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NATO caution on Ukraine, Georgia

New members have been good for the alliance. Let's not rush toward Ukraine and Georgia.

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Where Germany and other NATO old timers demur in Afghanistan's hot spots, newcomer Poland is willing to go. Ditto newbies Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, and the Czech Republic which have deployed to combat areas. Count that as a plus for a larger NATO.

This week, the 26-member military alliance will again consider adding new members (the last admissions were in 2004 and 1999). As with many questions about its identity and purpose, though, the group is split. Does NATO benefit from more members?

It's hard enough reaching consensus with so many countries now in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which did such an outstanding job as safety guarantor of Western Europe during the cold war.

New threats and changing geopolitics make agreement even harder. NATO still vacillates on its post-cold-war purpose. Should an out-of-area deployment such as Afghanistan be an exception or not? And how should NATO deal with a Russia reverting to autocracy?

This last question bears directly on the enlargement decisions. In advance of this week's NATO summit in Romania, President Bush arrives in Ukraine to support its request that it be allowed to start the long road toward possible NATO membership. Georgia, Russia's southern neighbor, has also asked NATO for a "membership action plan," or MAP.

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