The proposal, backed by the US, comes as NATO expansion into the former Soviet Union falters, largely because of Russian opposition. Ukraines application, opposed by domestic public opinion, is on hold, as Georgias is held up by two unresolved territorial conflicts which Georgia says are abetted by Russia.
Efforts to speed up entry for Georgia and Ukraine, former Soviet republics which underwent democratic revolutions in 2003 and 2004, have proved premature, said Ivo Daalder, senior research fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
It is now clear that Washington was looking at a timetable that was unrealistic, he said. These countries were part of the Soviet Union in ways that the Baltic states were not, which makes accession more difficult. The three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, joined NATO in March 2004 and the European Union the following May 1.
NATOs next round of enlargement, also meant to include Albania, Croatia and Macedonia, has proved to be its most difficult so far, Daalder said. Expansion in and of itself has become more unpopular among European countries, which have already made that clear in the European Union context, he said.
NATO will continue to hold the door open to new members from the Balkans and the ex-Soviet Union, Scheffer said, with invitations possible by the next summit now set for spring of 2008. NATO has played a key role in overcoming Europes division, but that job is not over yet, he said.
The anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, which includes forces from 11 non-NATO members, including South Korea and Australia, is an example of the kind of out of area missions that now confront NATO, Scheffer said.
At a conference in Riga, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser under former US President Jimmy Carter, said NATO should seek out new participants in Asia to give NATO a wider mission and avoid being branded as a replay of colonial imperialism in the Middle East.
By emphasising new global partnerships for NATO, President George W Bushs administration is making a good first step, Daalder said. They want to get the concept on the table. Salome Zourabichvili, who was Georgias foreign minister from March 2004 until October 2005, said now is not the time to neglect the regions bordering Russia.
It is a false idea to think that in slowing enlargement, you can stop asking questions about Ukraine and Georgia, she said in an interview in Paris. It doesnt stop the need to find a role for these two countries, which requires figuring out relations with Russia. Russias attempts to re-establish dominance over its neighbors puts the debate about future NATO enlargement into a new context, said Dana Allin, research fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. Russia briefly cut off gas supplies to Ukraine during a price dispute at the beginning of this year, and has used trade relations as a political weapon in its relations with Georgia.