus, to support the integration of Romania into the Euro-Atlantic family."
The Romanian leaders says his country went through a painful 12-year transition following the toppling of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and now it wants to move forward into Western-style democracy and prosperity.