WASHINGTON – Rep. Tom Lantos,D-Calif.,chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee,suggested Friday that NATO should expand beyond its base of European countries and the U.S. – which make up the North Atlantic of the treaty's name.
Lantos suggested at a hearing that Australia,New Zealand,South Korea and Israel should be considered for membership.
“We should consider seriously NATO's own expansion beyond the borders of Europe and North Africa,” Lantos said.
“Never say never,” said Daniel Fried,assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.
Fried said Australia and Israel actively participate in the programs and operations of NATO and they “share the same values.”
Fried and Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock,commander of the U.S. European Command and the Supreme Allied Command of Europe,testified about U.S. participation in NATO.
Craddock said 50,000 service members are deployed in NATO missions. They are participating in operations across Afghanistan,the Balkans,the Mediterranean,Iraq,the Baltics and Africa.
Fried and Craddock said little has changed in the politics of NATO and that the organization is working well in its mission.
The only thing Fried asked of committee members was to deepen relationships with the countries “who support NATO's values.” He was referring to non-member countries that support NATO operations in conflict regions. But he didn't specify any of them.
Lantos paid special attention to the situation in Afghanistan,where NATO forces have been since 2003.
“The Taliban is back,and is organized,and it is bearing down on the southern part of the country,” he said. “We will not let Afghanistan fail. But the question is whether the United States will prevent its failure with only some of our allies or with the full concern with all NATO members. Europe must be our full partner in this mission is NATO is to be redeemed.”
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher,D-Calif.,asked Fried and Craddock to get the assistance of European countries on reconstruction programs in Afghanistan.
“They should not only stand in the line,” he said.
The U.S. has participated in NATO since its founding in 1949 and contributes about 25 percent of its budget.