OUT of the ashes of World War II, the United States and Europe formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO successfully protected Western Europe from Soviet attack and brought Europe one of its longest periods of stability in history. Out of the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO launched a new security structure for Europe, the Partnership for Peace.
PFP is designed to give formerly communist countries in Eastern Europe a taste and feel of NATO, and by doing so, extend the zone of peace, prosperity, and security eastward. Despite its promise, NATO's stepchild provoked immediate attack. When President Clinton presented his vision of PFP last year, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger argued that the Partnership for Peace would ''create a vacuum in Eastern Europe'' and ''dilute what's left of the Atlantic Alliance into a vague multilateralism.'' Former Secretary of State James Baker III predicted that the plan would ''just confuse the Western Europeans, unsettle the Russians, and fail to reassure everyone else.''
Time has proven these skeptics wrong. Twenty-five countries have signed Partnership agreements with NATO, weaving former foes into a web of political and military cooperation.
During a recent trip to the Balkans, I witnessed firsthand how the Partnership for Peace has promoted stability in its first year. Consider a few specific achievements:
*Reducing ethnic tensions between Romania and Hungary. This year alone, Romania and Hungary will jointly participate in six PFP military training exercises and are planning up to 14 bilateral defense activities ''in the spirit of PFP'' -- a far cry from what might have occurred, considering the 1.8 million ethnic Hungarians now living inside Romania.
*Enhancing stability in Albania. Not only is Albania the closest country to the fighting in Bosnia, but decades of isolation and communist dictatorship have left it the poorest country in Europe. Although it can afford to ration its soldiers only one bowl of potato soup per day, Albania has just hosted a three-day multinational search and rescue exercise alongside forces from Italy, Germany, Britain, and the United States.
*Orienting Bulgaria toward Brussels. I learned that Bulgarian leaders are planning new joint exercises with NATO countries in the Black Sea this summer and would welcome a team under PFP to help their Ministry of Defense study defense resources.
*Providing opportunities for Polish peacekeeping. Thanks to the Partnership for Peace, Poland, a former member of the Warsaw Pact, now has around 2,200 troops in such remote places and Haiti, Rwanda, and the Golan Heights.
All of these examples demonstrate that the Partnership is doing what the President intended: extending eastward the zone of security, stability, and economic prosperity that Western Europe has enjoyed for the past 50 years.
For some countries, PFP provides a means to develop the common procedures that may someday lead to NATO membership; for others, PFP is a means of reducing distance and building confidence.
This year, NATO intends to conduct up to 20 joint military exercises and 143 exercise-related activities with its new partners; defense budgets will be taken off the ''state secret'' shelf for the first time and handed over to NATO committees for review.
PFP has already provided tangible security benefits for its members and established the framework for some to eventually join NATO. Its continued progress will serve as the best guarantee for long-term stability and cooperation in Europe.