On March 29, 2004, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) admitted seven new members from former Soviet bloc nations--Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. It was the largest single admission of new members to the half-century old alliance. The new memberships "stretch[ed NATO's] security umbrella to the borders of Russia and prompt[ed] Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to reassure Moscow that it should not feel threatened," declared New York Times writer Christopher Marquis. The admission was also highly symbolic, because it demonstrated the extent to which the world had changed in less than fifteen years. The breakup of the Soviet bloc and the drawing of former Warsaw Pact nations into a Western alliance was an event unthinkable only a bit more than a decade before. "Here in Lithuania," wrote Steven Lee Myers in the New York Times, "the rising tensions have only underscored the comfort and pride of joining NATO's warm embrace. More than one official contrasted the welcome roar of the F-16's--heard on Wednesday over this capital's richly preserved Old Town--to the rumble of Soviet tanks that suppressed Lithuania's nascent independence movement in January 1990." "'Without doubt, NATO's expansion touches Russia's political, military and, to a certain extent, economic interests,' said Russia's foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko," according to Conor O'Clery in the Irish Times, "who also protested that agreed reforms in NATO to reduce troops and armaments were happening 'slowly and haphazardly'."
The movement of NATO forces into the new member states, particularly the Balkan states that were formerly members of the Russian empire, worried Russian diplomats and administrators. The new NATO members could even provide bases for NATO troops right on Russian borders. "NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said last week that collective air defence had been part of NATO's role since its foundation," Ian Mather wrote in Scotland on Sunday, "and that Russia had been informed about the decision to patrol the airspace of the Baltic states. 'It's NATO airspace and NATO airspace has always been patrolled and covered,' he said. But Russia fears these patrols could be used to spy on its territory." "Lithuania and Estonia have recently expelled Russian diplomats accused of spying on, among other things, NATO activities, prompting tit-for-tat expulsions by Russia," said Myers. "More alarmingly, Estonia last month accused a Russian fighter jet of venturing into its airspace--exactly the kind of intrusion the squadron of F-16's ... is meant to answer." "If NATO ignored Moscow's concerns," explained Wu Liming, writing for the Xinhua News Agency, "the lower house would advise Russian President Vladimir Putin 'to adopt appropriate measures to safely guarantee Russia's security.'" "However," Wu continued, "newly-appointed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov merely called NATO expansion 'a mistake' when he came to Brussels to meet with his counterparts of 26 NATO members."
The new members did not bring large numbers of troops or supplies into the alliance, and in fact NATO leaders urged the new members not to consider enlarging their armed forces. Instead of conventional war in Europe, the new members were asked to support the war against terrorism. NATO was drawn into the struggle on September 12, 2001, when members invoked the part of its charter that declared an attack on one member to be an attack on all. President Bush welcomed the new members into the alliance with a reminder that NATO's enemy had changed with the September 11 attacks. "'Today, our alliance faces a new enemy, which has brought death to innocent people from New York to Madrid,' the president said," reported James G. Lakely in the Washington Times. "'Terrorists hate everything this alliance stands for. They despise our freedom. They fear our unity. They seek to divide us. They will fail. We will not be divided.'"