RECOMMENDING INTEGRATION OF CROATIA INTO NATO -- (House of Representatives - December 14, 2005)
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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend for yielding.
Mr. Speaker, I would just thank Chairman Gallegly for sponsoring this resolution. I am happy to be a cosponsor. I would just make the point that this supports the accession of Croatia into NATO. As either chairman or subcommittee chairman of the Global Human Rights and International Ops Committee for 6 years in the 1990s and as either chairman or cochairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have watched very closely the issues relating to Croatia over these many years.
As a matter of fact, FRANK WOLF and I actually got into Vukovar while it was under siege and saw the incredible devastation that occurred early in that war with Serbia, and one house after another, one block after another being literally decimated by the Serbian offensive.
But so much has changed. So much has changed dramatically. As a matter of fact, over the last 5 years we have seen the real changes. For a while there, regrettably, the government was very wedded and many people in Croatia to nationalism, and some would even say extreme nationalism. That has now dissipated largely and now we have a Croat group of people, a free press, increasingly the NGOs, the church, all speaking on one accord for more human rights; and I do think over time and hopefully sooner rather than later they will make their way into NATO, provided the additional benchmarks are met.
So this is a good statement of solidarity with the people of Croatia saying that we think it is time. I thank, again, Mr. Gallegly for sponsoring this.
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Mr. Speaker, as a cosponsor of H. Res. 529, I rise in strong support of this resolution that supports the accession of Croatia into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. I have followed developments in Croatia extensively, both as a Chairman of the International Relations Committee and as Chairman or Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission. I can particularly recall--indeed, it would be hard to forget--the horror that accompanied the seige and ultimately the fall of Vukovar during the conflict in Croatia in 1991. That was the year Croatia proclaimed its independence from the disintegrating Yugoslavia. Few would have predicted that in such a short period of time Croatia would be advancing toward European integration at its current pace.
It is true, as stated in this resolution, that since achieving independence, the people of Croatia have built a democratic society, based on the rule of law, respect for human rights and a free market economy. To be more precise, however, it is worth noting that most of this progress occurred in the last five years, after Croatia was able to move beyond the conflict but also to make its own transition away from nationalism. The lack of progress which occurred in the early years of Croatia's independence is not something to hide. It makes the progress achieved since 2000 all the more profound.
It is also true that the people of Croatia deserve the credit. It was the Croatian people who became fed up with supporting the agenda of others. Through non-governmental organizations, independent media outlets and ultimately the ballot box, they earned their independence and freedom. Those representing Croatia's Serb community who made the decision to return to their homes, despite fears and lingering obstacles, also deserve credit for Croatia's progress. They have challenged the country to recover and to reconcile, and Croatia is stronger as a result. The people of Croatia have built a democratic society based on the rule of law, respect for human rights and a free market economy.
They have sent troops to Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led security force in support of the war on terrorism and have provided strong support to U.S. nonproliferation efforts. Mr. Speaker, just last week, the one remaining impediment to Croatia's entry into NATO was removed when General Ante Gotovina, the alleged Croatian war criminal, was arrested in Spain. General Gotovina has been transferred to The Hague to stand trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Mr. Speaker, the resolution states that once it meets NATO guidelines and criteria for membership, Croatia should be invited to join NATO at the earliest possible date. With its location, resources and talented people, a Croatia which satisfies the guidelines and criteria for NATO membership will strengthen the alliance.
Support for Croatia's integration into NATO should also encourage others in the region to make similar progress. Two other Adriatic Charter partners, Albania and Macedonia, immediately come to mind. It is also my deepest hope that Bosnia and Herzegovina, ten years after the Dayton Accords ended the conflict there, can move beyond what have become the restraining effects of that peace agreement's ethnic balancing act, adopt serious constitutional reform and accelerate its integration into Europe as well. Finally, we all hope that people in Serbia will continue their efforts to overcome the bankrupt legacy left by extreme nationalism, in particular by taking every effort to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, so that Serbia, too, can move forward.
H. Res. 529 commends Croatia's significant progress in strengthening its democratic institutions, its support for the global war on terrorism and its ability to make significant contributions to NATO. It also applauds their ongoing cooperation with the international war crimes tribunal.
Mr. Speaker, Croatia is not only a strong ally of the United States. The American and Croatian people share a love of freedom and democracy. Croatia has been a steadfast friend, and it will make an important contribution to security and peace in Europe and throughout the world as a member of NATO.
Both the Europe and Emerging Threats Subcommittee and the House International Relations Committee unanimously approved House Resolution 529, and I urge its passage by the full House.
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