WASHINGTON, D.C. — A NATO flag-raising ceremony April 7 punctuated the entrance of Albania and Croatia into the 60-year old collective security alliance.
Attending the event at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, was NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and the heads of state of the newly added member countries.
"The accession of Albania and Croatia demonstrates that the idea of freedom is irresistible," de Hoop Scheffer said. "It demonstrates that nations and peoples across the Atlantic come together when they are given the chance to make their own free choice. This is the clearest demonstration that in today's Europe, geography no longer is destiny."
The enlargement, which became official, April 1, marks only the sixth time the organization has expanded its borders, and brings to 28 the number of members now in the alliance, six decades after a dozen nations endorsed the North Atlantic Treaty at an April 4, 1949 ceremony here.
De Hoop Scheffer said membership for Albania and Croatia marks the well-deserved reward for many years of hard preparation.
"It is a full vindication of the vision of those who have, for years, seen their countries' future in NATO," he said. "Both countries will now have a seat at the table where key decisions are made to shape Euro-Atlantic security. And both countries can now enjoy the ultimate security guarantee of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty."
Article 5 stipulates that an attack against one NATO member is tantamount to an attack against the whole alliance.
Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha expressed pride in raising his nation's flag alongside those of other alliance members.
"For this flag and the nation it represents, this day is the greatest day after the declaration of independence of Albania," he said.
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said the day was one of joy and celebration for Croatians.
"We have raised the Croatian flag at NATO Headquarters, which will represent, alongside the other 27 allied banners, the shared values, such as freedom, peace, democracy, rule of law, human rights, and social market economy," Sanader said. "After many testing years and despite all difficulties, we can proudly say that we have succeeded."
Accession by the two Balkan nations follows the addition of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania in 2004; Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in 1999; Spain in 1982; West Germany in 1955; and Greece and Turkey in 1952.
The founding NATO members were the United States, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United Kingdom.