In April, leaders of the 26 countries belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will be meeting in Bucharest, Romania, to look for ways to ensure security in the 21st century.

NATO is an alliance born in the Cold War. NATO, however, has found a role meeting the challenges of the post-Cold War world. We have seen that with the peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. We see it today in Afghanistan.

While NATO adapts to change, it must change itself, and one way it has done so is to extend its cooperation and membership to like-minded countries in Europe. This process has been in play from the beginning, but it took on a whole new dimension since the end of the Cold War. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were invited to join at the Madrid Summit in 1997. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia were invited at the Prague summit five years later, in 2002.

In Bucharest, three new countries may be invited to join the alliance: Albania, Croatia and Macedonia. The summit may also decide to extend Membership Action Plans (MAPs) to Ukraine and Georgia.

NATO enlargement is something that has a lot of support in principle. Like the other issues addressed in Bucharest, however, enlargement is not without its controversy and disagreements when it gets down to the specifics, and all of the issues on the agenda can get mixed together in the effort to achieve a consensus view. Despite the best efforts of diplomats, little is certain.

No matter what our affinities for any of these countries, we must be sure they are ready to take the next step and seek improvements if they are not. That is in our own national interest, but it is also to the benefit of the citizens of these countries as well.